The elegant Valentin Victorovich Mogilny (USSR), who won more than a dozen World and European medals between 1985 and 1990, passed away following a heart attack Sunday, according to the Russian Gymnastics Federation. He was 49.Valentin Mogilny (USSR)Born December 18, 1965 in central Ukraine, Mogilny was one of the standout figures of the exceptional Soviet teams of the 1980s. His long legs and graceful comportment made him a formidable figure, especially on Pommel Horse, where he won World titles in 1985 and 1989.Coached by Alexander Alexandrov, Mogilny also won World gold on Parallel Bars in 1985 and silver in the All-around in 1989, and helped the Soviet men to the World team title both years. He closed out his career in style, winning the European All-around title in 1990.After retiring from gymnastics, Mogilny moved to France, where he coached in several different cities, most recently in the suburbs of Paris. From the mid-1980s to the end of the 1990s, he was married to 1981 World All-around champion Olga Bicherova (USSR), with whom he has a son.On behalf of the international Gymnastics family, the FIG wishes to extend their condolances to Mogilny’s family and friends. May he rest in peace.
In Developing A Plan For Bars I wrote about the importance of having a plan to teach skills in the right order. There are few skills that are more important (or more deducted) than the Cast Handstand.
I had a coach ask me, “is there a way to teach cast handstands WITHOUT spotting?” In short. NO. Or at least not that I have found.
I am not a proponent of mindlessly spotting casts over and over and HOPING that a gymnast can figure it out. Like everything, you need a plan.
Reasons for spotting:
MUSCLE MEMORY through repetition of the correct BODY POSITION
Alleviate Fear. Most have hear of falling over. That is why in the process I teach a 1/2 pirouette. They will know what their body has to do if/when they fall over. I also make sure I spot cast handstands on the high bar as well.
Cast Handstand Progression
- Handstand Hold
- Handstand Walking (lead up to pirouette)
- Handstand Hold on Floor bar (pirouette to come down)
- One Arm Handstand on Floor Bar
- Handstand pirouettes on floor bar
- Press Handstands
- Bungee Pulls
- Weight Pulls (Mean 18 – 6 all the way up, 6 1/2 way up, 6 from horizontal to all the way up)
- Planche leans
- Swing on P-bars to get them to lean over
- Swing up to Handstand on P-bars
- Small Casts for Form
- Cast Handstands Pirouette out
- Cast Handstand in Undergrip
- Spotted Casts on High Bar
Here are a few of the drills I use that do not need spot. I do believe you need to monitor everything to ensure correct body positions.
Some Spotted Drills
Stable Cast Handstand Drills
I am sure I will be adding to this.
Send me YOUR IDEAS!
12 Things Albert Einstein Taught Me About Coaching
By: Anne Josephson
Albert Einstein was a genius. Sure given that the word “Einstein” is synonymous with “genius” this could be the opening sentence to The Book of the Obvious. But I mean it sincerely: aside from being a brilliant scientist, the man was an incredible philosopher.
While I wouldn’t go so far as to call it PTSD, let’s suffice it to say that neither I nor the poor guy who taught me 12th grade physics were quite the same after that challenging year. I never did solve the rate of velocity with which Superman flew to rescue Lois Lane; and, I am fairly certain my teacher didn’t need to calculate the rate at which he pounded his head against the blackboard over and over in trying to explain it to me as he experienced it daily.
So while the significance and value of Einstein’s theory of relativity and his enormous influence on theoretical physics, quantum theory and the photon theory of light remain as inaccessible to me today as they did then, I do appreciate this brilliant man’s words.
Here are 12 things Albert Einstein taught me about coaching:
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
I love this quote so much that it hangs in my dining room. Every child we work with has something that they are good at. Our job as coaches and teachers is to help them discover and develop that not to repeatedly remind them of what it is that they are unable to do.
“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
And yet, too often I am guilty of this. If something didn’t work last season or last workout, simply repeating it over and over is probably not the best course of action. You need to change things up to get different results.
“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
A Ph.D. in mechanics should not be required to understand you explanation of how to hit a springboard correctly. That is, not if you actually want to teach a child how to do it.
“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.”
Athletes will makes mistakes, but so will coaches. It’s part of learning. And we all need to be constantly learning, so logic follows that we all need constantly be making mistakes.
“Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves.”
