My Heart, Inspired.

Back in the early days of my blogging I seem to recall a moment where I admitted that I would never adopt or foster a kid. I’m not cold-hearted, I just knew me. I knew me at a time when I was a difficult person to live with because I hated being adopted. I knew me at a time when I couldn’t separate my reality from what I always wanted. I wanted a white-picket fence life with a dog and two parents who looked like me. My world was surrounded by diversity yet still had me feeling all alone. Now, I am a visible minority and have never felt so alike. I guess that is what maturity does to you or perhaps, realizing the bigger picture.

In a short summary, for a time, because I knew me, I knew I never wanted to adopt another “me”. I didn’t want the questions that come with having been adopted, I also didn’t want the reality that when I went looking, my biological parents were just a name on a sheet of paper.  I remember the breakdowns and the angry spells. There was madness and frustration in this world that I didn’t get to choose what happened to my future as person in a blended family. I didn’t have the privilege of knowing everything about who I was, unlike others. It was for that reason that I chose and decided (although never had “family” on my mind), that I didn’t want my future children to go through the same thing. Bluntly put, I didn’t want to do deal with it-someone else could.

A lot has changed since then. Somehow no matter how hard I try to avoid it, I attract kids with baggage. I attract mini-me’s. For some reason despite not knowing the answers to every complicated situation I seem to enjoy finding the solution. The other day I became so in depth with what I was doing that I looked up “Requirements to be a Foster Parent”. Didn’t even blink, didn’t even question. My white-picket fence dream life is on a serious overhaul. I thought, this world has so many children. It has so many spoiled, bratty, self-centred children raised by parents who expect the same. It has so many underprivileged, sad, hopeless children raised by parents who live the same. Sometimes the combinations mix and that’s when you get the champion out of the woodwork. But what about those who will never see that “other” side? What about those who are products of their environment to a tee? This includes the spoiled ones but its sadness is equal to its counterpart.

Something I wish people knew more about mini-me’s is this: Sometimes having this back story that is not all picket-fence and doting Grandmas makes you grow up a little faster than those around you. It doesn’t mean we’re incapable of loving or caring, it just means we prioritize. If you met me at first glance you would think I am a dictator of children. The reality is, and I wish this didn’t overtake so much, I was raised to be diligent and obedient (although I stray from this one a little). The way that I am has no time for a child who is wild or goes outside of this. I’m working on it, I promise. But I love the kids who are roughed up, who ask for love in the most unloving ways and those who just are looking for “something” that can’t be bought but has to be instilled. Sometimes I like to think that my style and brain gears more towards them because we expect a lot from each other mutually both of sheer stubbornness but also because we want to see if we’re both strong enough to see it through. Somehow this mentality ends up being characteristics of foster kids. Survival of the bravest. I love brave people but most importantly I love helping people be brave.

Sitting on a pool deck today, many wondered why this little boy came on the field trip even though he can’t swim and hates getting wet. I sat around the pool, legs crossed, ready to supervise the chaos. With a quick gesture of his fingers I find myself the human lazy-boy to a 4-year old who proceeds to size up his hands with mine as he sits on my lap. He is intrigued by the camera on my phone and Pokemon Go. He is captivated by my sparkly watch and gestures that it is 3 o’clock after telling him to look at where the little hand is. He is 4. For a moment he is like any other kid with gadgets and gizmos. Suddenly these things get put down (onto the wet surface I might add…but I’m ruining the moment…sorry). These things get put down and suddenly this little body curls up into a ball and he nuzzles his head into my neck. And we just sit there. In amidst the chaos that is a public, outdoor swimming pool, he chose this moment to steal my heart. I was never meant for the picket fence life. My heart, inspired.

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Is there something I’m missing?

I have hesitated to talk about this issue. I have hesitated mainly because it is going to come from a place that is personal and without a whole ton of research, which is what the issue at large has in their back pockets.

I read an article a few months back about a child, Lexi, who was in the middle of a custody battle from foster care in the States because she was being reunited with relatives who shared her ethnicity and courts felt that her current foster home was not allowing sufficient development of cultural appreciation. I let the issue sit and fester and I continued to live life as per usual. The article showed up again this morning: The child was officially removed. My heart absolutely sank. I do not know this child and I do not even know how “good” these foster parents were in terms of preserving her culture but I couldn’t help but feel slightly stabbed in the chest. The girl is 6 years old and has been living with her foster family since she was 17 months old. Reading the comments there is just as much confusion,”the foster family was wrong about keeping her for this long,” “the girl wants to live with her biological family.” There really is no right answer I suppose and my heartbreak has really nothing to do with this article. It has to do with something I was provided, that I feel is being largely overlooked in many foster cases around North America. I was provided a home, not just a house and a desire to look toward the future through being challenged and pushed.

