Somber yet Uplifting, Rewarding yet Frustrating

In the past five years, I have never missed blogging before my final exams. I believe it’s a time of year where it is especially important to take time to reflect, and as easy as it would be to ignore blogging and keep cramming for my exam tomorrow, it’s probably about time I found my way back to The Life of Pinya.

Finals week is never smooth sailing, but this past week has been particularly rough with a whirlwind of emotions.

A week ago today my uncle passed away. Technically he was my great great uncle, but with the way generations work out in my family, everyone just called him Uncle Early. I’m honestly still a bit in disbelief that he passed, even just writing this paragraph in the past tense is kind of surreal. It was a shock to everyone. He was only in his mid-70s and in good health. Just a few weeks ago he was crushing it on the dance floor at his daughter’s wedding and every year he’d still challenge me to a fried chicken eating contest at our family reunion. Then two weeks ago he had a stroke.

He has to have immediate brain surgery, but things were still looking good. He was recovering so well; the last time I went into the hospital his temperature had just come back to normal, the nurses completely took him off of one of the painkillers, and he got rid of the case of strep he caught. Then they found something else in his brain. To be honest, I still am not clear on the details, but he died later that night while I was at the gym coaching.

My Uncle Early was a great man. Perhaps he had a bit of a cynical humor from time to time, like when he called a baby a “chubby little porker,” but he was good-hearted and everyone always admired how he brought people together. As one of my relatives put it, our family is comprised of a lot of halves and quarters and all sorts of combinations, and Uncle Early was one of those people who connects everyone. At his memorial service this past weekend, one of his daughters told us how on the notes in his phone was a list of all the Christmas presents he was going to buy for the people in the apartment in NYC he and his wife lived at once a month and another list of plans for their next family vacation for Summer 2019. It really made me realize just how much he was constantly thinking ahead and thinking of others.

Unfortunately, I didn’t see Uncle Early all that often despite the fact that we were in the same city. We mostly talked at our annual family reunion and the occasional family gathering for birthdays and weddings. Two summers ago my grandma and I also got to spend a week with him and his immediate family at a villa in Italy which was an amazing time. I think his passing made a lot of my family realize how silly it is that we don’t stay better in touch, and now more than ever it’s important to actively work to be together with our main connector gone.

And while you may think that having a family member pass away in the middle of final exams is already emotionally draining, my week only continued to get mind-boggling. On top of my uncle passing away and all of our family coming in town, we also had our first gymnastics meet of the season this past weekend. Thus I spent a good portion of the week in the gym for extra last-minute practices trying to get all of our girls prepared for the meet and the gym ready for us to host. And this only became more challenging once it was official that my uncle’s memorial service would be held in the middle of the time our meet was scheduled for. My mom, sister, and I were all supposed to be working at all three sessions Sunday, and thus when the memorial was planned we then had an extra stressor of trying to figure out how we would cover all three of us not being at the meet – there were a lot of phone calls to old coaches and having to explain to our girls why they would have to have a coach they hardly work with at their first meet.

I’m not going to lie, I was a little disappointed to not be able to be at the meet. It’s my first year being an official team coach in terms of actually having a set schedule where I’m the main coach for our youngest girls, so I was kind of looking forward to seeing them compete. Plus I felt bad for them because a competition is already so nerve-racking and I can only imagine what it would be like to then not have your main coach there with you. Not to mention it was the very first gym meet ever for most of my girls as they are on our lowest level of team so they’re mostly newbies to the competition world. I’m proud to say that from what I’ve heard they all had a pretty solid first meet, though a part of me still wishes I could have been there.

I was back at the meet though right after the service because to add another level to this past weekend, not only was I scheduled to coach, I was also scheduled to perform at the meet with my acro partner. While some may say they couldn’t even imagine performing after a memorial service, I’m a big believer in the saying, “The show must go on,” and it was making me more anxious and harder to contain emotions to even think about not performing when I knew I could make it work.

Despite what her mom may have said, I couldn’t bear to think about letting my partner down by not performing because acro isn’t the kind of thing someone can just come in to “fill in” for – if one partner is out, then no one performs. Plus we were both so excited though to show off our new skills and the fact that we finally got everything needed to be an official level 8 pair! (Well officially level 8 besides my tumbling which was a whole other stressor this past week of trying to work past my fear of back tucks while also dealing with my hurt wrists preventing me from other options…) Not to mention, I’m studying abroad over the summer and will miss our in-house meet in the spring, so I’m really not sure when our next performance will be which made me especially upset about potentially missing this showcase.