If something matters to you and you going to do something well, pay attention to one thing at a time. You cannot multitask while you teach. Teaching is multitasking enough!
“Most people say that it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character.”
Substitute scientist for coach, teacher, whatever. Intellect is nice but it’s character that counts.
“Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.”
Instead of focusing on winning or making yourself look like a brilliant teacher, concentrate on the development of your students. The rest will follow
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
We have to change our mindset to change our circumstances. For instance, when we are angry or frustrated with an athlete, we are not going to find a solution to her mental block. Instead we need to think about the good qualities of the athlete in question and see how that changes how we approach the situation.
“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”
Like most things in life, persistence is the key. Teaching is no different.
“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.”
Smart coaches continually learn and innovate.
“I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.”
Good coaching is not just the imparting of knowledge and the reinforcing of corrections on to an athlete. It is so much more. It involves crafting an environment and a plan in which athletes rise to challenges and discover that they are capable of more than they might have believed they were.
“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”
Coaching isn’t just about reps or championships, it’s about the stuff you can’t measure or even see: passion and character
They say a picture can paint a thousand words yet, I feel compelled to explain what I see, as a mother, when I look at my child from the stands. It is in these moments that I feel safe and comforted knowing that the coaches I entrust my child to, not only teach and coach the physical skills of the sport of gymnastics, they are also their mentors and guides in life as well. They say it takes a village to raise a child nowadays, I say chose your community well.
The day this photo was taken was competition day and we had an early start. We ran around, got things together, did hair (2 or 3x), grabbed a nutritional breakfast and out the door we went.
Excited, we arrived at the competition and I can sense she feels a bit jittery. She grabs her stuff, checks in and runs off to finish getting ready and meet her team mates.
I find a seat with the other moms as I watch her warm up with her team and I see her smiling. I think to myself “this is going to be a good meet for her, I can feel it.” She glances up to me and I just smile back at her. I think “I can’t believe how big she is getting, and she is mine. I feel so lucky that she gets to call me mom, I am so proud of her.”
As we wait for them to finish up and walk in. She’s looks happy (a little nervous), but happy. The girls walk in and present and off to their first event they go.
Her first event was vault. As I am watching her from above she looked great. Her coach says good job, tells her to pop some more as she walks down to do her next one. Her second vault looked good to me. I excitedly yell “good job” as she smiles and walks away.
After they are done they walk over to the second event. She is on bars now and father away from me. Her coach is warming up with her.
After a few warmups they are ready. She presents and off she goes. From what I can see her low bar looks great and then she does her squat on and jumps to the high bar (good), she keeps going and as she goes for her free hip her hand suddenly slips.
“Oh Noooo!!” I gasp as my heart drops. She swings down and then swings again and completes with her fly away. She lands and just walks away.
I think to myself “She didn’t present to the judges, is she hurt? upset? what is wrong?”.. I see her one coach call her over and wave his finger as he is talking to her. From up above, I am guessing he is not happy she didn’t present to the judges. She walks away in tears.
As I watch closely I can see now… knowing my daughter she is upset with herself. She has done that skill hundreds of times and she slipped in competition, the one time she needed to be perfect. She walks over to her teammates and they put their arms around her and try to cheer her up.
Inside I think “I wish I can go down there and console her, just give her a big hug and tell her it will be ok… I hate to see her so upset.”
Just then I look up only to see her other coach talking to her as they get ready to go on beam. I grab my camera and as I zoom in closer my heart opens. She is wiping her tears. It’s almost as though she is an extension of me. My heart warms as she talks to her, gives her a big hug and my daughter walks away with a semi-smile and gets ready to go on beam. From that moment on, I just smiled and knew she was going to be ok.
Her beam routine was shaky. She had to pull it together as I see and hear her coach encouraging her saying “come one, you can do this”. She finishes and her coach says “good job as she puts her hands on her shoulders, smiles at her and walks away.
She finished that day with a great floor routine and seemed to bounce back although I know (being somewhat of a perfectionist), she was still a bit upset with herself.
It wasn’t her best competition that day. She didn’t make podium on some events but it didn’t matter in the scheme of things. It was just one competition on one day and yet, she learned such a valuable lesson. She learned that mistakes happen and when they do finish and present anyway. Forgot about that one event and move on to finish the competition strong. Of course, you can be disappointed in yourself but just don’t live there.. let it go and move on. This can apply to so many things that happen in our lives.