Lexi’s future is determined by her race.

In a quest to see how this could have all happened I learned that a decades-old law in that state ensured that children were placed in families of similar origins. In a more shocking turn of events I learned this practice is still in place where I live. Maybe I can’t see it. Maybe I can’t see why it is so important to be with those who share ethnicities, because, for majority of my life I was the minority in my own family. Here is the thing, I was never made to feel like a minority. Ever.

Where is the line here? When is a child’s welfare, stability and development tied to the colour of their skin? At what point must we stop and realize that for a large proportion of the nations people, diversity is a beautiful thing. I know my parents made my culture a beautiful thing…so much so that I even started to ask that they not (yes, the teenage years).

When I work with children, I see humans. I see humans who might be slightly behind (or a lot), I see humans who have different facial structures and body types and I have caught myself saying, “That girl is just so gorgeous” or, “She has such great skin”. Yes, I see ethnicity. I see it as a way that separates each person physically but as a determining factor of their character? Absolutely not. This leads me to question, this child, Lexi, knew stability for 6 years.  She knew of her origins, her family, her extended relatives. In fact, she visited them time to time. Up until that point her future was based on the fact that her foster family COULD and WOULD care for her, they wanted to adopt her…they loved her. A judge’s mistake in reading her DNA testing changed that future. As people we are a combination of natural tendencies and nurtured tendencies. As someone who grew up not surrounded by my origins I can tell you I learned a lot more about cultural appreciation because my parents worked so hard at including me in both my native origins and the one I was living in.

I am not Thai. I am Thai-Canadian. I am damn proud to be both.

At the end of the day, I see kids who need to know what it feels like to be hugged and to be talked to calmly and softly. I’ve met kids who’ve seen more for their years and feel cheated to be treated by their chronological age. I meet kids who don’t think they’re worth a penny and you work so hard to make them feel at least worthy of a dime. Adopting a child or fostering one is not like becoming a parent to a biological child. You are healing someone, even if for a short time. You are taking a life that has been traumatized and changed and helping it grow. You are taking someone else’s gift and you are expected to cultivate it into a worthy human. Even those adopted at a very young age, the journey is always a little different. I truly believe that any person who is of good character and accepts this challenge is entitled to this healing ability. Healing people from the inside should be the basis of care, not whether or not your skin tone matches that of your charges. I do not believe it is a matter of preserving culture, I think it needs to turn into a revolution of building culture and letting it become diverse.

Embracing diversity in family life and life in general, is a chance to ensure that children know that they are okay, just the way they are. You’re not losing a culture, you’re gaining an education. With the events that have happened over the last week, a little education would’ve gone a long way.

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You’ll Turn Out Ordinary if You’re Not Careful

“I want you to see what you can do”

I think deep, deep down I absolutely know that this statement was at the heart of what made my mother make me who I was meant to be. We talk about it. We talk about the times when I questioned right versus wrong, we talk about why we do things with the best intentions and sometimes they lead us in different paths. More and more, each day do I realize how much this statement can change the way you interact with people.

Prior to the age of twelve I never saw myself in a position working with children. They did not interest me and I was also quite tired of how we glorified the most ridiculous accomplishments (congratulations, you earn a sticker for going to the bathroom/for picking up a pencil/for not losing things/etc.) I was a kid and I thought those things. As I reflect back though, what normal eleven-year old writes her own Will and Testament? I viewed teachers as having a “ceiling” job, meaning that there was no room for advancement beyond a principal and you worked your butt off for nothing. I wanted to be a veterinarian because people sucked at looking after their animals and they like to pretend they know how they feel. Then I wanted to be a sport physiotherapist because I was sporty and basically knew how to work every physio device at the clinic after all my injuries. Plus, it made money. After, I wanted to be lawyer, a family lawyer. I liked evidence, cause and effect, justice and advocacy. The only problem was that lawyers are so secretive. I wanted a position where that I could share.  All of this and then I graduated High School.

