Archive for the 'Children' Category


The only Doctor I’ve ever trusted

One of my favorite shows during the holidays is How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Way back in 1957 Dr. Suess warned us all about the commercialization of Christmas, though we didn’t heed the warning he was prophetic.

I was talking to my children the other day, they’re 12 and 8 and now old enough to comprehend bigger concepts (Yay!), about what the “arms race” is and what it could mean for the world. In our discussion, I referenced The Butter Battle Book, published in 1984. Where the two opposing sides conflict over which is better; bread buttered side down or buttered side up. Again, Suess.

One of mine and my kid’s favorite books is the Lorax, that explains the potential outcome of the planet if we don’t take care of it. Originally published in 1971 and again, sadly unheeded.  But I got to thinking about the good Doctor and all that he has taught us, whether it sunk in or bounced off, the lessons are still most valuable. Let’s look at a few of the lessons as I have seen them while growing up:suess

I learned to be me. Suess asked me “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?” and I responded by living my life by my own standards. Sometimes looking like a fool, sometimes looking like a genius, sadly more the former than the latter. But we were all born to be ourselves and for us to play the important part we must play to make the world great, we need only be ourselves. We shouldn’t compare ourselves to others, or attempt to fit the restrictive frames others can picture us within. We make our choices to live how we live and by doing so, we can succeed by any standard. He even told us “Only you can control your future.” How right you are Doctor.

I also grew up believing that education was the key to my success.  I cannot impart that wisdom upon my own children enough. And of course Suess concurs, learning content is important, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go…” What high school graduate didn’t get a copy of Oh the Places You’ll Go (1990)? But who better to share the lesson that we get to choose; we have the awesome power to be amazing? As I am sure you’ve derived from previous posts, I firmly believe that we do. Thanks for that lesson Dr. Suess, Thank You beyond measure.



Gratitude is in the Attitude

Recently, my wife and I had this discussion:

  • Why does our son seem so ungrateful, he thinks he is so much more important than anyone around him?
  • Other people tell, us how wonderful he is but we don’t have the privilege of seeing that behavior at home
  • Where did we go wrong, I feel like I have failed because I did not teach him gratitude, and that makes me sad?
  • Do you think he realizes that Mom cooked this food for him?
  • Do you think he appreciates that we both work to be able to provide this food?
  • I wonder if it is possible to offer him opportunities that may help him discover that the world awaits his service, not the other way around

imagesWe had the discussion at the table, and right there, sitting and pouting because he was required to eat more vegetables than bread, was our son.

It got me thinking about this season, and how we can all do a better job of teaching gratitude for our plentiful lives before, during, and after Thanksgiving. Research has shown us that raising kids to appreciate all that is done for them can provide real benefits including greater life satisfaction, better performance in school, more adept at making lifetime direction choices, and even enhanced self-esteem, (which millennial parents believe is an entitlement).  In fact, a study conducted by Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, reveals that cultivating gratitude can increase happiness levels by around 25 percent. Other studies have shown that kids who practice grateful thinking have more positive attitudes toward school and family.

So what can a parent do that might impart this lesson? Here are a few ideas.