My favorite picture that day was not of her doing any particular skill or presenting on podium… it was this shot, this moment. The picture that casts a thousand words as I have come to understand and really appreciate what coaches do.
They spend 15+ hours a week with my child. They are molding and teaching her not only gymnastics skills but life lessons such as this one. They know their athletes and see things in them that they or we don’t see. Your athlete may come home angry at them some days for being tough or happy when they compliment and encourage them another.
Either way, I say know who your coaches are. If you do not like the way they are being treated or if it goes against your values then by all means you are not a tree, you can leave and find a better environment for them to grow. But if you have found a coach or gym that your child loves to go to, is growing, learning and is generally happy and your gut tells you its the right place then by all means… TRUST in the process! Because even when they don’t win, they learn.
Just something to think about from The Gymternet (Article by Lauren Hopkins)
Thoughts about the Belarusian Gymnastics Federation’s decision to allow two Americans to compete at Worlds over the Belarusian gymnasts previously named.
Source: Why I’m Angry About Belarus
Yesterday afternoon, International Gymnast reported that two U.S. gymnasts – Alaina Kwan and Kylie Dickson – are going to compete at this year’s World Championships for the nation of Belarus.
I’m not typically against change-of-nation requests for gymnasts competing at the international level. Most of the time, it’s gymnasts with legitimate ties to other countries, often countries with bare-bones gymnastics programs or no actively-competing elite-level gymnasts. And in cases where there are already elites, there’s generally a selection process through which everyone is given a fair shot at making a team.
In 2011, Austin Sheppard competed as a member of the Hungarian team at World Championships. She had dual citizenship through her parents and her brother Ryan is actually competing in Hungary now as well. As a Hungarian elite, Sheppard competed at European Championships and several World Cup events because she was required to go through the same selection process as the other Hungarian gymnasts, and she spent her time leading up to Worlds that year training in Hungary with the team. When it came down to Olympic selection, Hungary had only one spot available and it went to Dorina Boczogo, fair and square.
This year, Ava Verdeflor of the U.S. will represent the Philippines, and in her case, she approached the program when there was no one else really contending for spots, earning a slot at the Youth Olympic Games last summer and posting the best results for the nation at the Southeast Asian Games this summer. She has citizenship because she was born in the country and lived there until age two, and was selected fairly after representing the country in other tests over the past year.
Then there are the gymnasts bringing life to programs that were all but nonexistent. Danusia Francis of Great Britain, who is half-Jamaican, will compete for Jamaica alongside U.S. gymnast Toni-Ann Williams, who has competed for Jamaica for years. In their cases, Jamaica doesn’t really have a national program, so any representation is good representation. The same goes for U.S.-based gymnasts who have competed for nations like the Cayman Islands and Trinidad & Tobago in recent years.
Azerbaijan is another similar example, the nation rising to gymnastics fame over this quad after they became the land of misfit toys for the Russians who had been put out to pasture (their national team is currently comprised of seven women, all of whom relocated from Russia). Though injuries in 2014 meant they couldn’t contend for a team spot at this year’s Worlds, they’ve had some great success considering the program literally didn’t exist only years ago, and they’ve inspired many young Azeri girls to try the sport, in essence using their status to build the program for the future of the sport so they won’t have to pull from Russia any longer.
But Belarus has a women’s program. They have a team of gymnasts, six of whom have represented their nation internationally in 2015 and two of whom – Sviatlana Lifenka and Valeryia Tsekhmistrenka – were named to the nominative roster for Worlds. Natallia Yakubava represented the country at the Youth Olympic Games last summer, making the beam finals (and she is excellent there, with a roundoff layout and a big double pike). At Worlds, Anastasiya Yekimenka and Anastasiya Miklashevich both competed well, with Yekimenka finishing above gymnasts from much more established programs on her three events and Miklashevich showing beautiful work on bars. And Aliaksandra Koshaleva was a new senior this year, but showed promise at both the European Championships and European Games, increasing her difficulty on all of her events in the short span between the two meets.
These are the names of the young gymnasts – most are 16 and in their first year of senior competition – who are being shoved aside to make room for two Americans who qualified to elite in March of this year and have exactly one domestic elite competition under their belts. Americans who have never stepped foot in Belarus, and who will not visit Belarus prior to representing the country in major international competition.