Now you have background. So how did I end up working with children? I thank my mother for insisting that I volunteer as a Day Camp leader when I was 12. I’ve always loved being creative and I was a shy thing but a rough thing, so maybe kids would help un-harden my shell a bit? Well I don’t know how I felt about receiving the camp name, “Grumpy” from Snow White on the first day but I think it was after this that I was determined to be the most un-grumpy, Grumpy. Hell, I wanted to be Happy (which my friend got the coveted golden name of). I figured, at least if I was Grumpy I could only get happier and if I ever was grumpy it would make sense. It doesn’t look good to be a grumpy, Happy. Shortly after this stint I volunteer coached at my canoe club. I learned how much I did not know about paddling. However after these experiences I was hooked, I loved to teach and most importantly, I loved to learn.

“I want you to see what you can do” I say to my charges on the daily but I emphasize it the most with Masters. These Masters are not kids, they are adults and they could be my parents age. I am basically coaching my parents. From coaching kids to adults I have learned this: We are all really confused and age doesn’t make us more prepared. In fact, being an adult is very hard because you usually are just winging it. While I have preached this statement time and time again, I never really thought about what it meant because honestly it’s just one of those “growth-mindset” things you say. The past year has offered me the opportunity to really know how it feels when it’s working. I am a passionate, attached to everything that has goodness, kind of person but even some days my sarcasm can’t block frustration. Because of these days, I learned why people celebrate small, frivalous accomplishments. I learned how it felt to feel responsible for how someone was becoming. I learned the depth of my statement: I want you to see what you can do.

“I want you to help me see you” To a kid it means that you do not possibly know the signifcance of your being. I am not saying I can see it either (because honestly, sometimes the hamster wheel is hamster-less) but I am saying that you’ll regret not trying to see your significance. I am saying that no matter where you come from your dreams are valid.

“I want you to see who you are” You have snot running out of your nose or you always look tired. No matter what you say, what you look like on the outside is a pretty clear picture on how you feel about your inside. Yeah, I am aware. You’re not supposed to emphasize body image but I am emphasizing presentation. Just like a good lawyer wouldn’t walk into the courtroom in pyjamas, a person ready to grow their mind won’t show up with curlers in their hair and spinach in their teeth.

“I want you to know you can learn” This has been the biggest accomplishment for any Masters. Recently I started learning how to ride horses and on my first day I fell off. Embarrassed to have fallen I quickly got back on before I knew what had just happened. Things will always take time but just like you learn to ride a bike you can learn to paddle.

“I want you to know how to handle fear” I want you to CLIMB and climb HIGH. I want you to get stuck, look down and tremble. I want you to tip over. Then I want you to process and process well. What are you going to do? How will you get down? Do you need to ask for help? The biggest thing when it comes to kids is that we are so quick to jump in when all a kid needs to do is hold on or stand up. I think ANY child of ANY ability deserves to know fear (in a “as-it-happens” sort of way). I’ll stand there and cheer you on as you learn to handle fear. You know what can conquer fear? Hope. Hope is when you hold on and don’t let go. Hope is when you figure out that the mountain is not so high. Fear is good, panic is not.

“I want you to handle help” My teaching you or coaching you, that is something I’ve chosen to do. I have a way of doing things, you have a way of doing things. How remarkable would it be if we could combine superpowers? I’m not a slave and you’re not my minion. I am not good at math but I will try and help you no matter what. You’re not good at math, so you’ll explore the process with me. I respect you, you respect me. Easy.

“I want you to see the process” Like all things worth doing, these things take time. These things are not a once-in-a-while commitment, they’re an everyday habit. Want to be good at something? Do it, everyday. Get stuck, have a meltdown. Repeat.

“I want you to become yourself” As an EPA my job isn’t to have kids make my life easier. I make theirs a little more manageable so one day they can wear a cap and gown and know that they got themselves there. Does this mean I will pick up after you’ve angrily thrown your garbage on the floor. Nope. Does this mean I’ll solve all your life problems? Not necessarily. However, if you’re by yourself and want to play tag with someone, count me in. If you want to climb a wall with your friends, I’ll make sure you feel safe. As a coach my job isn’t to pump you full of feel-good quotes all the time. Does this mean I’ll say that you suck? Absolutely not, because, it’s not just you, we all suck at stuff sometimes so singling you out wouldn’t be fair. Does this mean I’ll hang around a little longer to watch you paddle? Of course. Does this mean I’ll come up with really cheesy sayings to remember technical tips or force you to try different things? Yup. All part of learning to become yourself. The great part is, as you learn to become yourself I learn to become myself too.