And I think it’s what my uncle would’ve wanted as well. I mean even his own service ended with a party in his honor because that’s the kind of person he was – someone who loved to bring people together for a good time. So my mom braided my hair in the bathroom after the service and I got in an uber and rushed back to the gym. My partner and I had not had the greatest of practices leading up to the meet, and to be honest for one of our routines we had only ever done it successfully with all of the skills once before the show. So besides all the other emotions, I was not in my most calm state rushing into the gym for a quick warm up before performing.

Somehow, thankfully, our performance actually went as good as we could’ve expected! My tumbling was awful, but we made every skill which for this point in the season is good enough for me!

Then Monday came and the whole “it’s the middle of finals week” officially hit me… Between coaching, spending time with family, seeing shows (like my high school director’s annual one-man version of A Christmas Carol, which I hope to never miss, and Elf the Musical – both full of great and much needed holiday spirit), and just trying to stay calm, it was maybe too easy to procrastinate school work…

So now these past few days I’ve been working hard finishing projects, portfolios, and taking tests all the while studying for my one in person exam tomorrow morning before I’m finally done with the semester.

I know I’m a compartmentalizer when it comes to emotions, which is probably evident even in this post, and honestly, I don’t know how I would’ve gotten through this week if I wasn’t. But that’s also part of why I thought it was especially important for me to blog tonight. It’s often when we feel we have the least amount of time and/or desire to take a moment to reflect that we need to the most.

I don’t have a problem with talking to people about personal things, but it’s been exactly for that reason that instead, this has been one of those weeks where I just kind of avoided people. I knew I would naturally share with people the chaos of this week, but I wasn’t really in the mood to repeat the story so many times with each new person I ran into. That’s a bit too emotionally draining even for this compartmentalizer. The follow-up comments are just… awkward … There’s no better way to describe it personally. It’s a conversation no one knows how to have or continue or what to say or what not to say. I guess that’s just another reason it’s nice to blog- it’s a way to think without stress or interruption and get it all out there at once, not for the sake of sharing or for the desire of a response, but for the purpose of trying to help take it all in.

This week has seen it all. It’s been somber yet uplifting, rewarding yet frustrating, and a whole mix of other things I’ve yet to fully process, but I think writing some of it down might have helped a little at least to get out of my head and start to piece together just everything that happened this weekend. It’s had a bit of a sleepwalking-like feel which I’m not sure I’ve even quite shaken off yet, but “The show must go on.”

And with that, as the tradition goes:

A merry finals to all,

And to all crammers,

Good luck and good night.

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Thankful for Gymnastics

The world of gymnastics has had a lot going on in the press recently, and unfortunately, the majority is negative. The thing is though, you only ever hear about the bad stuff in the news when the truth is that I think everyone could benefit from gymnastics in their life.

I have literally grown up in the world of gymnastics. My mom was coaching while she was pregnant with me. I was taking classes by the time I was a few months old. I first crawled on a gym floor. I started competing at age 5. I had to quit competitive team due to moving but was still in a gym taking classes until we started a new team program. I started helping with coaching occasionally with birthday parties and camps by age 10. My mom then opened up her own gym and I started training in acrobatic gymnastics (versus artistic gymnastics as most people think of due to the Olympics). By age 13 I was choreographing competitive routines for other team girls and occasionally competing since I was around and kept up my skills. Since then I’ve stopped competing in artistic gymnastics, but am currently training level 8 in acrobatics and have an official coaching schedule as a team coach for our lower levels and choreographer for almost every girl on our team.

Despite several moves at a young age, changing interests, and normal growing up stuff like going to college, gymnastics has always been a part of my life. And I imagine it always will be there in some way because as an athlete, coach, and general lover of gymnastics, there’s so much I’m thankful for about gymnastics.

I’m thankful for how gymnastics has taught me to always keep brainstorming and learning from others because there are always new ways to use your resources.

I’m thankful for how gymnastics has allowed me to express my artistic side through choreographing routines and occasionally performing myself.

I’m thankful for how gymnastics has allowed me to play a role in helping kids grow up by working with them to develop their confidence and resilience as well as physical ability.

And I’m thankful for so much more because I know this sport is about more than the scandals and policy changes you might hear about in the news. It’s not even all about the metals or getting to the Olympics either.

Gymnastics at its core is about growth through movement. It’s about the process of setting goals, mastering skills, and performing at your highest caliber. It’s about balance in all senses of the word.