How does this even happen? From what we’ve gathered, it seems as though All Olympia head coaches Artur Akopyan and Galina Marinova approached Nellie Kim – President of the FIG Women’s Technical Committee and vice president of the Belarusian Gymnastics Federation – about sending Dickson and Kwan representing Belarus after the two failed to qualify to U.S. nationals (both missed the all-around cutoff of 54.0 by over two points). Kim, who has been trying to build the Belarusian program internally, apparently loved the idea and the three got to work obtaining citizenship for the girls.
In Belarus – as with many under-developed nations – the citizenship and residency requirements are pretty lenient, but they also don’t just hand out passports willy-nilly to people who have never stepped foot in the country. Belarusian citizenship can be obtained by birth (like if one of your parents is a citizen), by naturalization (if you’ve lived there for seven years, know one of the state languages, have legal income, or have no foreign citizenship), or by registration (if you lived in Belarus before the USSR crumbled or were adopted).
The AOGC girls fit none of this criteria, though there are loopholes when it comes to naturalization. According to the Citizenship Act of 2002, the seven year period of residence required for naturalization can be “reduced” for several categories of people, including those “who can make significant contributions to the development of Belarus.” With scores slightly better than any of the Belarusian national gymnasts, Kim could’ve made a great case for Dickson and Kwan, noting the success of the U.S. program, the success of their own gym (which most famously produced 2012 Olympic medalist McKayla Maroney), and the success of Azerbaijan’s program using a similar strategy. It’s a no-brainer for Belarus.
But is it? Will Dickson and Kwan actually bolster the program that much more than Lifenka or Tsekhmistrenka would have? Their Classics scores from this summer would’ve put them around 60th place in last year’s Worlds all-around whereas the Belarusian all-arounders would’ve been closer to 100th. Aren’t 60th place and 100th place about the same when neither results in more than the other? There are no finals, all-around or otherwise, in store for the Americans, just as there would have been no finals for the Belarusians and the majority of those not in top programs. So why give spots to gymnasts with no relation to your program instead of building the confidence and performance ability of the girls who have spent their entire lives training in Belarus when neither outcome is going to result in anything different?
In their interview with International Gymnast, both Dickson and Kwan express a desire to help the struggling programs of Eastern Europe. “They are losing gymnasts because they think the U.S. is always going to win and they can never meet that expectation,” Kwan hypothesized. “But with us going it’s showing…that you can still do it, but we just need more of you to come out.” Dickson agreed and “wants to show them that their dreams can come true.” She continues by saying if they want to be elite, all they have to do is “give it a lot of dedication and time and patience.”
But they have given it dedication and time and patience. In this situation, Dickson and Kwan could learn a thing or two from Lifenka, Tsekhmistrenka, Yakubava, Yekimenka, Miklashevich, and Koshaleva, all of whom have extensive international experience that absolutely trumps Dickson and Kwan’s single U.S. Classic meet. These six have come up in a struggling program with nowhere near the training facilities and opportunities available to Dickson and Kwan and have still managed to have an international presence. It’s a weak one, yes, but event finals aren’t going to happen overnight. Their dedication has gotten them this far, and could’ve taken them even further if given the chance. You can show them that their dreams can come true? Their dreams were about to come true until you showed up! How’s that for irony?
The attitude of these teenage Americans is ethnocentrism and the “white savior complex” at its finest, i.e. that well-intentioned notion people from the developed west have where they think they can fix everything in “poor” countries even when nothing is actually truly broken. I hate brushing off teenage girls as uneducated or clueless because teenage girls are awesome and smart and usually know better. But with their ignorance, these two 16-year-old almost-adults manage to disrespect the Belarusian program in their interview, where they fully admit that they haven’t even had association with the Belarusian team themselves and don’t really know anything about it. And yet they’re somehow experts on Eastern Europe’s decline in the sport and confidently express their ability to single-handedly fix it?
