Tuesday, June 24, 2014

So... What Did I Learn This Year?

At the end of every school year, I try to take a few minutes to figure out what I learned. (Literally, I take like five minutes. When you work in a elementary school you associate with small humans who are always asking you things that you already know, and at the end of a ten month stretch you begin to accept the truth that perhaps only Google knows more than you do, but it's probably a toss up). Today was that day for me. I chose a few free minutes when my bagel was toasting in the staff room to stop and consider my yearly lesson, with as much humility as I could  muster. (Really, it's a trip. You forget how much kids don't know, and by extension, you realize how smart you really are when you compare your own hard earned knowledge to blank slates that yell and gossip and can't drive a car yet. Of course, most of us adults are pretty ignorant, too. We just know how to BS our way around questions so we don't look like a collective group of mindless worker bees. For proof, see elections. Most of them.)

After about two minutes, I could smell the smoke. Good grief, there had to be something-- that's when I realized it was actual smoke, not my brain, and that my bagel had jammed the toaster. I pulled it out, one side black, the other warm and soggy. So, the 'Bagel' setting produced a half-burnt piece of bread that looked like it had been cooked with the moral integrity of a FIFA executive. Well, I could use that. Chalk one up for "Don't use the Bagel setting."

Or if I were to go bigger, perhaps I could suggest the moral I'd learned was that I needed to make more money so I could order out all my lunches.

What did you learn this year at school, Steve?
I learned that I need to make more money!

No. Making bigger bucks sounded good. I know my wife would love to have a couch that didn't shed fake plastic leather bits. And hell, I'd been promising our cats that water dish that worked like a fountain for two years. But really, that could be my lesson every year. If making money was a test, and one considered where I'd been born and under what conditions, I was probably among the ten biggest failures in the history of five civilizations. (Uh, I'm taking that back to Ancient Greece. I get books from the library. They're free. Also, no social life to speak of. See finances, above.)

After I'd eaten my bagel, (Yes, of course I ate it. See finances, above.) I finally figured out something I'd learned this past year: the difference between a personal pronoun and a definite article. Oddly enough, I learned it during basketball season.

I've coached for a long time. This year I coached both the junior and intermediate boys' teams. Like any coach, I have a few pet peeves regarding how practice should be run, and I enforce these rules with a strictness that causes teachers to break out in jealous warts. (Sports are a privilege. I don't have to put up with the nonsense a regular teacher does because I can just kick them off the team. It's really, really amazing, and most people don't know this, but sports are the last reserve of truly well-run dictatorships in Western Civilization. Well, aside from the Industrial Military Complex, but that's more a council of power hungry, morally absent narcissists and not a true dictatorship, but I digress.)

One of those pet peeves is that when I'm talking, no one can bounce the basketball. No one can twirl it on their finger or flip it from hand to hand. I don't simply ask for silence, I demand stillness. Usually the players get this by the end of the first week. This past year, my LESSON TO BE LEARNED happened in week two.

I started briefing them on the offense after our shooting drills, and a ball hit the floor.

"Hold the ball," I said.

Another ball hit the floor as one of my other players started messing around. I spun to silence them, when yet another ball on the other side of the court hit the floor. I fumed. Didn't they understand that I was speaking? I might be an invisible "helper" during the day with the bank account of a seven-year-old, but here on the court I WAS THE KING. If they'd just listen to me, they'd have a chance to help me earn some self-respect back and live vicariously through their achievements by claiming my superiority as a coach and vindicating my own career that wobbled between sub and super-sub. Those little pricks!

"Okay, everyone hold YOUR balls! Just hold 'em!"

I heard something else that sounded like leather hitting the tile floor, and this time I didn't bother turning.

"If everyone would just hold their balls, there wouldn't be any noise! Grab your balls and hold them!"

Silence. Stillness. Ah. A great coach getting the proper response from his players.

"Okay, much better. Now then..."

I started talking about the offense, and it didn't hit me until after practice what I'd said. I asked the other coach, Al, if I'd told the twelve and thirteen year old boys under my care to 'hold their balls.' He nodded, grinned, and told me he'd walked out of the gym because he couldn't contain his laughter.

"They're going to mock me about this in the dressing room behind my back, aren't they?" I said.

"Yup. You deserve it, too," he grinned.

Sigh. So that's my lesson. If you get too big for your britches, you forget your grammar, and the next thing you know, you're left holding your the bag.


Friday, June 20, 2014

Training Tip; Just Show Up

There's an old adage that eighty per cent of life is showing up. When I was younger, I would have said that eighty per cent of old adages are a load of crap, including that one. Or in my (self proclaimed) infinite wisdom, I would have suggested that the problem with our society is that there were too many people convinced that showing up was all that was necessary. But as I grudgingly enter “middle age”, that adage rings far more true than it did as a young man.

Life is busy. There's work. Family. The occasional night out with friends. More work. Learning how to hold a sword properly. Chores. Learning a second language. More work. Other kids. More chores. Baseball. More work. And oh yeah, no sleep. (That's why adults are always annoyed with energetic children. Hey, we'd be energetic too if we got eleven hours sleep every night and other people made our meals.) So with all that, hell yes, showing up matters. Whatever bruised, hungover, exhausted state we might get there, when you're older, getting there is a freaking win.

Next to a terrible diet, the inability to find time to work out regularly is the biggest obstacle for people who want to get in shape. They'll find one long window of time during the week, make the commitment, and have a great workout. They find another ninety minutes in their schedule six days later. Another great workout. And so it goes. Unfortunately, you won't make any progress that way. As a trainer, I feel my clients frustration. After seven or eight hours working with crazy loud Grade Sixes all day, my first inclination is not to go to the gym. (Usually, it runs something along the lines of wanting to pour myself a very strong drink, weep softly as I stare into nothingness and wonder why they insist on shouting ALL DAY.)

Even after twenty five years of working out, the only way I get there regularly now is to make a small promise to myself. I call it the Twenty Minute Rule.

It doesn't matter how I feel, or how much time I DON'T have, I can spare twenty minutes. Let's be honest, twenty minutes is a coffee break. It's a stop at the grocery store or a too long conversation with that guy at work who never stops talking about himself. We can all squeeze in twenty minutes. And we can do it three, four, or five days a week. As long as you get there, you'll see progress.

Two things to remember. One, twenty minutes IS enough. Don't start lengthening out your workouts and somehow change the promise. If you go one day for sixty minutes, you still owe twenty minutes the next day. You can't borrow time. Second, make it a hard twenty minutes. Don't stop, don't wait between exercises, and superset everything. Waiting around is boring, and you won't accomplish very much in twenty minutes if you only do seven or eight exercises.

It still surprises me when these old adages are true. Maybe I'm getting old. Maybe I underestimated how busy life would be as an adult. Or maybe I've suffered minor brain injuries working with young people for nearly twenty years. Whatever the reason, getting to the gym after school for twenty minutes has helped keep me fit and (mostly) sane. I can't make any promises regarding your sanity, but you'll definitely feel better.