All of these things are what makes, “I want you to see what you can do” happen. While I attempt to live a growth-mindset and model it, I’ve already seen a snippet of what I can do. I went from being a child-loathing, Grumpy to a soppy, please-don’t-let-this-be-goodbye athlete herder, kid wrangler, motivational speaker and human tissue. While the pre-twelve year old me would have loved a job as a veterinarian living in a big mansion, I think the greatest responsibility one can have is teaching someone what they can do. It feels satisfying knowing that one day, the people who might look after me when I’m old are the people I taught that the world can be an unfriendly place but you have had the ability all along to be someone of significance within it.

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And Now I’ll Do What’s Best for Me

Something amazing happens when your life is flipped upside down. You cry about it and you mourn, then one morning you wake up and you realize nothing is going to make it change but you alone can make it better. If you’ve read in blog posts from way back you will remember this. I’m a dweller. I literally suck the life out of issues and beat it over my brain a thousand times until I’m completely exhausted and burnt out from it. Some call it, “beating a dead horse?” As I’ve gotten older so many people have told me that I can’t do that; I can’t dwell. Unfortunately, the only way I learn is to do it so many times that I finally stop. You finally stop dwelling because quite frankly, you’re tired. This is the story of my tired. This is the story of the last three months when maybe I finally did a little growing and now, I’ll do what’s best for me.

I used to help lead a workshop for girls to help them develop leadership skills. Real leadership skills, not the “pump them full of feel-good mantras and tell them they’re beautiful” skills. I mean the ones where they can look in the mirror and attack the world by its balls and be who they were destined to be in it. A lot of what I learned from them was that they know that they can be who they are, they just do not feel they had the permission. Elementary school was about cultivating the learner and then middle school was about getting the work done and handing it in. Somewhere in that process they developed who they wanted to be but now there was no place to practice it and if there was, it was shunned because it was different. They were “uptight”, “high-strung”, “teachers pet”, “perfectionist”.  That is where we as mentors came in. We were the ones who said, “You’re right. It sucks. People suck. It’s going to suck. Things are going to hurt. They are going to hurt because one day who you are now will MATTER. You will not be the people who will get lost, you might get lonely (it’s lonely at the top) but you will not be lost. You know why? Because you matter to this. You matter to this group. This group will one day matter to the world.” This idea of being useful and this idea that eventually who we choose to be will add up is something I carried through in almost everything I did. Who my athletes are matters. Who they intend to be matters, but most importantly, who they intend to be when they’re challenged matters. Anyone can steer a ship when the water is smooth. Who can do it when it’s wavy?

That all sounds great, right? Well, it turns out I needed my advice more than any of those kids. Ever since I was a kid I had this idea of what success looked like. Money and a ceiling-less career. When I was in elementary I had good teachers but I also had teachers that brought out my worst fear: That I wasn’t good enough and I didn’t deserve to be. I swam in it and I let it drown me. The things I wasn’t good at I settled with. When I was in middle school I did better, but I was still drowning or I guess, barely keeping my head above water. Then I hit high school and I plummeted. If you don’t know me, I am a perfectionist. It doesn’t mean I get perfect grades or that I walk into school wearing a business suit and an apple for the teacher. It means that I am hard on myself when I am critiqued and that I refuse to do less than my best and I expect the same from those around me. So the years that I plummeted I didn’t understand myself, I did not understand how I could plummet because, up until then, things were perfect. Last October I became an Educational Assistant and very recently I have started teaching at an external learning centre. As you know, I want to be a middle school teacher. To me, the best education is experience and this is perfect. Although a substitute educational assistant, I get my fair dose of reality within classes. Now I am dealing with kids completely outside of the way I think. However, being a perfectionist, I try my best to float their boat. In the short time that I have been doing this I will say, at first I got into this because I thought I could do something for the kids. I realize now that they are doing far more for me. Every now and then I get a snippet of myself in some of them. There’s a perfectionist, a goof, a stoic-hearted, a compassionate, a stubborn, a relentless, an observer, a cautious one. In the moment I can’t stand it because they’re playing my game but then I shake my head and think “I should probably write an apology letter to some of my teachers. I  get it now. I was a little intense.” Being a teacher isn’t about teaching a kid stuff. It’s about raising a future doctor, lawyer, teacher, visionary. It’s showing the possibilities within the most complex and impossible of situations. It’s about taking the perfectionist and embracing her diligence and cultivating her creativity. It’s about taking the observer and encouraging some risk or taking the observer and making them a leader. Most important, it’s taking the defeated and saying, “No matter who you are, where you come from or what happened, you are worthy of this (an education) and you are the only one who can make that happen.” When I see it like that everything changes. The very idea of how I approach teaching or coaching changes. When you walk into work everyday the way you act, the things you feel, they become part of what THEY see. What an honour it is to be in someone’s mind like that. What a privilege it is to have them remember you when they grow up. At the learning centre we did training and we watched the way the fisherman at Pike Place Market in Seattle work.  They show up, they play, they make your day and they choose their attitude. The approach doesn’t eliminate hard days but it lets you sleep at night.

