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.

 

Advertisements

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:

Even if it’s a Game…

There’s a recentish trend in education around trying to “gamify” certain lessons to make them more engaging to students.

Personally, I’m a fan of this concept, I even use the tool myself when teaching gymnastics sometimes by making conditioning into competitions or basics on beam into a repeat after me game as I did today. I think it can definitely be a useful tool for any teacher’s toolbag.

However, I also learned today that doing a poor job at gamify-ing actually makes things worse from a user end.

As part of my psych class requirements, I participated today in a research study. If it wasn’t giving me class credit I would say that it was the biggest waste of an hour and a half I’ve ever had; it still quite possibly could be. Some part of me hopes that the researchers can benefit from my involvement in the study, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be an outlier in their study.

The study description was:

The purpose of this study is to assess how information is valued when it comes at a cost and how time pressure influences information foraging. In this experiment, you will play a medical diagnosis game where you will select information to aid in your diagnostic decision-making. 

So I come in, sign my release form, and then I was put at a desk with a computer in a small room that had a divider between me and the other participant. When I read that this study was being conducted in the form of a game I got excited thinking it was going to be a fun mental challenge with interesting rewards system; you know- game like.

Turns out this was not a fun game. The game worked by a patient “coming in” and telling you their symptoms. Then you could see the results of different tests like an MRI or Cat scan, etc. There were four symptoms, four tests each with three possible outcomes, and four potential diagnoses. Upon correctly diagnosing a patient you’d get $1000/points. Then there were different rounds that added different factors like time and hidden information which were meant to help get at what the study was trying to test.

In theory, you would have to guess at the beginning of the game and then would slowly recognize patterns to help you make informed decisions on how to diagnose each patient. The problem for me was that I never learned anything. To be honest, I got really annoyed with myself because I could not figure out the correct connections. It didn’t help that half of the test results looked the same and I didn’t realize during the instructions would be the only time they tell you the difference between the “positive, neutral, and negative” test results looked like.

What I do know though is that my feeling of “failure” to learn what I was supposed to be learning lead to exactly what you’d expect: I stopped caring to try. I just continued to guess and honestly, it made things faster and I was still having decent success in my opinion, though I have nothing to compare my game score against. At that point, I really just wanted to get out of there but knew I had to finish the study for my credit (and for feeling like a decent person purposes and helping with their study despite being bored out of my mind).

I couldn’t even tell you how many times I almost fell asleep out of boredom. This “game” turned into my clicking a mouse twice in two spots then clicking the space bar. Repeat. Over and over again. I then got to that point where I felt jumpy from sitting in one place for so long and trying not to think about going to the bathroom because I was just wondering how long I would have to keep playing the stupid game.

I’m pretty confident that there are a lot of other students out there like me in this story and even more that may have not even tried as long as I did to figure out the learning lesson. Students where if they were in the situation of feeling like they were never going to learn something, they stop trying to learn it if no one gives them a new way to approach the topic. I think people intrinsically know when a certain style of teaching is not going to work for them, so why keep trying to put the square into the circular hole when you know it will never fit?

And this goes even for exercises that seem “fun” and “game like”; they still may not work for everyone, no matter how excited you are about a new activity for teaching a topic. There always needs to be options and adjustments if we want everyone to succeed; we talk about that all the time in gymnastics. When we teach a new drill, we say it, show it, have the kids try it, and still sometimes need to give a few kids a spot through it for a little; it doesn’t matter how they get the information, but they need to be able to all safely try on their own.

It was honestly a big MoVe moment (moment of visible empathy) for me walking out of that room realizing how some students may feel fairly often at school when they just aren’t getting it and don’t know what to do about it.

When Stuck in a Costco

I had a very productive day. However,  part of this day involved getting stuck at Costco for a few hours while waiting for our tire to be fixed. I couldn’t go anywhere, because the car was being worked on. I wasn’t with anyone that could consume my time by talking to me. I didn’t have internet access to be pulled into trying to do a bunch of different things online. And there wasn’t anything super amazing going on around me for me to be distracted by watching my surroundings.

I was just stuck.

The weird thing was that it actually felt kind of nice to be stuck.

It was time where there was nothing I really should do because there was so little that I could do. I had my phone, headphones, a notebook, pencils, and some other random things. But I couldn’t go on my computer or clean out my room or anything like that, so instead I just kind of chilled and did what I can. When you feel like there is very little that you can do, it makes the things you do accomplish feel like such a big deal.

I had to call back the GT pharmacy and then call CVS to work out a prescription thing, and I expected this to be a big hassel. I’m not a big fan of talking on the phone, especially in a situation like this where I thought I handled everything online and therefore go into the phone call knowing that something has already gone wrong so it seems bound for more problems to appear. Surprisingly though, the phone calls were very smooth and everything got worked out and I even was able to pick up my prescription right after getting un-stuck from Costco.

After the pharmacy got sorted out, I had some time where I read through and responded to emails on my phone. It’s a great thing I read those emails because it later inspired me to check on registration stuff again when I got home after Costco and CVS, and then I was able to somehow get into the English class I wanted/needed which was stressing me out all summer!

I was at Costco so long that I even had some extra time to just sit and listen to gymnastics routine music on repeat enough to start fine tuning some choreography I’m about to start teaching in the upcoming weeks. I’ve been too distracted once I get into the gym to just listen to the songs, and when I’m home I feel like I have “better things” to be doing, so this time was invaluable.

I’m not sure any of these productive things would’ve happened today if I hadn’t gotten “stuck.” I guess sometimes it can nice to just stay put with ample time and no distractions to get some of those random little things done that always seem to be shoved to the back of priority lists on a normal day.

 

Thinking of Spaghetti

It’s been an odd night. Lot’s of choas with my syblings, and thus all I can think about right now is spaghetti. Maybe it’s because my mind is kind of feeling like spaghetti at the moment.

Spaghetti is pretty great. There are so many metaphors that can go along with spaghetti.

In gymnastics we will talk about how girls shouldn’t have limbs that look like cooked noodles and instead should be tight like an uncooked piece of spaghetti. A good idea is kind of like spaghetti, because if you throw it against the wall and it sticks, it’s maybe worth taking out of the boiling water. We’ve even used spaghetti to do team building design challenges.

Thinking about all this spaghetti also reminded me of one of my favorite blog posts mainly just because of the title: “Panda’s Won’t Go Extinct; Chunky Design Thinking.” It’s all about a TED Talk party I had before sophomore year of high school which feels like forever ago.

Funny though how even “forever ago” I was still thinking of spagetti. It’s really werid how certain ways of thinking stick with us over time.

– well that was me trying to make an interesting point out of my night of nonsense…

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.

Off the Checklist

Even on vacation, sometimes you need a work day. Especially when I travel for about half of the summer because the rest of the world including work doesn’t stop just because you take off to another city.

Next week I go to Capon, our annual trip to West Virginia for our family reunion, but Capon is pretty old school, which I love, though it means I won’t have internet or phone access next week. Therefore, today I had some things to take care of before I travel basically off the grid for a week. (As usual, I will still write blog posts. but they will be in the notes of my computer and then they will all be posted when I return to having internet after the trip.)

I was quite proud of myself today for getting some spreadsheets edited, a mandatory online gymnastics safety course finished, more research on floor routine music, plus I did laundry and got packed up for my flight tomorrow afternoon.

It can feel really good to just spend time knocking out work and getting some items off your checklist.

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.