Don’t Forget to be Awesome

Sometimes you have to remind people that they’re awesome. Furthermore, sometimes you have to remind people that they need to remind themselves that they’re awesome.

Today I made a girl yell out loud that she was awesome because who knows how the rest of her day was going but by the time she got to practice she was having some serious self-doubt going on. I don’t feel that self-doubt is something that just get’s better with age either because a similar situation came up with some Tech kids as we’ve begun our first week of school. There was a big conversation I more witnessed and listened than partook in literally after day 1 of school complete with yelling and tears that was essentially all about self-doubt with school, friends, and life in general.

It seems that mental health problems have started hitting kids younger and younger nowadays. I don’t know if the general pressures of life have really gotten that much more stressful or what it is, but I notice more and more kids of all ages doubting themselves daily. I know the feeling and admit it’s one thing to give advice and an entirely different thing to take even your own advice; there’s no simple fix so I’m not going to try to propose one at this point in time.

It’s just hard to see people constantly blaming themselves and not thinking they’re good enough. Since I’ve come to college it seems to just be a norm though, and now that I coach gymnastics more often, I’ve started noticing signs of self-doubt at even younger ages which is even harder to see.

I wish more was being done to combat this. I can’t help but feel the best place to make a difference would be in schools where kids spend the majority of their day-to-day lives. Yet the opposite seems to be happening. We’re always pushing kids to be perfect; to get a “perfect score” specifically. There’s nothing wrong with striving for greatness, but no matter how many teachers try to say “it’s okay to fail because we learn from our mistakes,” at the end of the day I never truly see this mindset in practice. I don’t think we ever will as long as we have grades, standardized tests, and college applications so heavily based on all of the numbers. How often do we just teach kids to love themselves the way they are and that striving for greatness is a personal mission to be the greatest “you” you can be for the world, not a competitive mission to be the best singular thing compared to everyone else?

The competitive nature that comes along with the numbers is inevitable and detrimental. Wheather intentional or not, kids end up comparing and competing in terms of grades. It always happens and it only makes it that much worse when someone slips up. It doesn’t feel good to be “beaten,” and this competitive nature, whether it means vying for valedictorian or messing around with friends about the little participation grades, until the foundational systematic approach to schooling is altered I don’t imagine mental health in society improving anytime soon.

Watch a 10-year-old beat herself up over forgetting two poses in a 3-minute long routine she learned in less than three hours and tell me that mental health isn’t an issue amongst young learners.

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Not All About Winning

I don’t understand why high school sports are taken so seriously sometimes. Realistically most high school athletes won’t continue much further with whatever sport they’re playing. I understand and appreciate wanting to be good and wanting to win, but sometimes you just want to play to have fun and it seems like there isn’t room for that in high school.

I was at my sister’s volleyball team meeting today and it was flat out said, “At this level in high school, it’s all about winning.” My sister is JV and honestly not amazing nor does she care to be, but she wanted to play because she thinks the sport is fun, her friends are doing it, and she wants a consistent way to work out. However, every year she comes so close to quitting because she feels like it’s taken way too seriously and all of her time becomes dedicated to the sport in an overwhelming way.

My sister quit competing gymnastics going into her freshman year. She used to train 12+ hours a week so when she quit she knew she was going to need to find some other sport to keep her active. Yet it seems it’s kind of hard to start a new sport once you get to high school.

I’m sure my sister isn’t the only person who discovered that they’re ready to try something new in high school. Shouldn’t high school be all about trying new things while you still can? It kind of stinks that everything is so serious and competitive and “top level” that it becomes hard to just try out new sports and stay active for fun.

I constantly wonder why high school’s don’t have intramural teams (or at least mine didn’t). Colleges have intramural teams and, while I’ve never played on one, I love the concept: form a small team that maybe practices once a week and then compete against other teams in a recreational way for a few weeks, then find a new sport to try out. I think it’s great that colleges have this option, though I find with everything else going on in college, it still can be hard to actually find time to play on a team. In high school though, it seems like it could be a perfect medium for those people who just want to have fun being active.