  • It seems so simple, but if, each day, we actually say out loud, something that we are grateful for: “I’m so glad the weather has been nice for so long”, “I really appreciate those guys working on the highway-the road will be nice when they are finished”, etc. We set an expectation for our kids to notice things too.
  • Don’t be sucked in by Black Friday, Buy Local Saturday, and Cyber Monday: Of course we want to give our kids everything they want, but when we do they often lose where it came from. It becomes about acquisition and not about function, fun, or appreciation.
  • Allow them to earn their wants: They will want more toys, more candy, more of something. Give them the opportunity to share the responsibility for attaining it. Maybe through chores, maybe through saving allowance, they can help out. If they can share in that they will feel it is more earned, more valuable, and more important. Keep an eye on their screens too. At this time of year everyone is telling them that they NEED more toys, candy and stuff. A young mind often cannot understand the avalanche of marketing and can become depressed or overwhelmed by the “holiday spirit.”
  • Give them an assignment; have them hand write a note to someone whom has been nice to them, helped them, or in other way made their life happier. Have them spell it out, why are they grateful? In fact make it an annual tradition. Having been a teacher and a coach, I cannot tell you how much it impacts us when a student or athlete says thanks. Give that gift this year, don’t do it in conjunction with a “gift for teacher” mentality, it’s not a holiday thing, it’s a “for-no-other-reason-than-I appreciate-you” reason.
  • We have heard about how valuable the lesson is when our children have the opportunity to help a person in need; and I would never suggest that we do not do that. But what about helping out someone who doesn’t need help? What can be gained by helping a neighbor rake leaves, load a truck, shovel snow? It feels good to have someone say “thank you” when you know you didn’t have to do it, you just wanted to.
  • Demand politeness and respect; I cringe every time I see someone’s child ungratefully receive a good deed. A door being held, a sneeze in public, or a person having to side step the child in the aisle at Target should be answered with a “thank you”, a “bless you” or an “excuse me.” I insist that my children carry out these all-to-uncommon niceties. One time I had my son go to the next aisle to apologize to the person that had to dodge his silliness in the toy department. I feel that strongly about it.
  • I used to play with my children (still do) when they complained about something. “I hate these shoes” was answered with “How do you think that makes the shoes feel?” It usually, at least, starts a conversation to get to the bottom of the statement the child made, but I always believed that looking at things from both sides would lead to empathy and as a child I believed that all my toys had feelings, (I’m not sure I was wrong).

So, this year I have set a goal to have my children adopt an attitude of greater gratitude. How about this, let’s not tell the kids. How about all of us parents secretly plan on doing this together? Wow, imagine what we could do.


Congratulations Graduates says I

Every year I have written a graduation commencement speech. Someday some University somewhere will grant me an honorary doctorate and I will speak before 100’s of graduates. Until then…

“Congratulations, you made it past the hard part. I stand before you having arrived here by years of education, years of laboriously attending to every day’s tasks, to be sure my businesses were successful, my people were happy, and my family was secure. I came up, not through a business path, but blindly stumbling from mistake to failure and back again until all my trials, all my tribulations added up to success. I rose up after seeing a vacuum where leadership was needed, seeing no one able to step before a group of driven people and unite them behind a common vision. I learned to be a leader by working harder, succeeding more, failing more, looking for opportunities, and still never taking my eyes off of my goals.

Now you are in a place to jump into the world of trials and tribulations. You have an opportunity to realize everything you’ve ever dreamed of. Some of you will be complacent to work day to day. Wake, eat, work, sleep and repeat. That is what your life will become and you are looking forward to it, jumping into it with both feet. Well, you’re not the ones I am talking to, so please just sit quietly while I talk to your future overlords.

What will it take for you to lead in this new era? When people are more in tune with their hand-held devices then they are with other people, how will you position yourself to stand apart?

The answer is two-fold: be more of a human being and be more of a robot.  Now when I say, be a robot, I’m not talking about R2D2, I’m talking about a Roomba; the robotic vacuum cleaner. You laugh, but let me explain.

