Week 1 of our Summer “Learn to Try” challenge was do a cartwheel- or in my case- attempt to do a cartwheel after spending 20 years hunched over a computer.
When we were brainstorming with the kids, I have to admit that I liked it because it sounded easy. I figured I’d show them a couple of YouTube videos, do one myself for old times' sake, and then they'd be off and 'wheeling. That didn’t happen. Here’s what did and the lesson I didn't see coming on coaching your own kid.
Like every other athletic training program I’ve ever started, we began...by sitting comfortably on the couch doing “research.” By this I mean we watched 45+ minutes of YouTube videos like this one. We actually only needed to see one but they were all so cute. We sort of binge watched, and I decided this was going even easier than I thought.
After doing some wrist stretches (as the 8-year-old in the video's advised), we headed outside. We went straight to the front yard because the grass is literally greener and there is no dog poop to dodge. I was feeling so confident that I didn't even mind that everyone in the neighborhood was going to see what we were up to.
Before I go on, I should tell you that this challenge idea came from my oldest daughter Marin. So, not surprisingly, she was the most interested. Correction: She was the only one interested. Baya and Linc were invited to our after-dinner practice session, but they insisted on goofing off, doing somersaults, and playing hide and seek. Even after I explained the purpose of the summer challenge program AGAIN, they didn’t seem to grasp the opportunity.
Because I have a keen eye for indifference and we had no time to waste, I made the right call and cut them from our fledgling gymnastics team. With confused (and relieved) looks, they went back to hide and seek.
With my focus back on Marin, we picked a soft-looking spot and shot this “before” video.
Then came the moment I’d be dreading: my cartwheel- the first in 20+ years. It was harder than I imagined. Being upside down for that split second just reinforced how utterly weak and inflexible I am.
Feeling incapable and deflated, I reminded myself that this challenge was more for Marin and I didn’t need to participate actively. I could coach from the sidelines.
Then, things got tricky.
We went out to the practice field (corner of the front yard) each night last week. She certainly made progress, but the perfect cartwheel didn’t just “snap” into place as I’d imagined it would. As I stood there trying to offer helpful suggestions, I realized I was at a loss for two reasons:
- Cartwheels aren’t my thing either. I didn’t have any specific tips to offer and found myself repeatedly saying “try to straighten your legs more.” Not helpful.
- This was a self-imposed challenge that was supposed to be fun. How hard should I really be pushing her?
On the second point, I’d always assumed that you couldn’t (or shouldn’t?) teach or coach your own kid. So, I emailed my brother-in-law Kenny, explained the situation, and asked for some advice. You should know that Kenny the middle-aged, bald, white-guy version of Bo Jackson. Kenny knows baseball, basketball, football, and karate. He’s been coaching his four sons since birth, and they’re all outstanding athletes.
When I picked up his call, he barely said hello and launched in with: “3 words: DON’T DO IT.” He was joking but this demonstrates how conflicted he is on the topic. When he got serious, he said:
- Know what you’re talking about- or, at least, really sound like you do. You have to have the physical ability and game experience to offer specific, nuanced advice and direction.
- Know yourself and know your kid. You have to be self-aware about your style and know whether or not that works for your kid. Some parents have a one-to-one style match. Both parent and kid respond well to an aggressive “in your face” approach or both have a softer, more nurturing and encouraging tone. Some family pairs are complete opposites. If you have a match, there is a big opportunity to do a lot of coaching. If you don’t, it’s better for everyone to bring in a third party with a coaching style that matches your kid.
- Be able to turn it off. Kenny is the first to admit that he struggles with this. He realizes that he’s in coaching mode 24/7, 365 days a year. He wishes he could turn off his urge to correct his sons’ technique when they’re just goofing off in the yard with friends.
So, why do it at all?
Kenny- like a lot of parents- is proud of his kids and sees their potential. When they hit a home run over the fence or pitch in a championship game, parents like Kenny can’t help but feel happy about their kids’ accomplishments and their role in getting them there. He added there is a greater sense of control over their sports experience and sees the benefit of the extra hours together.
When I asked my nephew Ben (now a pre-teen) what he liked about being coached by his dad, the answer was simple. “We get to work more at home, and he’s very supportive.” What doesn’t Ben like? “When he’s sometimes hard on me.”
The key, according to Kenny, is to figure out quickly how to push them to do their best-- without damaging the relationship.
So, where does this leave me and my ability to coach Marin on her cartwheels? Well, we're going to keep at it but not on any specific time frame. I mean, seriously self, there's no rush to check this little box. I'm also going to do as many as I suggest she do. Lastly, since I'm clearly not the expert, I'll give her a chance to coach me back.
While our cartwheel challenge was small in the scheme of things, it did provide a window into the world of coaching your kid. It’s an entirely different dynamic than regular parenting.
Overall, this was a fun challenge that wasn’t as easy (or engaging) for all as I’d imagined. However, it got us all playing outside with something specific to do- which, for me, was a bonus.
Catching a firefly is up next. More to come next week!
I've included a couple outtakes from practice below.