Despite their lack of knowledge about the program or about the girls whose spots they’re taking, I don’t blame the gymnasts and don’t think anyone should (though I do wish someone would’ve coached them through that interview, because they’re taking a brunt of the negativity instead of the adult decision-makers). I’m sure they’re very sweet girls and I wish them the best of luck. It wasn’t their idea, and they should be excited about getting an opportunity like this when far superior gymnasts in the U.S. attending the Worlds selection camp this week won’t get to go. It’s a chance of a lifetime and I’m sure any other gymnast training in a program with depth would kill for a similar circumstance. They have the right to be happy and excited, and likely don’t know the hurt they’re actually causing in accepting their coaches’ and Kim’s offer, so their off-putting comments stem from a place of ignorance, not intentional disrespect.
But they should know that their attending Worlds is going to make things worse in Belarus, not better. Since this has happened, two of Belarus’ most promising new seniors – Yakubava and Koshaleva, best friends and both members of this summer’s European Games squad who had the time of their lives in the team competition, always with huge smiles for the camera – have withdrawn their FIG licenses meaning they can no longer compete internationally. That’s one-third of their senior team, so clearly already the American invasion is having devastating effects.
Instead of inspiring gymnasts in Belarus, all this decision does is teach young Belarusian gymnasts that it doesn’t matter how good they are or how much they improve. Girls from the U.S. with money and power and connections will just wind up stealing their spots. It’s the opposite of the work being done in Azerbaijan and other formerly nonexistent programs. Nothing is building. Instead, a young but blossoming program is going to crumble, and I’m furious at the Belarusian Federation for letting it happen.
In the Belarusian Federation’s announcement today, they specifically say that the decision to send Dickson and Kwan should not be viewed with hostility. It seems that their plan, according to deputy chairman Antonina Pouch, is to earn an Olympic spot using the talents of the American girls which will boost their international presence considerably. But if they earn that spot and then send one of the Americans to the Olympic Games in lieu of one of their own gymnasts, it’s doing absolutely nothing for their program.
Article by Lauren Hopkins
Sharing out perspective on performance to the gymnastics and coaching community
We all have our own values and philosophies of what ethical coaching should look like. Like me, I’m sure you have some specific things that bother you with regards to ‘bad coaching practice.’
When I first started coaching, I, like many, felt a position of power and authority over the young athletes I was working with. With power comes great responsibility, and a serious one too. We are responsible for the physical and emotional well being of our athletes.
Fortunately for me, I grew out of this power trip phase, and learnt the importance of an athlete-coach relationship. Personally, I believe in an athlete centered approach to coaching, but I respect that this isn’t for everyone.
As I’ve developed as a coach I have completely overhauled my priorities. The morale of the athletes I work with is more important to me that any medals they win.
The morale of the athletes I work with is more important to me than any medals they win
I can’t think of anything worse than coaching athletes with poor morale and emotional control each day. I spend more time in the gym than my own home, why would I engineer a hostile environment?
So in case you haven’t already noticed, I’m not a fan of the ‘yelling and telling’ approach to coaching.
If I need to shout at any athlete in order for them to work hard, then;
(1) I’ve done a pretty poor job in coaching them to this point, and
(2) I’d rather not coach them at all, even if they were an international medal hopeful.
Yelling doesn’t fit with my values, and those are more important to me than anything else. Motivating athletes with threats, punishments and consequences is all too common;
‘If you do that again then you have 5 more’
‘Next time you do that you’re climbing the rope’
‘If you don’t change your head position then I’m sending you home’
Do these work? Sure, lots! I’ve seen many an athlete magically become capable of fulfilling their coach’s wishes after being threatened with a consequence.
BUT, these are often the athletes that have poor emotional control whilst training. They are the athlete that will cry, without being provoked, after failing a skill several times, as they KNOW what is coming. A punishment, a consequence, a threat. Is that what you want?
For me, athletes should have the freedom to fail, without consequence.
Athletes should have the freedom to fail, without consequence.
If your athlete is giving you sub optimal effort when training then the likelihood is you’re polishing a rock not a diamond, and you need to coach their mindset as much as their technique.
You need to coach an athlete’s mindset as much as their technique
As coaches, we are the adults, and our role is to guide the athlete through triumph and adversity and therefore shouting purely shows the frustration of a lack of control over the athlete.
I’m not suggesting for a minute that a firm word every now and then might not be a great tool in your coaching repertoire to refocus your athlete or ensure their safety. But if you’re using this as your daily ‘default’ approach to motivate your athletes, then perhaps reflect on your approach and consider further creative ways to get the best from them.