Growing up, sometimes being the way I was didn’t feel good. Sometimes it didn’t feel right because people made it seem like it was bad or unusual or you stood out. Of course, being an adolescent person you did whatever it took to be like everyone else. The friend I worked with in the girls leadership group always said, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” We preached that statement to the girls. Only now do I really realize the enormity of those words. With that alone it separates three types of people: The people who ignore you because they don’t value you, the people who notice you and find you too much, and the people who notice you and want to work with you. When you separate it like that isn’t it easy to see where you want to belong?

The movie scenes where the teacher is all inspiring and the class all of the sudden has this big life revelation that homework is cool and school is life…it’s not realistic. However the more I immerse myself in the culture of the fish market philosophy the more I think you always remember your teachers. You remember them because they mattered. So, elementary and middle school Ornmadee…now that you know what it’s like to be on the other end, you matter too. You always did.

Once when I was 11-years old, someone told me I wasn’t as smart as I looked. Now I’m 21 years old, and that statement makes me want to be a teacher. That person mattered because I couldn’t envision a better way to be useful in this world.

I’m ending my life revelation with what I always tried to push in any kid I coached. “I will keep telling you that you are strong, brave, courageous, worthy and important…until one day you finally realize it yourself.”

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Race

 

I have had the opportunity to go into elementary classrooms lately. As you know my goal is to become a middle school teacher. My interest in middle school stems from a lot of reasons:

  1. I have realized from being a coach that I have difficulty being “huggy” or “touchy-feely” or overall sympathetic to war wounds. Being in mainly elementary schools I have concluded that there is no good way for me to deal with, “I want a bandaid ‘cuz I scratched my finger on an eraser.”
  2. To add to point #1 I can deal with the emotional aspect of being a pre-teen. Many of the reasons are equally as stupid but the heart hurting versus the body hurting is something I can handle.
  3. I get it. Kids have stuff going on at that age and I feel the last thing they need is a teacher who can’t reach them through compelling lessons and stories that captivate them.

My list could go on an on but being in elementary school lately I discovered something that I didn’t know happened before. The discussion surrounding race.

Growing up I do not remember ever being talked to about race or ethnicity. The odd time our teachers would discuss our backgrounds and where we came from but it was often in passing. I grew up in a really diverse city and my school itself was insanely diverse. A few weeks ago I was talking to a substitute teacher in the staffroom one day and was told that, “Oh, they will definitely accept you as a teacher. Not to be blunt but they really look for teachers of colour and a different ethnicity.” It took me by surprise because up until that point I was pretty sure I was even in the race just like everybody else. However that moment made me more aware that, not everybody grows up with peers named Amin or Evgueni. A completely different time, different school, a teacher comes in and is marvelled at her craft project which she has completed with her students. She is teaching them about friendship and instructs them to draw a portrait of their friends. They can’t just draw a picture though, she wants them to be specific but she gives no more details. The kids rather than reaching for peach coloured crayons or brown crayons start mixing their colours, changing the pressure of the crayon, making actual skin tones that are not just “white or brown”. She explains to them that we as people are not defined by the colours of our skin or the places where we come from. It plays just a small role in who we really are. We are what we see ourselves as and by extension by what our friends see us as. She says, “You chose to be specific about their skin tone, not just categorizing them as white or black or brown. You have recognized that even lightly toned people have different tones from other lightly toned friends or people with dark skin have many different tones of dark.” She was excited to tell us this because she said she was sick and tired of hearing examples of just caucasian people and non-caucasian people. She wanted them to see that diversity exists within races themselves, including caucasian people. Brilliant.

Her message was inspiring especially since she managed to get this through to a bunch of Grade 2s. It reminded me of that staffroom encounter where I was told I would most likely be picked because they need “more people of your background”. In life, and in any position I get, I want to be chosen because I am exceptional at what I do. If I am not right for a position, do not give it to me. I want to be chosen because I am good enough not because I am a woman or of some ethnic background other than North American. The difference that I could make would be displayed by the materials and lessons I teach, not by the colourization of my skin. We need to teach about diversity that accepts it but not as prerequisites to what makes a person capable of completing a job. That teacher closed the portrait project by getting students to write character qualities of their friends on the backs of the pictures. There is only one side of that project that matters when it comes to friendship.