Imagine if every six weeks or so there was a new intramural sport offered, maybe even during the offseason of the varsity sport so people could use it as a time to have fun before getting super competitive. Maybe there could even be odd sports offered like Galic football or ultimate frisbee. The games could even just be in-house scrimmage style, or maybe small teams form at the school so each small team finds one day to practice that works for those x number of kids, and then there is one day set aside for matches between the small teams. Like soccer games are normally 11v11 in high school, but you could also just play mini-games of 5v5 or 7v7 or whatever really, the point is to have fun being active not to try and get college scholarships or win big tournaments.

It would also be a great way for kids involved in the arts to also be able to play sports. That was a big problem for me because I played soccer since I was 3 and enjoy the sport a lot, but I also loved theater and there was really no good way for me to do both for school. I’m sure if there was just a once a week commitment it would be much easier to work around with my theater commitment.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I feel like a lot of students could benefit from a more recreational, short-term, low commitment sports team at school.

I’ve been having this same thought for years now actually. After finishing writing this post I just found a post from February 2016 essentially about the same topic. Maybe one these days the idea will stick with someone because at this point I’ve excepted it isn’t my challenge to take on, but it’s still one I find coming up as I continue to have friends and family in similar situations to me with the high school sports debacle.

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?

Going for the Goal

I decided this year to play in the annual adult shuffleboard tournament with one of my friends, and we lost horribly… We didn’t even make it into the bracket technically because we had a play in the game and we were expected to win too.

It was one of those moments where you’re reminded that practice helps, but so much of playing in tournaments is about the mental game. My partner and I hadn’t played at all the first few days at Capon and then we ended up playing a bunch the morning before our official game. I don’t know where our heads were the time we played the real game because we were far too defensive and then just couldn’t make things stick.
At Capon we have a saying, “Don’t try to win, just don’t lose,” meaning that sometimes your goal just needs to be to play it safe and let the other side slip up while trying to do something fancy. However, I guess to counter that point, you have to actually take a shot in order to score. (A little more of a soccer reference than shuffleboard, but I’ve been watching the World Cup semi-finals this week too so the analogy is working in my mind.)
We can’t always just play defensively and worry about the other people around us and how to keep things “safe,” sometimes you just need to go for it and trust your training. We have to be willing to go for our goals if we ever can hope of achieving them.

Unplugged

I’m back from Capon and the land without internet or wifi, and therefore, will continue to post some of the blog posts that I wrote during the interim later today. However, I did not successfully write a post for every day, but I’m kind of okay with that. Rather than spending that time off on my own with my computer, it was time I spent taking advantage of all the great moments Capon has to offer without technology.

I feel like every year I blog about how much I appreciate having a week tech-free, but it’s just so true! I love how at Capon we’re forced to unplug and just get to be in the moment chilling with our family and friends.

Living in all of the moments is such a refreshing feeling; from the fast-paced ultimate frisbee games or rowdy badminton matches to the quiet times reading on the porch or taking a nap on a hammock. When you have time to kill between meals you find all sorts of adventures and games to play like “Super Pong” where we play a game of ping-pong meets foursquare across three ping-pong tables.

Then into the late night when you think all of the moments are over for the day, still we might have a serious chat about family drama or a fake talent show that will make you laugh your socks off when friends re-perform acts from their childhood.

Capon is like the camp you never grow too old to attend, every year I can’t wait for another week of amazing food, great company, and intense tournaments of the weirdest kind.

Till next year Capon; can’t wait until another week un-unplugged from technology and plugged into the real moments.

Play to Learn

I feel like one of the most untapped pieces of potential for great learning is playing games.