Dear fellow parents,
I am writing to you because I give up. Your child is better than mine. You win. I am throwing in the cards. I will no longer play the game of competitive parenting.
I’ll admit it. I am a little scared. What if by quitting the competitive parent game I am dooming my kids to a life a mediocrity?
On the other hand, what if by continuing to run the race I am giving my girls a chance to grow into the people they were meant to be? If that means that they are not sufficiently impressive for me to experience the raised eyebrows of “wow, you must be a great parent” at the next cocktail party I attend, so be it.
I, like I suspect most people, became a parent because I wanted the privilege of being the guardian of and guide to another human being. I wanted the gift of unwrapping each stage of my daughters’ development, including those that made me wonder if I was raising people destined to steal my sanity. Parenting has been, by far, the greatest challenge I have ever undertaken. And it is the constant rising to that challenge that has made me a better employer, friend and person.
I also hoped that parenting would bring into my life and the lives of my children a caring and supportive network, a village if you will, where we could all be interdependent, supportive of one another when things go wrong and celebratory when successes big and small are achieved.
And, in time (and by time I mean over two decades of parenting), I discovered that village. What surprised me is the game that I was sucked into along the way, a game that I am choosing to withdraw from effective immediately: competitive parenting.
Look, I am no better than anyone else who is caught playing this game. I am one of the most competitive people I know (and that is saying a lot given that I exist in the world of sports). I like to win everything, but I now realize that parenting isn’t a round robin tournament. Or at least it shouldn’t be.
Please understand, I don’t know that any of us entered into the realm of competitive parenting with the express purpose of turning what is supposed to be a relationship with another human being (parent and child) into a marker for our proof of worthiness as people. In fact, I am quite sure none of us did. I would find it surprising that anyone would undertake the responsibility of raising a child with the intention of using her as a measuring stick of one’s performance in life.
But somehow parental pride has crossed a dangerous line for so many of us morphing into a competition between parents over whose child is most talented, brilliant and unique. So when did parenting become a competitive sport? How did we get from a point of parenting being a part we play in another human being’s life to it being a report card on our success and the value of our child to society?
As best as I can tell, it begins at conception.
We don’t even realize that we were drafted into the game when it is happening. It is all innocent enough. But from the start, we slowly wade into the competitive parenting pool. It starts with assuring that we consume the “best odds” diet in pregnancy and continues with the “natural” birth vs. a birth assisted by an epidural vs. a C-section. It moves into the breast fed vs. bottle fed camps which are quickly followed by the stay at home vs. working mom debate. Instead of looking at the options as matters of personal choice and being sympathetic that we are all trying to do the best we can, we pass judgement on one another for what are private and intimate decisions.
In baby and toddler class it is the subtle “oh, is she not yet sitting up?,” “Grace gave up her bottle at 10 months.” “She’s three and not potty trained?” and “I just cannot believe that Pierre is reading in English and French at four years old.” It is the judgement of the parent whose kid has a meltdown at the mall candy store (can you even believe that there are parents who let their kids eat sugar?), whose parent allow a binky past age two (that child will never speak clearly, so there goes being head of Moot Court when she is at Yale Law), who chooses to breast feed not at all (poor thing’s brain will not develop correctly, assuming she lives without the necessary antibodies that only breast milk supplies) or for five years (deep psychological issues, obviously) or who gives plastic toys to her child (why don’t you just inject radiation in her to bring the cancer on faster?).
We are rounding the first lap of the parenting rat race…
It’s sad to say but In our quest to be and stress over whether we are good parents, we boost our parental self-esteem by stepping on those of others. And having been on both ends of the vitriol, it does no one any good, with the possible exception of companies like Baby Einstein and Kumon. They get a handsome profit off our anxiety.
In the preschool and elementary school years there are the competitions over reading and math groups, GATE programs, All-Star sports teams for kids who are still young enough to believe in the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus, peer popularity and the list goes on. And, while parenting experts and educators assure us that development is on a continuum if you happen to be the parent of a child who is on the later end of the developmental curve…well then clearly something you did in her early development caused her to be, GASP, average.
Get moving on those extracurriculars while you are at it. Is your 10 year old child still dabbling in various activities? You’ve dropped the ball. Didn’t you know that it’s your job as a good parent is to help your child find her “thing?”