This past weekend I attended a camp for upper-level gymnasts and coaches which is what prompted this post on gymnastics. I appreciated the chance to listen and learn more about drills, techniques, and mindsets currently being developed in our sport. Coaching is about more than just how to teach skills, and what I find most people don’t realize is just how much time coaches spend learning and discussing sports psychology, mental health, and safety on top of the practicality of how to best teach skills. We have a duty to train kids beyond just physically but also mentally and emotionally which is a responsibility we don’t take lightly.

And on the note of mindsets, one of the biggest things I was reminded of this weekend is that in the midst of change we have to stay positive and continue to share the reasons we love what we do.

The simple truth is that a few bad apples can never describe the whole batch. Despite what the media may currently say about the world of gymnastics, there are a lot of great coaches out there doing great things for kids nationwide. And I’m thankful for those coaches and the world of gymnastics for all it has, is, and will teach me.

 

From Fear to Greatness

Being a coach 100% makes me a better educator.

I understand the worry that comes along with the responsibility of teaching and training kids.

The wonder about if you’re good enough to be leading them. The confusion when you can’t put well to words what you want from them. The sadness that comes when you see a child that looks as if she is going to burst into tears over a comment you made when all you were doing was trying to give constructive feedback. The actual tears you see sometimes…

Then there is the ever-present challenge of keeping up with new times, new drills, and new standards of excellence. That moment when you learn a level has completely changed their expectations for an event and you get vexed beyond belief because for the past few years you’ve been leading the kids entering this level down an entirely different path. Then you try to throw in some new drills into your class and you’re thinking it’ll be great – just like how you saw it at that conference you attended!- but it never is. Instead, the kids try out your new drill and it just looks all wrong, so you try to make corrects but can’t tell if it’s even worth continuing with this new drill. Did I explain it poorly? Am I not remembering the technique right? Was it too advanced for their skill level? Did I push them too far too fast? Or do they just need to get in more repetitions? Well now we’ve used up all of our time on this event today and I don’t even know if I just wasted the last 45 minutes or am making progress in a great new area that we’ve not trained as effectively before.

Honestly, time is the worst. Do you spend a little time on every event today, or do the kids really need to focus on just one event they’re weak at? Do I even have this option? Is today’s schedule set in stone because there are too many different groups moving around or do I have flexibility with my time? How do we balance learning new skills while also practising their routines necessary for the next competition? When is there next competition anyway; are they really ready for it? Am I wasting time explaining so many directions? Should I be doing our normal warm-up for consistency and time effectiveness or mixing it up so different skills are worked? Does it take more time to set up these stations then they’re worth doing? How much time is left before we have to rotate? What happens when they come to this event with a different leader next time and the kids get confused with new directions and expectations? Are the kids progressing at a reasonable pace? Is anyone falling behind? Is anyone being held back?

So ya, I can empathize with teachers. I know all of those worries and concerns and feel them while maybe not daily, at least bi-weekly, but I’m often thinking about this work much more often than just while I’m in the gym. Half of the time I ride Marta I’m listening to potential gymnastics music or choreographing new routines based on the skills I know kids have/expect them to have come performance time.

While I understand and constantly am faced with these concerns, I also can respect the bigger picture. USA Gymnastics completely changed lower level vaulting progressions this year. It’s a pain in the butt because now we’re having to teach all of these new vaults to children and we feel less confident in how these new changes play into our personal philosophies. But at the same time, the changes are mostly good for the greater whole of trying to improve American gymnastics.

And fears of if you’re good enough to be a leader, while perhaps valid, are also in a way trivial. Whether you feel good enough or not, you’re what these kids got. So either step up or step down, either way, get out of the way because these kids are coming and have expectations of you. So make it up, make mistakes, make saves. Try something new, and give it adequate time in the experimenting phase before judging it’s worth as a drill or skill. When you’re stuck or need a second to catch your breath or even just help with setting up, let the kids lead- they’ll surprise you. Learn from those around you and don’t be afraid of a “double spot” or an extra hand to help out; we tell kids it’s okay if you need a little extra help getting a new skill, so it should be okay for us too.

Fears, nerves, and concerns can drive us to great things if we can accept their validity and then move on to push past them; sometimes it just takes time, creativity, and a little extra help every now and then.

 

Living in the Chaos

Somehow I managed to forget to blog every night last week. Well I would typically remember, but not until it was almost 1am at which point I decided it just wasn’t going to happen.