Today I spent just about all day in a game store where they have bookshelves full of IMG_0965.JPGrandom games you can play. As a student, it’s $5 for me to sit at a big game table in the store and be able to play as many games as I want from 8am to 11pm and can even leave and come back for no extra charge. We played from 1:30-11 only taking a little more than an hour break to eat dinner at a nearby restaurant and it really was a fantastic day.

We challenged ourselves to learn new games so we played two rounds of two new games and then ended the night with 15 minutes of one of our favorite “classics” for our family to play.

I had forgotten how hard it can be to learn a new game. So often when playing games, at least one person already knows how to play and they can help explain as you go. When no one has ever played the game, you can easily spend 20-30 minutes just doing reading comprehension to try and understand setup and how things work in this particular game world.

We found also that after learning our first new game, learning a second new game became easier because we had more confidence at being able to piece together and remember odd assortments of rules; games push your creative muscles.

Games are so great for all sorts of brain activity. On top of the reading comprehension needed to understand instructions and the communication skills to explain the instructions to the rest of the players and the questioning skills to truly know the instructions, we had all sorts of learning moments: We had to challenge our memory, quickly develop strategy, be able to plan for 3 steps ahead, prioritize, consider risk management, communicate our ridiculous sounding ideas, and in one game we even had to work on our geography knowledge.

Honestly, I may have only played games all day, but my brain “hurts” so to say, and I feel physically tired from all the processing I did. Mind challenges are some of the best ways to grow our brain capacity and therefore expand our learning toolbox.

I wish there were shelves of games at schools. I wonder what it would be like to be able to just get a group together and pick out a new board game to try learning over lunch time. Games are such a great way to build community and brain muscle it just seems like a naturally benefiting idea for schools to incorporate more game time into school.

That was part of the reasoning why I created the Kemps Khoas club way back when which was a club devoted to a card game tournament building community between faculty and students. One of my wishes that I never got around to in high school would’ve been to really develop the club to go beyond just the one card game.

Playing is such an essential part of learning. I wish I saw more games at schools.

A Chance at Greatness

Earlier today I read this article about the application process to get into middle schools and high schools in New York. It’s crazy!!!

(I’d strongly encourage reading this article before reading the rest of my post because it provides helpful context.)

I remember applying to colleges all too vividly and it was stressful and tiresome and promoted all sorts of self-doubt amongst teens. For students applying to some schools, your shot all boils down to a bunch of numbers – that’s terrifying. From what I can tell, it seems like some kids go through this same process as early as when they’re 10-11 and only just about to enter 6th grade- that seems outright wrong.

Even looking past the equality debates and economic pull for a second (though very real issues as well), what 10-year-old should have to be thinking about how their grades will affect the rest of their life: the odds of getting into a good middle school leading to odds of going to a good high school leading to odds of being well prepared for college. Sure you may think, “Well the child probably isn’t worrying about all of the grades and applications and portfolios; the parents are the ones to really send stuff in,” but what is the likelihood parents don’t start pressuring their kids more and more with each year the academic game gets more competitive? Parents just want their kid to go to a good school, but what has to happen for them to get there?

And let’s keep in mind elementary school “grades” are basically assessing things like multiplication to the power of 12 and a few basic sentences written in a row.

I couldn’t read well until 2nd grade, does that mean I shouldn’t have gotten a chance at a good education?

This article honestly made me consider even beyond this apparent problem with New York City schools. I realized that there are often complaints about the ways that higher education admits students, but how often do we consider all of the k-12 schools who also have application processes? How do they work? How heavily are grades and standardized tests considered? Are children truly looked at holistically?

I’m just throwing out questions because I really don’t know how it works. I had never considered how lucky I am to have gone to the same school for middle and high school. A lot of kids go to a different school every four-ish years of their life because that’s just how neighbourhood schools tend to work. I, on the other hand, switched to a private school when I was going into 6th grade and then got to just stay at that school. I didn’t have to deal with applying to a new high school, or meeting new friends, or getting used to a new school system.