Yep, guilty as charged. Private gymnastics lessons for a 5 year-old, a math tutor for a first grader who wasn’t immediately grasping division (did we even learn division when we were in the first grade?) and private singing coaching for an 8 year old so she might land the lead role in her after school drama class. Don’t even get me started on the violin, flute, clarinet, oboe and piano lessons because why try one instrument when you can try five?
And the second lap is complete…
If by middle school, heaven forbid if a child isn’t on track for either high academic, athletic or artistic achievement, and, of course, all three are most preferable. Don’t you dare let your child go through a pudgy phase or have a few pimples—solve those normal developmental quirks immediately lest she lose social standing.
Moving into the final stretch…
By high school, the gloves come off as the competition to enter into Varsity athletics as a freshman, take as many AP courses that exist (who cares if your child doesn’t like music—there is an AP Music Theory course and by golly she is taking it as her “elective.”) and beginning the sprint toward the finish line of the competitive parenting challenge: admission into a highly competitive college.
For those of you not yet to this level of the game, a highly competitive college is not necessarily the one that is most academically rigorous. No, in this case “highly competitive college” means a school that rejects significantly more kids than it accepts. With the ultimate validation of your worthiness of a parent being your (I mean, your child’s) admission into an Ivy League school.
You think that you are saving for your child’s college fund? You better also be saving for your child’s trying-to-get-into-college fund, as well. You must take your child on extensive pre-college trips so she can decide on where to apply. (Not to mention that you must be prepared to spring the equivalent of a nice down payment on a car for SAT tutoring.)
Gone are the days when your mother would wake you up too early on a Saturday morning, handed you an apple, a piece of toast, a number two pencil and send you on your way to take the SAT. Now, a complete tactical plan must be created and executed including simulated practice exams before your child sits for that three and half hour test. And seriously? What was your mother thinking giving you a breakfast that lacked protein? Tantamount to child abuse. Also, it’s your own social suicide. After all, your child’s SAT score is a direct measure of your efficacy as a parent.
And heading into the final straight away…
Mid-August of each year, the Guidebook to Ultimate Parenting Success is released: The U.S. News and World Report College Rankings. If your kid gets into one of the top 10 schools, you are a highly successful parent. Schools 11-20 will rank you as an average parent. Schools that people have “heard of” but are not in 1-20, a fair parent. And, if your child attends a college not in the top 20 AND the total stranger in line at Starbucks has never heard of, well, do I really need to say it?
Instead of college being a match to be made, it is a prize to be won. The “best” college for your child isn’t one where she will most thrive academically and socially, one that you can afford to pay for or even one where she will have the college experience she wants. Instead, the best college is the one that she is admitted to that admitted the fewest number of her peers. It is the one that provides the crown jewel of the parenting rat race: the most prestigious college static cling for your car.
Across the finish line you go… #winning
So I concede fellow parents. I am removing myself and by proxy my four children from the race. And by doing so, I am choosing to honor them, and all of the children in my community, for being exactly who they are: human beings in and of their own right, not proof of my worthiness. Their achievements are their achievements, not a sign of their value as people.
I also apologize to those of you whom I might have made feel less than, whose parenting I judged or who simply feel that no matter what they do as a parent that it is never enough. I am deeply sorry. By doing the best you can, you are enough. By being her essential self, your child is enough. Let’s join together to support ourselves, our kids and our community and recognize that we all love our kids fiercely but that parenting from a place of competition and anxiety does no one any good.
Finally, to those who take glee that there is one fewer parent in the race, you are welcome. After all, I am comforted by what one of the world’s great philosophers, Lily Tomlin, said, “The problem with the rat race is, even if you win, you’re still a rat.”
1. I love my child so much it hurts. It makes me a little irrational. Please bare with me. Be gentle. My heart is walking around outside of me, and I entrust it to you. I am not asking for a free pass, just a little empathy.
2. And of course, I want you to love my child too. I realize you have many kids to love, but let’s admit it…mine is really awesome.
3. Despite what my actions might suggest, I want to be a good parent. I really do. So much so that I am prone to making mistakes because I over think things. I need your help in guiding me on how to be the best support for my child-athlete. If you think I am doing something that isn’t good for my child (like watching every practice or constantly bailing her out when she leaves her gym bag at home), communicate that with me. I am all for help from the village.