The leader of the future must exhibit some “rromba-esque” qualities.  A Roomba has its own timeline. It knows when to come on to get its job done and when to sit quietly in wait under the couch.  John Quincy Adams said that Patience and perseverance have a magical affect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish. To lead you have to watch for your opportunities to appear. No starting bell will ring and no teacher will point out the right procedures. You have to patiently wait to execute your plan. The successful leader of this new generation will need patience.  And like the robot under the couch, you have to know when to work on your tasks without impeding on someone else. In fact, you will need teams of people to share your vision and work with you. But people will buy into the leader before they buy into the leader’s vision*. You must present your goals and visions with bold clarity, you have to embody the passion that sets others afire. You will have to be able to share with your people the “why” before they will be willing to work on the “what”.  While others will be head down over a keyboard, or focused solely on the unreal world of Simm people and simulated situations, you must engage. Your communication skills will be such a valued commodity in a world where people have forgotten how to talk to one another. Be a speaker, be a listener. General Colin Powel expressed it best when he said “Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand.  Powell was a communicator. Though his military was a tech army, he was the leader because he could listen, problem solve and communicate solutions that aligned with the overall vision of his Army.  I cannot overemphasize that you need to develop or cultivate interpersonal skills to be a leader.  You will need to know people, people beyond a digital interface. You will need to know what motivates and what achieves the opposite. People need to be stimulated, and when a person who lives in the digital non-human world is given a true human emotion it can move mountains. Without it people fade and wither, but with the right leader, the right nourishment, people will see that you care for them, see that your vision is their vision, and you will enhance your productivity and your loyalty.

Like a Roomba, you will need to bounce off of obstacles. Stay on task and not let skeptics, pessimists and the occasional failure get in your way. Stay optimistic, channel your fears and your doubts into passion, let it fuel your ability to innovate and create. It’s likely when someone is tearing you down it’s because they are sad they didn’t take initiative before you did. Listen to your critics, remove the malice and look for the jewel inside. Is there truth to their criticism? Can it lead you to a new way to see your situation? One of the best motivators for a leader to grow or to create is by hearing feedback that they might not feel comfortable with. Some big-shots may find it demeaning to be questioned or advised by a junior colleague but the truly successful leader will look for ideas and solutions wherever they may appear. When they find that jewel, from a critic or a junior, a good leader will always share the credit. John Maxwell said, “A good leader is a person who takes a little more than his share of the blame and a little less than his share of the credit.” Maxwell is a leader, Maxwell is a Roomba.

The world is starved for Roombas. We have messes everywhere and a vacuum of true leadership. The pool from which future leaders will be born is flooded with complacent, factory droids that would rather digitally interact with you than speak to you. There is an increase in the demand for leadership characteristics to be instilled at the earliest of ages, but don’t worry. There is still time for you to become your own potential. There is no doubt that the road ahead of you will demand hard work, strategy, and passion. And NOW is your time to lead. Now is your time to learn from my digital tool example. These tools that make life easier but less human. To lead, to prosper, and to succeed you will need machine like efficiency but human quality. Be the leader we are all looking for, be the creator of new ideas, new strategies. Be everything you can be, and never rest until you realize your vision.

* People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision. —John Maxwell


Doing it for the cupcake

A few weeks ago we traveled to Florida to spend some time with my dad. He and I spent a lot of time talking, and when we do I always get new insights into him: things I never knew he did, or felt. One morning we spoke over a some cold tea while the kids went to the pool, and he told me of when he first moved to Florida.

When my Dad relocated from Wisconsin he had retired from a career of owning his own business that was often 20 hour days and 7 days a week. Some would say he was a workaholic, but in our family we see it as “just doing what needs to get done.”  In Florida he started volunteering to make use of his new-found surplus time . He volunteered in a school and was given the task of supervising 4 of the biggest behavior cases in the class of 3rd graders. Now years ago before going into business, my dad was a Milwaukee cop. Back in the day being a police officer was all business and he had to be a pretty tough guy. That same facet of his personality was called up again when he had these kids to deal with. It was no B.S. when you were with Mr. O.

Through the course of the year the kids fell in line and learned to behave respectfully to the teacher, the other kids and the school. The kids learned that though Mr. O was demanding, he had respect for them and he knew they were capable of being as successful as the other kids. He told them that if they did the work they could accomplish anything.  Near the end of the year my father was saying good-bye to the class and his 4 students. He was convinced that the kids would be happy to see an end to their time with Mr. O, the tough ex-cop. But one little girl came to him and hugged him around the leg, (my dad is a tall guy), and gave him a cupcake  she had made for him. She said thank you for the year and told him that she would miss him over the summer. When my dad shared this story with me, we were both clearly emotional: him because he knew his time had meant something, and me because, maybe, for the first time my dad might see why I do what I do.