It’s been kind of a crazy week looking back. I was at a wedding in North Carolina; ran a SlackChat for the Pioneering Education community (kind of like a Twitter chat, but on a project management platform called Slack); had my first test of the semester; performed an acro routine and had the kids I coach perform group routines I choreographed at what ended up being a huge event which ended up going well despite my stress on how they were looking up until the performance; had my first advanced tap class and got whiplash from the combo to a song from Hair the musical; joined an intermural ultimate frisbee team and won our first game; and that leads up to now pretty much.

Some weeks are just so busy you don’t always get the chance to stop and look back on all that was accomplished. There was an unusually large amount of stress and chaos last week, but looking back on it, I think everything turned out pretty well in the end.

In particular, I’m really proud of how the gymnastics performances went. The routines performed last Spring were not so great, especially compared to the year before, so I really wanted this show to be better. It was a challenge because we never really had everyone there on the same day many times between breaks and the Taylor Swift concert… So the girls maybe had 4-6 practices total with me and some were as short as under 30 minutes. Then to add to the chaos I found out on Tuesday that we had one of our top level girls hurt her arm the weekend before, so I had to fill in for her with one practice before show day to work out.

In the end, there were obviously parts that could have been more in synch (especially the endings) but the routines turned out really well under the circumstances and all of the parents and other members of the audience seemed to really enjoy them. It was also the first time in Jump Start Gym’s history that we had every team girl present at the same time for a show. It made my job so much nicer because I could choreograph for specific groups and kids without having to tweak things depending on who had to fill in from my original vision. Plus it meant we could have 4 different routines, and even though it made my life harder trying to divide my time between groups, it meant that we had a much more fulfilling show overall oppose to having to just do one routine and then basics which aren’t exciting to watch.

Sometimes the hardest expectations to live up to are your own. Not sure that these routines fully lived up to those expectations, but I was happy with how they turned out and proud of the performance from our gymnasts.

If you care to watch them, I’ve added the videos below:

Gift of Design

My sister and I watched a movie today that compared surfing to high-end fashion. How? Through the art of designing.

Overall the movie was super cheesy, but I loved the message of the importance of designers and how designing isn’t a term-limited to any one area.  I’ve always said, “Anyone can be a designer.” You don’t have to be good at drawing or crafting per say, it’s about visualizing an idea and bringing a concept to life; that’s really not even the best way to describe it maybe, but it’s how I’m thinking about it right now.

In the movie, they talked about how as a designer you kind of just feel the idea and see it in your head then it just happens. I seriously related to this way of thinking about how a designer works, because I’ve been designing a ton of gymnastics routines recently and that’s exactly how I feel about it. I listen to the music and then I just see the routine in my head with all of the different moving parts, then I just go to the gym floor and start experimenting around until something sticks. The girls I work with even know that half the time I make stuff up even while I’m working with them because of all of a sudden I visualize the dance as something slightly different.

My mom will always tell people to not try to understand the way my brain works. I’ve even had times where I’ll play a non-edited song to other coaches to get their opinion for routine music and they’ll respond, “I don’t know, but I’m sure I’m not hearing this the same way you are.”

I believe everyone has that one area where they’re an especially gifted designer. Where they see something differently than how most people see it. Like how some people can visualize a surfboard out of a piece of wood or see an entire outfit out of just a scrap of cloth. Some just need a little help discovering what that gifted area is.

Champions in the Making

I wasn’t able to blog this weekend because I was in Ohio watching the US Classics gymnastics competition then driving back home; kind of a crazy weekend honestly.

We went to the gymnastics meet because a friend of ours, who we’ve known basically all of her life, qualified for the Hopes Championship in the 12-13-year-old division of this meet. That might not mean much to non-gymnastics people, but basically, she qualified as one of the top eighteen 12-13-year-old gymnasts in the country which allowed her to compete in this championship meet.

While I loved getting to watch our friend compete, it was really cool to get to see the senior age division where I got to see some of the best gymnasts in the world compete!

I’m blown away daily by the amazing talents of young people. When I see the dedication and hard work of these gymnasts it just makes me wonder all of the other amazing things young people could do if they’re in an environment that fosters developing passions, setting goals, and finding creative ways to accomplish the improbable.

Most young gymnasts that are really dedicated to trying to go far in the sport end up homeschooling or going to part-time schools, like our friend at this meet does, from a pretty young age; typically around age 8 or 9. They homeschool in order to have more time when they can go into the gym to train more and more with each level they progress to. I know homeschooling or part-time schools are also common with other sports as well as young actors amongst others. I wonder what other kids could benefit from only spending part of their day/week in a school building, and then spending the rest of their time going into the environment they are interested in to actually do training in the area. What if “training in the gym ( or another environment)” was the norm in schools?