4. I need more information. I don’t understand things and that make me anxious. I need to understand how kids move up. I need to understand how to explain to my child what she needs to do to move on with her friends or to know that she won’t be so I can explain that to her. When I don’t have information from you, I rely on other parents, the internet or I make things up myself. We both know that this is hardly a good thing…
5. Because remember: I don’t speak gymnastics. To me a giant is a character in a fairy tale. Kip is a guy with top siders and a country club membership. And don’t get me started on Tsukahara or Yurchenko… Then, once I think I have the hang of what the levels all mean, things change, and I am confused again. Is level 6 easier than level 5 or is that just my imagination?
6. Just because I ask you a question, does not mean I am questioning your competence. I genuinely don’t understand things and need clarification. Please try not to be defensive. I am working hard to assume good faith and hope you will assume the same in me.
7. Big surprises freak me out. They freak everyone out. If my child isn’t going to move up or is missing a major skill she needs for competition, please tell me in time for me to prepare her or better yet help her achieve her goal. I know that delivering bad news is not fun for you, but if you tell me in advance I can maybe do something about it. And if bad news is unavoidable, be sensitive in how you deliver bad news but tell me the truth. In private, please.
8. Please understand we are juggling a variety of commitments and that means sometimes we might be late or even miss practice. I understand that gymnastics is your career and it makes it harder for you to do your job if my child isn’t in the gym. But occasionally a sibling’s first communion or grandma’s 90th birthday will fall on a day of practice or even a meet. And, once a year we travel to visit family and once another time we will actually scape enough cash together to go on a vacation. Sometimes the carpool falls through and I cannot get her little brother from soccer at 5pm and be on the other side of town to drop her at practice at the same exact time. We accept any logical consequences that arise because of her absence from the gym and will do our best to notify you in advance, but please do not take your anger or disappointment out on her.
9. You are the expert on the sport and my child as an athlete, but I am the expert on my child. Please know that I will always defer to you on what to teach my child, but I can provide insight to you on who she is. For instance, if one of my children says she’s not feeling well, I might take it with a grain of salt. If my other who has never missed a day of school in her life and never gets sick says that, I am certain its true. Let’s work together to share what we know so we can best understand her.
10. If you have a chance, can you encourage my kid to read, straighten our her room and be nice to her parents and siblings? You see, you have a magical influence over my child. She worships you and wants you to be proud of her. You are her role model. And I am grateful for that and am happy to bring you Starbucks whenever you need a caffeine boost.
John Wooden died June 4, 2010 at age 99. Twitter was founded in 2006. He retired in 1975 thirty-one years before Twitter yet he was a twitter coach. Why? How? We know that Coach Wooden is acknowledged as one of the greatest coaches of all time in any sport. Fortunately during his last season coaching in 1974-75 two psychologists Roland Tharp & Ronald Gallimore studied his methods and reported on his coaching style. (Tharp, R. G. and Gallimore, R. (1976). Basketballs John Wooden: What a coach can teach a teacher. Psychology Today, 9 (8), 74-78. (Tharp & Gallimore, 1976)) In their observations of 2,326 discrete acts of teaching during thirty hours of practice they observed the following:
6.9% were compliments
6.6% were expressions of discipline
75% was PURE INFORMATION
They were short, punctuated, numerous and seldom longer that twenty seconds! There were no lectures or long drawn out harangues. There was minimal use of praise and reproofs. What does this have to with Twitter, not much directly until you think about what Twitter is intended to do – Get you message across in 140 Characters. That is what John Wooden did and he was doing it years before Twitter was invented. He was a Twitter coach before there was Twitter. There is a powerful lesson here for all of us to be Twitter coaches, know your message and convey that message in 20 seconds or less (140 Characters). If it is longer than that forget it, because the athlete is not going to get it. Be a Twitter coach and improve your effectiveness as a teacher.
If you want to learn more Wooden’s teaching methods I suggest you read Yo Haven’t Taught Until They Have Learnedby Swen Nater & Gallimore and a 2004 follow-up to Gallimore & Tharp’s original study in the Sport Psychologist journal (Gallimore & Tharp, 2004). For additional insights into his growth as a coach I suggest you read: Wooden: A Coaches Life by Seth Davis. His success did not happen by chance. It was an unbeatable combination of impeccable preparation and sound teaching.