I vaguely remember the application process going into 6th grade. I’m sure my records were sent in and then I remember having an interview where they asked me to solve some basic math problems and take a few “creativity tests.” I only applied to one school. If I didn’t get in and didn’t get financial aid, I would’ve gone to our local middle school despite it being known as, “not a good school.” I was fortunate to make it in and to be on scholarship, but many don’t get that same chance.

My life would be completely different had I not switched schools in 6th grade. Completely and utterly so, I’m certain of it.

I hate that there even exists rumours of “not good schools.” Shouldn’t every child get to go to a great school? School is honestly one of the biggest parts of childhood. We spend 35+ hours a week in school for roughly 180 days a year. That amount of time spanning from age 5-18 (and some kids spend longer than that), adds up to an underestimate of about 16,380 hours spent in k-12 school during childhood. That’s a ton of time!

Obviously, this article I read is focused primarily on how the system to apply to schools is corrupt, but in my opinion, if the schools supposedly “not good” we just transformed to be better, then maybe the application system would self-fix to some extent. Every school has a different culture. Two schools can be entirely different and yet both equally great for the right child. The school application process should be about finding what culture of a school is best for each individual child, not about children competing to be admitted into the select few great schools.

School influences life; there is no questioning that anymore in the age we live in. Being okay with some schools just not being great is like saying not all kids deserve a chance at a great life.

We need all schools to be great.

An Off Game

Because my grandma is in town this weekend, we decided to go out and do something fun this morning in order to all spend time together. We ended up going bowling, which seems to often be what we decide to do whenever anyone is in town.

I had my worse game ever of bowling today. I scored a 45. It was bad. I kept hitting one stupid corner, or worse I would just flat out get a gutter ball.

We ended up playing three rounds of bowling and by the last round, I won with 116 points which is up there with some of my best games of bowling. It was really funny to see the improvement over time happening right before my eyes.

Every now and then you need an off game to remind you to always push yourself to work a little harder; perfect is really a myth so always aim further.

This also reflected how I was thinking while watching my siblings’ dance performance this weekend.

Sometimes things come really naturally to certain people, but at some point, the people who work hard will surpass those who have natural talent. So if you are naturally talented at something, work even harder so you can try to top yourself which each performance/game/test/etc.

 

Learning the Game

Sometimes you can forget about generation gaps in knowledge. Things that are normal for you to experience growing up are just completely foreign concepts to others.

That’s essentially what it was like playing Mario Kart with my grandma earlier tonight. She has never played a video game before and playing with her and my siblings was pretty amusing, to say the least. There was a lot of supportive coaching while simultaneously trash talking and getting mad at the computer players.

My grandma may have never come in higher than 12th place (which if you know Mario Kart, you know that is last…), but she said it was a fun game and she personally improved her speed a little each time.

It’s not always about winning. Sometimes it’s just about learning the game and getting a little better each time.

A Step Down

One of the comments people often make when talking about gymnastics is, “How do girls do all those flips so high up and on only a 4-inch beam?!”

The beam can be pretty scary for a lot of gymnasts, especially as they start to work on new skills. I’ve found that a lot of our younger girls noticeably have a fear of the beam even if they won’t voice their concerns.

It’s understandable really; most girls, if they haven’t themselves, have at least seen someone split the beam before, which in this case means they fall onto the beam with one leg on either side. Speaking from experience, it is not a good feeling… However, we like to say that you know you’re a true gymnast when you first split the beam. It means you were working hard and going all in for a skill that maybe just didn’t go right, but you will most definitely learn to not try doing whatever you did the same way again.

It’s hard though to help kids get over their fears. I have noticed though, that our kids like to fight harder to go for skills and stick them when they’re performing or competition. So today we did a lot of partner drills and some competitions on the low beams and I think it went rather well.

Sometimes the best way to move forward is to take a step back, or in this case, a step-down, and I never underestimate the power of friendly competition. Done right, a small competition can make things more fun and more performance-based, and some kids just do better when they feel like they’re performing.