I work with kids. Lots of kids. I have taught in the schools (health education and physical education), taught gymnastics to kids from 10 months old through 22-year-old college women. I have coached team kids that placed in national competitions and kids that dream of attaining that level. They all have one thing in common. Excuses.
Now sometimes an excuse is warranted, like I’m sick, or I just had surgery, and at times the creativity of athletes can be very entertaining. I had a team girl a few years ago tell me that she couldn’t train that night because her hair was bothering her. If you know me you know how I couldn’t sympathize.
Now it’s typical for all of us to look to lay blame on poor performance on anyone but ourselves, but it happens proportionately less as the athlete attains higher levels. You won’t find many national champions calling off practice on account of “hair.” It’s common that athletes, as they develop, start to see their place in the scheme of things. They realize that: “If it’s going to be, it’s up to me” isn’t just a clever cliché, it’s a fact. They know that success, or failure, is based on them. It’s not the coaches fault, the ball not bouncing right or the weather. Performance is performance.
As an athlete develops they realize that they need to do what needs to be done. They have to commit to the training and resist the outside forces that detract. We purposely designed our program to train team kids efficiently enough to not need more than 16 hours a week because we want them to have normal childhoods (the average elite gymnast trains more than 40 hours per week). Having personal time means that their time in the gym is dedicated and productive.
Still kids make excuses; “I didn’t get it because the other kids were too loud” or “too quiet.” or maybe their footsteps were off, or they had a weird school day. As they move up the ranks these little excuses start to disappear. Focus drowns outr distraction and outside thoughts stay where they belong; outside. There are marked differences between the kids who just made the team and the kids who have been on it awhile. The difference in direction is drastic. It’s fun to watch them hone in on their talent, like a bee that starts by circling a flower, eventually they find their sweet spot.
Another common ground shared by athletes is that as they see themselves as successful they strive to be more successful. At first the first unformed athlete becomes directed and after tasting success, whether tangible or implied, becomes hungry for more. I have seen kids be motivated by coaches who berate them and tell them that to gain the coaches approval they need to win, train, beat someone else or whatever; and I admit that this is very effective. But it has been my experience that it is 2 things: short-term and a catalyst for resentment. Short term because when kids grow into adult life, being “mistreated” as a motivator either makes them so resistant to criticism that they become dysfunctional or so accepting of abuse that they seek it out to feel anything at all. It creates resentment because in the back of the mind there is always fear. Fear of injury, performance, failure or even of disappointing their motivator. The develop resentment toward the people who put them in the position to feel these things; the coach, the mom, the dad or anyone who they see as the responsible party. I don’t want my kids growing up like that, do you?
At Gymfinity we have always focused on 2 things: challenging the child’s own potential and pointing out that each child is successful. If they like it, and it makes them feel good then they want more of it. Now they come out on the other end: looking for success at their own hand and loving and appreciating those that encouraged and helped them along. I’ll take this path for my kids, thank you.
Recently Jenny, a friend from college, shared her sons accomplishments with me. He had been playing basketball for a while and his team was doing well. One of his team mates was actually drafted to UW Whitewater Warhawks, a powerhouse program. Brenden, Jenny’s son, is a friend to our program too, many times he has come with his camera to take pictures of his little sister. His team is experiencing success and he is hungry for more. He is an athlete that trains like every athlete I have ever worked with, with a few minor differences. Brenden trains with his team and his success is the team’s success. When his mom was telling me about his team (madcitybadgers.org) he sat with a smile that I can best describe as shy pride, but it practically lit up the lobby, and it was contagious. He is a young man but it’s so clear that Brenden trains like an athlete with aspirations.
It was Brenden that I thought about when a friend pointed out this video. The ball player in the video talks [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=obdd31Q9PqA] about the 1001 excuses we can all have but when it comes down to the wire we have to “just do it.” (Thanks Nike). I mentioned that there are a few differences between Brenden and the kids I train: 1, he’s a boy for starters and 2 it’s basketball, 3. he’s in a wheelchair. That’s it. Athletes are motivated by success, some use excuses and eventually grow out of it. In essence; athletes are athletes, in all shapes, sizes and styles. Brenden doesn’t seem like an excuse-using kind of kid, you think?
*if you click the link to Brenden’s team website, he can be seen up front, hands crossed, on the still screen of the embedded video.