I explained to him that the reason I became a teacher (and coach) was never for the money, it was for the cupcakes and the too often silent appreciation of the children and parents who know that you, in some way, have changed their child for the better. You cannot take the figurative cupcake, or a literal cupcake for that matter, to the bank, but the non-cash rewards are so much sweeter.

gymfinity, dad and the boys

My dad, my sons, and me.

When we do evaluations of our staff at Gymfinity, we always ask them what is the favorite part of their position. Most reply that they love to see the children develop confidence, strength, or skill. Being witness to that is what fulfills a teacher. We do it for the love of teaching and maybe for the importance of being important to a child.

So “Good on you Dad”, somewhere there is a little girl who is doing great in school because of you. She thinks back on the tough teacher’s aide she had in 3rd grade; the one who believed in her,  and as she does her work respectfully her eyes are on the future. Some of the success can be attributed to you Dad. Enjoy your cupcake, you deserve it.


Failing to succeed or succeeding by failure: your call

A while ago I had a coach rebuke me for telling a gymnast that “they were practicing how to fail” as opposed to, by inference, practicing for success. I agreed that out of context the statement was very negative and could be seen as discouraging.

The full story, however, involved a prior discussion with the athlete that was had outside the presence of the visiting coach, where I explained that success comes when the gymnast makes changes to a performance. When we repeatedly do the same error it perfects the error and makes it the “way” the skill is done. Without adjustments, corrections and changes the performance will continue to be done “wrong.” They will be, in essence, perfectingfail-forward failure. The product of having made changes is how one arrives at success. To sum up: if we always do what we’ve always done, we will always get what we’ve always got.

But how bad is it to fail? At Gymfinity we have a philosophy of “sometimes you win, and sometimes you learn.” If you are, in fact, learning from failing then every effort is victorious.

The problem comes in when we (I say we because we all fall victim to this) define ourselves by our failures. When we internally reprimand ourselves because we are not doing things right we often label ourselves as the failure. But that only applies to us if we allow it. Things may not turn out as we expected or as we hoped, but that is not the end of our story. We evaluate our performance and assess what needs to be done differently in order to improve. That is, after all the only way that we can progress.  We should then be grateful for the occasional failure or set back, because it allows us to value victory, improvement and effort.

When I told the gymnast that she was practicing to fail, it was referencing that she was not making the effort, not stepping outside of her comfort zone, and not processing corrections. She was giving up, pouting, and defining herself as a failure. By doing that she was allowing herself to stop trying and she was molding herself to be a perfect failure.

I expressed to her that she could decide to give up and just be another kid who tried gymnastics, had a little success, but couldn’t move past fear and stress: or she could be the story that everyone tells about the girl who wouldn’t quit. The girl who was determined to succeed, the one who wouldn’t let the frustration define her. She could be that success story, and all it would take would be a minor correction.  After all, she is a master at Robert-Kiyosaki-Success-Picture-Quoteovercoming fear, on beating back doubts, and on succeeding even when it’s difficult because she had done it all before; it’s how she got to where she was. She was in the perfect place to be successful, she just needed to stop the practice of perfecting failure.  So within context, “practicing failure” was not demeaning or demoralizing, it was, in fact, a reminder that her focus needed to be on attaining success (improving one small thing at a time). I am happy to report, a year later, that she chose to be successful. She learned the skill, advanced herself and is positioned to be a real team leader.

I am often very proud of my team kids, but never so much as when they become successful; not only over skills, but over themselves, and they do it by using struggle as a tool and a motivator. That personal strength is what makes me most proud of my team and so very proud of our Grayce.


Fitness for Americans: (part 1 of 3)

The shadowy world of the exercise industry  is a dark and scary place. For a person seeking to raise their level of fitness, lose weight, get healthy or just feel better we have created this frightening and confusing landscape to scare them out of doing what they set out to do.  We tell them of “no gain without pain”, and that soreness is inevitable or that ninety percent of all diet plans will FAIL (add echo here…).

