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Sunday, August 2, 2015

THE POWER OF ONE

As parents, we hope our children will be blessed with adult role models that reinforce the values we are teaching at home.  A few years ago, I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Fred Bradley, a professor at Kansas State University.  This meeting quickly highlighted something I knew, but didn't think about much.  The importance of good role models doesn't lessen as our children reach adulthood.

My daughter, who at the time was earning a master's degree in school counseling, asked me if I'd like to sit in on one of her classes.  Her professor was a former gymnast and judge and had mentioned that he'd enjoy having me attend a class.  I accepted her offer and I'm glad I did, glad as a coach and glad as a parent.  I came away from that class with an appreciation for Dr. Bradley’s teaching skills, but more importantly I was fortunate to witness a man who loved what he was doing, loved his students and was passionate about helping them succeed in their futures. 
It wasn’t news that Dr. Bradley was in his last semester in the classroom.  I believe he was in his seventies and was stepping out of the classroom and cutting his workload to handling internships, interns and their mentors in schools all around northeast Kansas.  At one point in the class, as he made reference to the changes he was getting ready to face, he stopped to control his emotions.  Although he could be happy and content with what he had accomplished, knowing something he loved was coming to an end was causing heartache.  I felt bad for him, but at the same time I was happy for him.

My daughter did her internship under the tutelage of Tara, a former student of Dr. Bradley’s.  She was a wonderful mentor for Amber (something I believe Dr. Bradley sensed when he paired them together).  Following the graduation ceremony four generations of our family went to dinner to celebrate.  During dinner, Dr. Bradley came through the door to see Amber and to meet her family.  He and his wife and Tara and her husband made the trip to Wichita for Amber’s wedding.  They stayed for the reception and dance.  With hundreds of guests, Amber didn’t get to spend much time with them, but she was so happy they were there.  Just having them there meant something to her.
I found a little time to sit with them and wished I had had more time to talk to all of them.  It’s rare to find a person as passionate and dedicated to what he does as is Dr. Bradley.  Actually, dedicated isn’t the best choice of words.  Being dedicated seems to imply an unusual amount of effort and perseverance.  While Dr. Bradley certainly has both of those qualities, it seemed as if he was oblivious to their existence.  He loved doing what he was doing so much that I don’t believe he thought about it being hard or requiring extra effort and perseverance.  What he did made him happy, it wasn’t work.  That is perhaps the best lesson his students could have learned from him.

That first night I met Dr. Bradley I had a chance to talk to him during the break in class.  He told me Amber would graduate soon, but that she would always be his student.  How true that statement was.  Dr. Bradley had an influence on Tara.  Both Dr. Bradley and Tara influenced Amber, who in turn influences the students at her school where she is the counselor.  This drives home the point that wherever we are in our lives we should look for good role models to follow while at the same time being a good role model ourselves.  We should appreciate those we are receiving from while passionately serving those we are giving to.  Considering that Dr. Bradley has taught thousands of students while at K-State you will get a feel for the enormity of the layers upon layers of role models triggered by the passion of one person who loves what he does.  I hope, in our own little piece of the world, that we all try to be that one person.

FROM CHEATER TO CHEERY

When you spend a lot of time coaching or teaching kids, you are bound to see cheating. As much as we’d like to think otherwise, given enough time, it will happen. So, as educators, what do we do when we see our athletes cheating? A few days ago I had the opportunity to make that decision.

During conditioning, I watched one of my gymnasts perform 3 to 4 rep’s less than asked for at several consecutive stations. Not sure if what I thought I saw was really what was happening, I watched for a few minutes. It was true. She was holding back, cheating, lying, call it what you want.

My first reaction was to use this as a lesson for the entire team. I was going to send this gymnast home from practice because she had cheated on her conditioning. She would be allowed to return to practice the next day. I would tell her and her teammates of my decision during our line-up prior to separating into groups and going to events. The other girls would learn from her transgression. I would make my point that cheating was not allowed in my gym and would not be tolerated.

Then, thankfully, that little bit of time between the end of conditioning and when the girls had lined up was enough to let me clear my mind and come to my senses. Humiliation was not allowed in my gym either. Nothing would be gained by making an example of this young, talented gymnast. There was nothing good about what she had done, but maybe there would be something gained by the way we handled the situation.

When the girls broke their line and headed to the events, I called this gymnast over to me and told her what I had seen. She didn’t deny it. I quietly asked her to sit out for 5 to 10 minutes and think of a reason why she still wanted to be on this team and why her teammates and coaches should allow her to stay. She would be allowed to return to practice after telling me her reason. When she came to me later, fighting back tears, I was expecting to hear “I won’t cheat on my conditioning anymore.” This gymnast was nine years old and I would have accepted that answer. But, I was hoping for more and she gave it to me. “I want to stay on the team because I like being here. It’s fun. My friends are here and this is what I like to do” she said. To which I replied “That’s a good answer. That’s the best answer you could have given.” Damp eyes and a happy smile were her way of saying “I get it.”

There was nothing mind blowing about this episode. These things happen every day in gyms all over the world. A young gymnast was reminded that if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right, and an experienced coach was reminded of the same.