 

 

 

 

 

Another Coaching Post

Sometimes I feel like I could be both the genius and laughing stock of the coaching world. I’m always experimenting and my fall back is Orn the Coach who rules with an iron fist. So either you see me doing experiments or you see me with a crazed look in my eye. Today was an experiment day…actually, I’ve done this before but today I really tried to get myself to shut-up when I felt like I was being too, “coachy”. It’s not a bad thing to be “coachy”  but for the sake of this exercise it was. We’ve all heard them, the coaches who use their volume in their voice to exude a certain level of authority, like the ones on hockey benches yelling every single play by play. What they’re saying might not even need to be yelled but if they’re not yelling, it’s not effective in their eyes. I am such a coach at times. On good days I yell motivation, on not so good days, I’m yelling everything. Training athletes in a weight room has a certain amount of risk, weights can be dropped, people can bump into each other, it’s really not a great place for kids freshly let out of school, ready to conquer the world…only to be confined into a small room…again. So today’s experiment took some risk but had really good results.

When I went to the Sport Summit in June, I felt I represented a side of sport that came after the whole “get them into sport” phase. I did not really relate to Sport for Peace or even for Development but I was looking into ways on how to solve our own crisis, 70% of kids will drop out of competitive sport by 13. Many solutions included a ton of random games, something which I never did during my training although we did “fun” things. Why did we need to play all of those games? How is a competitive athlete to respond to partner push-ups? I feel it deeper. Not every athlete that goes into this sport is going to come out with a medal. For some coaches this is okay, for they have a goal to create winners and are paid to make winners. I think my strength came in the fact that I had very strong coaches who, no matter what development level, made sure you were there because you enjoyed it. You worked hard because you enjoyed it. We had an annual cardboard box derby, a ski camp, club movies, sleepovers, Olympic marathons…they were just events to me but as a coach mean something much different now. They were the alternative to those who wouldn’t get medals. Everyone who left the sport would at least leave with something.

Today I wrote the workout on the board. I put as much detail in to make it safe but left enough out to make them think. I too did the workout. I wasn’t answering questions, just showing them process. In an Orn setting, there is very little talking. Today was not an ideal Orn setting. But I did notice something. There was no talking while doing the exercise, just the in between. There has been a clear distinction made as to when it’s appropriate and when it’s not. I don’t have problem with that. Another thing, some people noticed the benefit of working alone versus working in a group. There was discussion on what a good weight would be for the number of reps needed. All questions asked amongst themselves. I have to sit back sometimes and remember that this isn’t boot camp or military training. I can expect them to fold their sheets perfectly or align their shoes by size but it’s not necessary. What’s necessary is they develop and understand how to train. This can’t be done by talking all the time or yelling or hovering or setting such strict guidelines there’s no room for individuality.

So how does this relate to the Summit? Varied programming is important but so is the delivery. I didn’t need to play workout games for them to have fun but they had fun testing themselves. Some exercises they did lazily, only to realize they definitely need to do them right. Trial and error can only happen when it’s permitted to happen. Coaches need to be willing to make changes in delivery. Coaches who can grow, will grow their athletes. Grow always.

On that note, I’d like to leave you with a pre-stretching spontaneous dance party.

“Dynamic Stretching”

My Grand Observations from Coaching

Remember, parents of athletes, your child has to share their coach with everyone. If you are going to be a part of a team, then you have to be a team player. There are great lessons in team work and even greater lessons in self-discipline and independence. Instead of trying to schedule every second of your child’s instruction, give this a try…leave them alone. See if they spend those free moments stretching, doing drills, watching technique or racing videos alone in their room or researching scholarship and grant opportunities.

If they don’t, if you guys, or us, their coaches are the ones that make everything happen for them instead of THEM making it happen, that’s a problem. They have to want it, dream it, genuinely have a passion for it or demand the certain things needed in the creation of an athlete. They have to develop inside and they have to be nurtured by the individual. A good coach sees when an athlete is hungry and they feed the athlete at just the right time. If parents are always hovering and shoving the food down the kids throat, they will never be starving, they will never even have a chance to know they are hungry. (food=sport)

I’m not pointing fingers here, I have just had a lot of chances to observe and notice and giving unasked for advice. In the end, find a club to call home. Trust the people you pay to coach your child. Let your child be an athlete. Let the coach be a coach, as it should be.

