Hi everyone! It is approaching 11:00pm as I sit at my writing station, tapping away at the keyboard. Chris is practicing Mephisto Waltz on the downstairs baby-grand for what has to be the hundredth time this week! He is traveling to Italy by himself later this summer to perform with an orchestra at a music festival, and I believe this is the piece he will be playing.
Anyway, I wanted to somehow encapsulate and share with you guys my present feeling of overwhelming warmth, joy and gratitude, after coming home from a long day of coaching, followed by dinner with a high school student seeking advice on college applications.
The greater chunk of my day was spent coaching rhythmic gymnastics for six hours at a local gym. Of course, maintaining some degree of control over little 6/7 year-olds was no easy task, and by hour 3, I was exhausted. At such a young age, with attention spans lasting no longer than a few minutes, it was difficult for the girls to exercise discipline and focus.
As about 80% of the girls/coaches at the gym are Russian/Ukrainian, I managed to pick up a few words of Russian from the native-speakers. Some words I learned today:
“Ya nie zna yu”– I don’t know
“Na teyni nasky”– point your toes
“Shto ti delayesh?”– What are you doing?
“Oodachi”– good luck
“Pazhalasta”– please/your welcome
“Kak tie bia zavut?”– What is your name?
My family and I will be going on a cruise to Europe next Tuesday, and St. Petersburg, Russia, is one of our ports of call. Perhaps I may be able to put some of my very, very limited Russian vocabulary to good use!
My favorite part of coaching today was bonding with all the girls on the team. I think coaching is a balance between disciplining/inspiring students to work hard and improve their skills, and serving as a mentor and role model whom students can trust and look up to. There were many times when I had to yell at the little girls to get in their lines, stay in their over-splits and not laugh/talk loudly as I was demonstrating/giving instructions. Some girls outright objected to doing as they were told, to which I simply said, “Ok. You can sit there and do nothing, but you’re only cheating yourself.”
The girls and I had fond moments as well. I loved coaching the few hard-working girls, who were always attentive and willing to do what I said, without objection. This is discipline, and it’s something serious athletes must learn from a young age, in order to succeed in their respective sports. It’s also the reason why, I think, many retired competitive athletes find it difficult to think for themselves, as they had been conditioned from early on to obey rules and commands from their superiors without question (at least, this is what happened to me, when I quit gymnastics).
When we were doing oversplit stretches (aka, doing the splits from a higher surface, like a mat or a chair), many girls were lazy or didn’t like the pain of stretching.When I pushed them down into oversplits, I had each count to ten, and the Russian-speaking girls count to ten in Russian, so I could pick up some more Russian words. To entice them to stay in their splits, I rewarded each girl with a single almond if she showed good form and effort (of course, we made sure no one had any nut allergies). This method of positive reinforcement worked quite well, as the girls had an external motivation to push through the pain. When they get older, though, I hope they won’t need the enticement of almonds to motivate them to stretch, as we all know that extrinsic motivation alone is not sustainable in guiding long-term achievement. At 6 or 7, however, most kids are either forced into club sports by their parents without any personal commitment to it, or are in it just to release energy, make friends and have fun. Knowing this, I guess I should check myself when I find myself getting frustrated at their lack of attention and seeming unwillingness to work hard.
I thought it was really cute how, at the end of practice, the girls were eyeing my bag of almonds hungrily, and I told them to each give me a beautiful gymnastics salute, before taking three almonds from the bag.
The older level 8 and 9 girls worked hard on their routines throughout the day. One of the girls, Anya, was at the gym from 10:30am to 6:30pm, as she will be competing at National’s next week. She is one of the hardest workers I know and reminds me a lot of myself during my gymnastics days. I do admire her positive spirit when training– something I never had at 15 years old. Watching her, I wondered if I could ever possibly regain the athletic discipline that, for my first 15 years, was all I ever knew. Having been out of training for four years already, I marvel at the mental strength required of athletes to push through hours and hours of grueling practice and physical pain. My whole body aches just from bending down to stretch the girls! I doubt my body will ever be in the shape it was when I was at my prime in gymnastics. A lot of former gymnasts suffer from early-onset arthritis and joint pain due to the extreme mobility and intense bodily stress of their younger days. Physical ability is fleeting. But I do still retain the learned discipline from all my years of athletic training and can now apply that discipline to my life beyond gymnastics.
After finishing coaching at 6:30pm, I took the Caltrain home, where I met with a rising high school senior who had reached out to me for advice on college applications. Our acquaintance was actually made possible through this blog! Though I didn’t know her personally, she had apparently been following my blog closely, and was proactive/courageous enough to reach out to me for advice. We had dinner together, and I shared my high school/freshman college experience with her, as well as advice on the college application. She was so sweet, so down-to-earth and is currently facing some similar stresses of young adulthood I went through back in high school/the first half of freshman year at UCLA.
Most of those stresses revolve around uncertainty of the future, and I’m sure many young adults can resonate with this topic. I used to be absolutely TERRIFIED of uncertainty. It is human nature to crave certainty. Most people like to plan out every step of their life, because when you plan, you have control, and when you’re in control, you feel safe and less vulnerable to failure. When I decided, two quarters into my freshman year of college, that I no longer wanted to be on the pre med track, I was thrown into a state of internal turmoil and fear. I lost a good amount of sleep just thinking and wondering what I could possibly do with my life, if not medicine. When I finally learned to let go and accept the uncertainty for what it is– a natural part of life that cannot be altered– I was liberated. I’m in a much better place now, living with a lot less fear and eager to see where my heart takes me next. I am ready to explore.
All this I told my high school senior friend, who listened intently. At 19 years old, I am still very young and have a lot to learn about life, but tonight, I felt a real sense of purpose in sharing my story with this girl, who was but two years younger than me. I feel that college has helped me mature profoundly. In fact, I’d wager to say that college, despite all its challenges, is the best thing that’s ever happened to me, and I’m so grateful I have the chance to grow myself at a great university like UCLA.
Sharing my story and my itty-bitty beads of 19-year-old wisdom (if you can even call it that) with someone young and filled with immense potential, was so fulfilling. I’m really developing a voice, and it’s fascinating to experience this internal change. Each day, little by little, my self confidence growths. I’m getting to the point where I’m confident enough in myself to give back to others, be it in gymnastics coaching or advice on college applications, relationships, and life in general.
It is nearly 12:30am as I wrap up this post. It’s been a long day, and I’m eager for tomorrow to come, so I can continue on my path of self-development.
Have a wonderful night!