We no longer check credentials before giving some yay-hoo with a novel idea the right to tell us how to get fit, lose weight or be healthy. Ninety percent of all diets do fail (echo is optional) because they have no credibility or basis in truth. Taking a pill 1 to 24 times a day will not do it, eating only certain foods won’t do it, and the billions of dollars spent on supplements are mostly dollars just flushed down the drain.  The simple truth is that we know what works but we claim to not have time, money or energy to do the right thing. One thing is true about Americans; we always want everything to be easy. Well, sometimes it just isn’t.

The fact is that what works is eating smarter, being patient, and getting some physical activity.  Period.

Fad diets have no place in getting healthier. They are someone’s concept of taking the easy way and they sell us the idea that for a few dollars they will give us the secret plan that is guaranteed success. They are lying. When constructing your diet, eating healthy is pretty easy.

1.Use portion control, see the picture here for the appropriate portions.

2. Put many colors on your plate. Too much of one color is probably not too good.

3. Eat at appropriate times, right before bed, is not so good, but a few times a day is better than saving it all up for one or two meals. If you do that you will tend to overdo it on portions size.

This is way more simple than that old pyramid.

This is way more simple than that old pyramid.

Here is the problem with this simplicity: It’s too easy. As Americans we are trained to get bored quickly and we don’t give time to actually see results before we call it failure and move on to the next fad.  We are also quick to believe whatever someone sells us. We watch TV and believe that everything it says to us is true. We get hypnotized into thinking we “need” the products they are throwing at us. They tell us we need a 5 bladed razor to be properly shaved and we start to believe that our 3 bladed razors are just not doing the job that we NEED them to do. The same goes with food. We feel we DESERVE the stuff they hawk: “I work hard so I deserve pie, and apparently nobody does it like Sara Lee.”  We deserve the cookies, the cereal, the McDonalds and the Coke-Cola. We have to be strong and ignore them, they are making money off our weakness. I’m not saying that occasionally having a Coke is going to kill you but you don’t really “need I”t to feel validated do you?

So we give in, then we start the downward slide of self punishment because we gave in and have a cookie. Oh NO! So our diet failed and we give up. We have 12 cookies to celebrate that we made it 3 whole days without caving, though it ended in failure we did accomplish the 3 days. We need a reward and the TV said “nobody does it like Sara Lee” so… The truth is that we didn’t fail, we slipped. As long as the slips are less in number than the healthy choices then we are winning.  When we start to feel the energy return, the pounds s-l-o-w-l-y drip away and when someone finally says “hey, you look good, you workin’ out?” Then the slips will disappear and we are sold on the success. It wasn’t overnight it may not even be over-month but it does happen. We have to stop punishing ourselves for failing when the definition of failure is given to us by someone trying to sell us something.

“Healthy” takes time and effort and will power and for most of us, all of that is in short supply. As a coach I am not prone to accepting excuses. So if you are not willing to give the time, make the effort or develop the will then shut up and enjoy your unhealthy, sick, slow, sad, unproductive, and unhappy life. You will likely keep pumping dollars into fads and jumping from disappointment to disappointment.  IS that what you want? To quote the knight from the Indian Jones movie “choose wisely.”

Next post:  “If it hurts, you’re doing it wrong.”


Remembering Old Friends

This has been a year of great loss. I have had 3 friends pass away and each has left a huge hole in my heart.  In the beginning of June, I got word from a mutual friend that my old coaching partner had passed. Apparently it was a heart attack and it came quite suddenly. He was only 42, a former UW gymnast and one hell of a coach. Marty and I could coach our separate events and it seems that our lessons always overlapped or converged at the right time. We were younger and never planned to do that but it always worked out. “I talked to the team about goals today” I would say and he would follow with “so did I”.  Marty was an Army brat who lived all over the world and he was one of the most loving and caring people I ever met. We gave each other endless ribbing but underneath it all I know he loved me as much as I loved him. Marty moved to Virginia and open his own gym which he ran for over 15 years. I learned a lot from working with Marty and he is one of a few people who I can thank for making me into the person I am, personal and professional, today.