Post a little, Mean a lot

Perhaps the title of this post is more of an excuse than an actual, correct decree on how to write blogs. The truth is the more I scroll and scroll the more I realize how terrible I am to committing to written things. For example I have boxes of half-written journals that I purchased because they “looked nice” or the saucy quote on the front intrigued my feelings at the time. I am writing this blog post instead of sending out a training program because, well admittingly, I’ve exhausted my creative practice abilities this week. Hold on, I really should send it out…

Okay, I’m back. In the interest of keeping true to what I write about I should really re-title my blog to “Chronicles of a broke coach” because my mind tends to only wander in that direction these days. However I am also a true believer in my subtext in that I am blogging about my navigation through adult life, formerly teenage life. I am now 21. For those keeping up I started writing this blog when I was 17. I swear it was yesterday when I felt compelled to click the settings from private to public. Why I felt my life would be so interesting to everyone around me, I don’t know. What I can say about being newly 21 is that I have learned that being an adult is hard. Sometimes being an adult is like re-living High School Musical and sometimes it’s like re-living Mean Girls. It’s bipolar and changes daily. I’ve gathered 21 things I’ve learned about being an adult so far.

1. You spend a lot of time wondering if you’re wasting time or using time wisely.

Even the things you love to do. I think at those moments it’s wise to take a vacation. Only you can’t, because you love what you do too much to leave it.

2. Adults can act like children so maybe instead of spitting “Stop acting like a child!” to a child, we should really be saying “Stop acting like an adult!”

This means that I am completely questioning the phrase, “Grow up” because is that even a good thing?

3. Your life has stages.

You’re probably thinking I am incredibly out of the loop to just now be realizing this but maybe I was. I had my athlete life and now I have my coach life and I’m satisfied that one is over and the other is happening.

4. I think of my life in decades.

Now I’m 21. What are other 21-year olds doing? In ten years I’ll be 31. Will I be married? Will my student loans be paid off? When I’m 41 will I live in a bungalow or a mansion?

5. Crockpots are the zest of life.

I have thrown the most random assortment of foods in and a meal has come out.

6. I fall in love with soap opera characters more than I used to.

I never understood my mother’s obsession with Coronation Street until I started watching it…

7. You embrace an afternoon to snooze.

I never slept in and I never really napped. Although I still don’t sleep in yesterday I treated myself to a 4-hour nap and I believe it was vital to my survival of the day.

8. You take pride in affording a full tank of gas.

Perhaps this should be a list of things I’ve learned about being 21, not just an adult. I imagine that once you have a solid career full tanks will be the norm not just a bonus.

9. Don’t get phone bills sent to you as text messages. 

Text messages should be happy things, always.

10. $20 doesn’t go as far as it used to.

There were days when I felt rich after geting a nice clean bill, now, with expenses covered, anything over $100 should do.

11. Adults still like quotes and minion ones especially.

As a kid a quote was nice, as an adult it might as well be one of the Ten Commandments. These worldly adults take their minion’d life advice seriously.

12. You get less cool with age.

I was always the strict but fair, particular but cool coach. Now when I say things sometimes I feel like I’ve outdated myself as these children mock me with their eyes. I’m only 21.

13. It’s less about what you own and more about what you do.

It used to be Instagram pictures of your latest gadgets and clothes but now it’s about what you do with them. More specifically, it’s all up for judgement.

14. No more booking appointments after school…it’s all about those early starts because, let’s face it, you’ll have no energy at the end of the day.

For example I booked a 7:30am mechanic appointment in the city.

15. No matter how hard I’m trying I’m not pleasing everyone.

If anything this is the worst adult problem. When you’re a kid you blame it one naïveté. Now, no matter how good your intentions there’s always a problem. The success of your story has to do with whether you choose to ignore it.

16. People either expect a lot from you or nothing at at all.

Being 21 means you’re expected to make adult decisions without the experience. The result of your decisions are up very much up for judgement.

17. No matter what someone is always trying to one up you. 

This isn’t like athletics where someone is clearly better, sometimes it’s someone completely unqualified and you have to bite your tongue. In teenage life you could have probably gotten away with a smackdown.

18. You’ll either crumble with everyone’s expectations or rise up.

You have to set up your life and stand by it. For example the year I took a year off I was sort ashamed. No more time for self-pity.

19. Most older adults are just as perplexed by life as us 21-year olds.

I’ve learned there are just a ton of perplexing things no matter how old you are.

20. Being 20 was a youthful thing,

Everybody loves people turning 20.

21. 21 is pure adult.