Stumped on a Song

One of my summers jobs is finding and editing floor music for all of our gymnasts for the next competition season; then I go on to choreograph the routines for most of the girls and start teaching them when I get back from travelling.

One of the things I find most interesting about this job is how every gymnast has their own style. I never took music theory or anything like that, so I’m actually pretty horrible at trying to describe types/styles/genres of music, but somehow I’m able to watch a gymnast and listen to different pieces of music and connect the dots. It’s one of those weird skills you can’t really describe how you learned it but somehow over the years, you pick it up from being in the environment long enough.

I can typically predict the kind of music gymnasts will have (when they eventually get to the level where they have unique routines) by the time they reach our second lowest level. I don’t usually need to figure music out that early, so I don’t waste time thinking about it often, but occasionally we have girls we know will progress fast so I have to work fast to figure out their style to keep up. Occasionally though, I get stumped.

I spent today working on my goal for the week: editing all the music for next season. I successfully have finished all of the editing (including for one girl I learned a few hours ago is actually quitting so that was frustrating…) except for one gymnast. This girl has had me stumped for years now, in fact even when she was at our second-lowest level I was stumped with who to partner her with for their floor routine. She’s a talented gymnast and a pretty solid dancer that could honestly do a lot of different styles if she wanted to, but I always struggle every year with figuring out the best fit for her. I know what things don’t work/what she doesn’t like, but it’s hard to look for songs based just on what you know what won’t work.

It’s been a frustrating process because every time I let myself go on the hunt for a song, I find myself an hour later not really anywhere closer to figuring out my puzzle. I’ve tried using my design thinking practices of doing empathy interviews- I talked to this gymnasts and others about what they like and dislike based on their style of gymnastics, and I’ve talked with other coaches as well. These interviews didn’t really get me any closer to success and basically only solidified my assumptions based on watching their gymnastics.

So maybe I should just try experimenting. I’m thinking now (as in literally in this moment because blogging for me is really just me talking through my own thoughts in real time) I could try just playing different kinds of music and seeing if the girls can improv to different songs and see what happens. I’ve vaguely thought about this before, but my worry is the kids will shy away or get overly goofy about it because improv isn’t something gymnasts typically do. However, at this point, I guess it could be worth a try until I think of some other way to get unstumped or somehow that perfect song comes up in my constant searching.

The Pay Off

Kids are so funny.

Today I had a mom of one of our team gymnasts come up to me after practice asking if I babysit. I told her yes, though unfortunately am unable to this Friday morning which is when she was asking about. Still though, she got my number because apparently her daughter just really wants me to babysit her. She said that her daughter thinks I’m like her lucky charm or something because she’s gotten two new skills in the last week or so and I just happened to be working with her both times.

I found this all very funny because to me I was just doing my job and coaching like normal, but to this girl, it really meant a lot. This same kid has recently gotten to be much more of a leader than in years past because she’s coming even on her optional day of practice and therefore is working with the new team girls as well. She has gotten to lead warmups, demonstrates a lot, and be the “big partner” (and this girl is a pipsqueak so she’s not “big” by any means) and she’s really seemed to be enjoying it.

Her newfound leadership also means she has to set an example during practice by pushing herself to work hard even during the challenging parts of practice like when we condition or work flexibility. It’s great to see her stepping into the role of being a leader and her extra practising has paid off with getting new skills. One of those proud moments as a coach.

Hard work pays off, and it’s kind of nice to be the coach around when it does.

Changes Are Coming

It used to be that every four years the USA gymnastics routines would change for compulsory levels. The last time routines changed was four years ago, however, an annoucement was made a few years back that for this set of routines we will be waiting eight years before changing routines.

The thing is, eight years is a long time to keep the same compulsory routines and policies for levels. Plus, like most things, once kids started actually performing the routines, the board realized things they’d like to change. So despite the fact that we have the current routines for four more years, some changes were put in place for certain levels.

Therefore, our level progressions (because there are some options so not every girl takes the same path to get to a certain point in their gymnatics career) have now been all turned around and wonky.

I feel bad for this first round of gymnasts having to be the first to experience these changes, the “guinea pig year” so to say. It’s always hard being the guinea pigs of new changes, but that’s how we learn is by shipping new ideas and seeing what happens. There never seems to be a perfect transition, but that’s life; it’s just a lot harder when you’re the coach versus the athlete because you have so much influence over how easy or hard that transition is for all the kids.