April 5, 2017 by Soo Ee
Whether as an educator or a coach, I’m often asked, should one go all out for sports excellence in medal wins or should sports excellence be about training hard and doing one’s best, podium wins secondary?
Frankly, I don’t enjoy pushing my young charges till they win medals but eventually burn out from the sport.
Neither do I like my ability as a coach to be judged because I don’t produce medal winning athletes.
I know I am a good coach not because of the handful of medals I’ve won in the past and a few more in recent years. Neither is it because I read a lot and can often give sounding advice and training guidelines.
I had difficulty learning game skill concepts as a child. I wasn’t talented neither was I physically inclined for sports. It took me longer than the average learner to learn a skill. It didn’t help that I was obese. I hated the stereotyping and still despise the general association with sporting abilities.
I remember I had difficulty differentiating my left leg from my right leg when I first started out in Taekwondo. Learning how to do simple things like tie my belt was an ordeal. In school, I was not the chosen one to join a team because I was your everyday I-am-fat-and-which-probably-mean-I-must-be-terrible-in-sports kid. Sometimes, I get picked but only because they were short of one player and they had no one else.
In Taekwondo, I was never part of that team despite my enthusiasm. My mother did not allow me to go for extra training sessions, which meant that I couldn’t be good enough for them. Even though I was only 13, I was angry and disappointed.
I attributed my slowness in learning to the fact I did not get a lot of sporting exposure as a growing child. I was not allowed to do Taekwondo in primary school because it was not a sport for girls. When I got older it was my PSLE year that became the obstruction. During my era, ‘boy sports’ like martial arts or soccer were a no no for females. I played netball for a while in secondary school during the inter-class games. I do not remember what I did during my pre-twenties. I wasn’t encouraged to take up a sport so I did not take up anything new. I was too clumsy to qualify for running sports. The only thing that was good was that my father was active in running then and so he often brought my sister and I out for runs on Sunday mornings.
My rebellious streak started to show soon after I entered young adulthood. I did not listen to my parents when they told me things I should not be doing. Like the girl who dated guys whose guts their mothers hated, I participated in sports my mother warned me about. She did not like me being involved in unladylike sports. For the others, I simply ignored them when they told me I wasn’t good enough. My mother was worried. I understood where she came from. The others were just plain discouraging. I did not understand where they were coming from and frankly, it hurt not to at least get a word of encouragement.
So I made up my mind to heck it all. I held close to my heart the belief I was going to be better if not great. It was one way to keep the negative feelings away.
In the years following , I did water surfing, diving, sport climbing, judo, all disciplines of jujitsu, taekwondo and muay thai. I was fond of sports and love the adrenaline to bits. I was competitive. I wanted to give my best in whatever I dabbled in. Be it training or competition. I came home with bruises from training, mangled limbs and torn ligaments.
I was young and rebellious. I only knew that I enjoyed the sports I do and even if I was going to suck at it, nothing was going to stand in my way of participation.
As time went by, I realised that learning a sport skill was much easier than when I was younger. I thought that being an adult made it easier. In class, I very quickly understood the concept my senseis taught me, even the complicated ones. In judo, I caught on the concept that the movements were more than just pushing and pulling. The concept was to move the opponent to a position of disadvantage. When I am on the ground during jujitsu, I instinctively knew the key was to move unrestrained and easy. My agility to move came easy, like from a calm mind trained in the way of the warrior. I was being able to think while many things were going on around me.
But as I looked around in my training classes, I thought, no that wasn’t the case. The other adults in class seem to be struggling, both physically and cognitively. It was then that I realised probably it was because of the years I spent being actively involved in sports. My body and mind had been conditioned to learn quickly. My game sense had been unknowingly enhanced.
I learnt too that I learnt how to instruct because I had a sport skill learning disability. I had to learn how to learn in order to catch up with the rest. I was just like how a dyslexic child learns to read – through my own ways. Through my ways and my eyes of observing how someone learns, I was able to teach and coach better.
I want more than anything to be a sport educator. I expect my charges to aim for the best, to aim for podium finishes, to aim for a medal to bring home but not just because we want a win, but because I want them to put in their best in whatever they do.
Trying your best and being given the opportunity to participate are equally important. Opportunities to participation shouldn’t be opened only to the ‘talented’ and the fittest. Being side-lined for so many times in my growing years would have destroyed whatever vision I had of being this deeply involved in sports. It was divine intervention that I was born as stubborn as a mule. Once I set my eyes on my goal I didn’t take them off. I stuck to being snubbed over and over again, believing that some day, it will be my day.
My day has come. I dare say, I can compete as good as I can coach.
Unfortunately, not everyone has the same stubborn mule streak as me to hang in there. It saddens me to see those kind of enthusiasm die. I want things to be different from how it had been for me. I don’t want those disappointment and resentment to happen to anyone who is enthusiastic and willing to try their best. I want to be the educator who trains you to the max of your potential yet lets you know that failure does not mean the end of the world. It does not mean you have let anyone down. It does not mean you are incapable of future success. I want it to mean that you can come back stronger and try for another day. I want it to mean nothing has ended and that you’re only at the beginning of your journey.