It feels like everything matters now.   You’ve had 3 years of adult practice and now the jig is up. It’s less about what you don’t know and now more about what you do.

There. 21 things. I’m sure most of them are wrong and will change when I’m 30 but at 21 those are my thoughts.

My Life Changed After the Summit

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(photo: Stephanie Matthews)

I’ve been wondering what to write and say about my Summit experience. I had something written in diary format until I realized writing fourteen days worth of my memories was absolutely no use to you. Then summer rolled around and I got back into the coaching routine where my outlook on life was basically a walking tumblr page and my enthusiasm for living was sickeningly tacky. This morning though and the past day have really motivated me to write. I have always been one of those people who assumed that my way was the best way, and although I still follow it rigorously I have inspiration in the smallest of places to change. My life changed after the summit, I learned how to be a better coach to my athletes and a better people builder. Before I could do that I had to learn how to step down and reflect. I cannot even believe I am saying that because for those 2-weeks, morning reflections bored the life out of me. But I find myself more than ever reflecting on things I do and say. It is a terrible habit because then I know what I have to change. I do not like change. So why did my life change and what did I learn? 3 things. 3 very important things.

1. The way you ask teaches you what you need to know.
I am naturally a nosey person, not because I am interested in this stored information but because I like to know who I am dealing with. So naturally I go right for the big questions, I want to know what you’ve done, whether you have a good family and whether you have big goals in life. One of the exercises we did was asking each other questions and vey quickly did I realize that it is terrible to answer these questions for people of whom I hardly know. My take away from this was I need to learn how to ask the right questions which will then guide me to what I must know that is important. I introduce to you, the Question Ball Icebreaker.

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It is within this ball that I can find out if a child is treated well at home, cares about home, has aspirations and is serious, silly or alone.
1. What did you have for breakfast this morning?
2. Who is the first person you would call if you were stuck on an island?
3. What do you think you were born to do?
4. If you had to eat a worm, how would you cook it?
5. How did you meet your best friend?
They’re less threatening, slightly weird but loaded full of everything you need to know.
2. You could be it for one of them.
This one stuck with me. I learned it from Serena William’s former coach, Nick Bolliteiri. More specifically he said, “A coach is the jack of all trades. You’re a mother, father, transporter, sister, teacher, doctor, friend. A coach can change the personality of a young person forever.” I have always loved coaching more than I think anyone knows, I love it enough that I am willing to make a living off of it. Yet, before the Summit there were days I was happy to let it go. The kids I coached I adored but I knew they had everything, or at least I thought they did. Sitting listening to Mr. Bolliteiri I thought of all the signs I missed, all the things kids looked for through their behaviour, the things I condemned. I cannot be that someone for everyone but I can try harder than I ever did before.
3. I can choose to be the coach that I am or I can choose to be the coach that my athletes need me to be.
This one took some guts to spit out. I learned to put up a very hard wall that could not be broken down. This wall went up before I became a coach and stayed up. I am a naturally strict person, I do not like nonsense and if things are going to be done right, they will be done right the first time. I was always really hard on myself as a child both in school and sports. Breakdowns were a common occurrence and I think I transferred this over into believing that a child should always want to try to do their best. I came up with learning outcome #3 this morning when I realized how much I truly value change. For the first time in my coaching career I decided to take time. By this I mean there was no schedule, requirement or even objective, just a set of skills that would be learned when they were learned. Above this, I would let the athlete lead the way. I had to be silly and laugh, giggle and snort. I didn’t yell from my coach boat, I sat in my boat and worked as “training wheels”, holding on for dear life, hoping to God this morning would let me remain relatively dry. The efforts of this obscurity were not apparent until an hour later when I watched the product of silliness defy all odds and become a canoer within the span of a week. The proof was right there, yes, it will take several more hours of commitment, a lot more people reading and question asking, but if I can change the hat that I wear for each person imagine the difference it will make.

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Perhaps what was even better than the things I learned were the people I met. I met people who coached for free, people who fought for kids to play sports, people who were the first in their families to go big, try heroes in their own fashion. I am so HUMBLED to have even been part of this group of amazing world-changers. When I look at my athletes I don’t just see potential or an extra paddler, I see a person. I see a person who, if paddling doesn’t work out, has potential to be the difference like the 36 other people I met in that tiny conference room on June 7, 2015. Our job as coaches, high performance or recreational is to create the goal and reach it, build the athlete and cultivate the person, give them something to go to and push off of. More importantly, remember to be silly, remember that sports are fought harder for by some people, it is our privilege. That is our role.

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(photo: Stephanie Matthews)