It was back in the beginning of April, I had a rough couple of weeks. My old college room-mate passed away after a brief battle with a brain tumor. Chris was a great guy, always happy and always very giving of himself. He and I shared an attic in a house of 6 guys. The attic was huge and he had his half and I had mine. It was great except for the winter when icicles would form on the exposed roofing nails coming through the ceiling from the moisture in our breath that froze to the exposed metal. It was also rough in the summer. Usually our “room” was about 110 degrees and very little cross draft. We used to joke about how the heat would let us lose the layers of whale blubber we put on when we were attempting to stay warm in the winter.  Chris was a great guy. We lost touch a little after college other than an occasional camping trip with our families. After each trip one of us would always say how we got to stay in touch more, but then life would hit and our complicated schedules would make staying in touch very difficult.

Oddly enough, I was on my way to Chris’s funeral when I got a text from another friend informing me that another friend in California had passed away. Years ago I started an e-mail circle of coaches where we could e-mail a question or concern we were having to the circle and someone would respond with advice, guidance, or support making us all better coaches. That idea morphed into coaching websites, Facebook, and LinkedIn types of social media that accomplished the same goals. But back then it was just a group of coaches I knew; I knew them all but one. Her name was Lee and through correspondence I realized that she was the female, California version of me; a person invested in their career and their team kids and families. We stayed in touch for a while but when the circle fell apart I didn’t hear from her for many years. Then came Facebook. I got “friend requested” from her a few years back and we had “liked” each other’s pages and commented on each other’s posts all the time. I had known Lee for almost 20 years and yet we had never met. In fact, she finally posted a picture of herself the week before she passed, it was with her team kids and I showed it to my wife, “This is my friend Lee, I always wondered what she looked like”.  Lee was also a big advocate for children’s protection and justice. Her and I often collaborated on ideas for making gymnastics safer and fighting the idiocy of the laws protecting pedophiles instead of children. When I pushed Wisconsin legislators to eliminate the statute of limitations for crimes involving children, Lee posted that I was her “Hero” and she urged other gym owners and coaches to follow my lead.  Lee died quite suddenly and all I could do was post on her page (her daughter was administering) that I was sorry for the loss and saddened to know that I could never meet her now.

Every time someone passes we all think how we need to be better about telling our loved ones how we feel about them. We vow, like I did, to be closer, talk more, or stay in touch, but time shows us that we may change for a while then we revert back to the same ol’ way it was.  So I stopped fooling myself. I know how I am, I am nothing if not very introspective, and I can honestly say that I am horrible about “staying in touch.” But this I also know: I will tell my friends and family, when they are near, how I feel and how important they are to me. I will do it when I can, when they are standing right next to me. Maybe I won’t see them for months or years afterward and maybe I will lose touch all together, but when I am in touch I will not hold back. I will say “I love you”, “you mean a lot to me”  or sadly, the one we most often skip saying out loud “thank you.”

With that said, please tell your children tonight that you love them one extra time, have them sit on your lap like they did when they were younger, even for just a second. Tell your boss how you like working with them, or tell your employees how they are what makes you a success. Tell the cashier to have a nice day and mean it. When the waitress asks “how are you” ask her back about how she is doing and listen to her.  Be genuine, and never let an opportunity to say “thank you” get wasted.

When I started writing this blog I never thought people would read it. I never thought I had a lot to say, or that what I did say would be important enough to share. I learned that there were people in New Mexico reading it, there are gyms asking to reprint posts for their own staff and parents to read and there were comments made over the last 2 years by 2 Olympians from two different countries. Olympians. Olympians were reading me. So to them, and you I just want to say, while we are near, “thank you.”

February 2017
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