I’m at a defining moment in my life. Within the past year, I have graduated from college, enrolled in graduate school, traveled to different parts of the country, started working for an outstanding MiLB organization, and along the way met some pretty incredible people. Lately I’ve been reflecting on it all, and it made me realize two things: 1) just how fortunate I was growing up to be constantly surrounded by such good people, and 2) how growing up in organized sports/the arts taught me some of life’s greatest lessons.
I ran across an article recently that discussed today’s rapid decline of children in sports. Baseball, the sport I love the most, has suffered a seriously major decline since 2007, with the number of participating kids (ages 6-12) falling from 5.44 million to 4.34 million, according to data from the Sports & Industry Fitness Association (SIFA). Growing up, I was a competitive gymnast, dancer, and cheerleader. I couldn’t imagine not being involved with sports and the arts when I was younger; I learned so much about life and about myself. So without further ado, here is a long overdue letter of thanks to a few of the coaches and teachers who helped shape me into the person I am today.
“The glory of sport comes from dedication, determination, and desire. Achieving success and personal glory in athletics has less to do with wins and losses than it does with learning how to prepare yourself so that at the end of the day, whether on the track or in the office, you know that there was nothing more you could have done to reach your ultimate goal.” – Jackie Joyner-Kersee
Mr. Stuart (Gymnastics coach) – Perfect practice makes perfect.
Coach Stuart: the coach who probably gave me the most fits in my gymnastics life. You set the bar high (no pun intended) and demanded perfection from my fingertips to my pointed toes. I remember the private lesson where, before I could even mount the beam, you stopped me to critique my hand placement. Your drive for me to be excellent in all that I did in the gym transcended into a lesson that I will never forget: There’s nothing wrong with demanding excellence in every area of your life. If you don’t hold high expectations for yourself, why would anyone else? Thank you Mr. Stuart for teaching me to never be afraid of criticism, to use it to my advantage, and constantly fight to become the best possible version of myself.
Deb Walls (My gymnastics team’s owner) – Professionalism matters, whether you’re 5 or 25.
Coach Walls: You taught me from a young age how to be professional. Going to meets all over the South, you made sure that the whole team carried themselves in a respectful manner toward the judges, other teams, and especially towards each other. These skills have benefited me in my young work life, and will help make me successful in the future. I have you to thank for that.
Mrs. Sandy (Gymnastics coach) – There’s enough sun to shine on everyone.
Coach Sandy: Thank you for teaching me how to stand in line, look, listen, be quiet when others are talking, follow instructions, and most importantly, how to appreciate others’ achievements. You taught me about good sportsmanship and how clapping for others doesn’t make your own achievements any lesser. Thank you for giving me this mindset that so many today lack.
SSG Coaches – How to let go of the low bar and jump to the high bar.
To the coaching staff at SSG: Thank you all for teaching me how to overcome my fears. You taught the little girl with pig tails how to let go of the comfort of the low bar, and jump with courage to the high bar. You taught me that you’re never going to be 100% truly ready for anything, and that that’s 100% okay. By being brave and facing your fears, you will discover more about yourself and reach new heights you didn’t know were possible. You all never allowed the “rips” on my hands to become an excuse to not work on the bars and you all taught me to get right back up on the balance beam after a fall. These lessons have helped me more than you all can imagine, and I am forever grateful for every single one of you.
James Linderholm (Huntsville gymnastics coach) – No excuses.
Coach James: The coach that I thought was going to kill me with conditioning. Your workouts were excruciating, but at the same time, exhilarating. Even though I was the youngest one on the team and had the shortest stride, you wouldn’t let me use that as an excuse to do less laps around Joe Davis Stadium. Thank you for teaching me that in life, there are going to be challenges, but no matter what your specific circumstance is, you cannot make excuses. Sometimes you have to work harder, but the reward is great.
Parents – Just suck it up and do it
To my mom and dad: Driving me down to a gymnastics meet in Starkville, Mississippi, I became sick and started puking the whole way there (gross, I know.) Instead of turning around and going home, we arrived at the meet. You were both fully prepared to tell my coaches that I would not be competing. All of my teammate’s begged me to compete, and of course I wanted to, so I begged you both to let me. While y’all were both leery of my physical condition, you allowed me to compete in all four events, fever and all. I ended up helping my team place overall, and went right back to being sick as soon as we got back to the hotel. You both gave me the opportunity to just suck it up and do it. Thank you for teaching me that life is not always perfect or easy, and that sometimes you just have to dig down really deep and do what you can.
Mr. Cole (My ballet teacher) – These are the rules, and everyone is going to follow them.
Mr. Cole: Your rule was that every student must have on pink tights and a black leotard or they didn’t dance. It was your class, and you set the rules. It has amazed me to see how in some places, even the simplest of rules are not followed by people who should know better. You know those kinds of people: the ones who think the rules apply to everyone else but them. I wanted to dance, so I always made sure I had my pink tights and black leo. Thank you for teaching me discipline.
Brian Freedman – The girl in the back row is working just as hard as the girl on the front.
To my Pulse Dance Convention Teacher: When the time came to audition for scholarships, I was the little girl on the back row who refused to push and stampede my way to the front. I stayed in the back, and danced my heart out. I had no idea if you could see me or not. But later on, when I heard my name called that I had won a Pulse scholarship, I knew. I knew that you weren’t just looking at the people right in front of you: you looked for talent all around the room, and did not automatically dismiss me because I was in the back corner. Thank you for teaching me that I didn’t have to step all over others to be successful.
LSOPA (My dance studio) – But exactly what do you want me to do?
To Mrs. Laura: From day one, you pushed me to get out of my comfort zone. You knew I was brought up in gymnastics and that I was coming from an environment that planned out my every move. However, that didn’t stop you from pushing me to become comfortable with doing freestyle dance. You knew that it would help me grow as a dancer. Thank you for pushing me outside my comfort zone and teaching me that some of life’s best moments are unplanned. That sometimes, you just have to go with the flow.
Although education has always been my highest priority, some of the greatest lessons I learned were not in the classroom: they were in the gym and the dance studio. Evidence has shown that kids who participate in sports have better physical health (no brainer), but they also have better mental health, improved social skills, and improved personal skills. They teach children goal setting and can improve their self-esteem. So let’s encourage the children of this generation to play more ball, and less Pokemon.
(P.S. – One apology I need to make is to Bailey: Seven years ago in dance class, we were working on a dance routine and you were complaining that you couldn’t do the steps from the left side. I turned around and snapped at you, “Just suck it up and do it!” My mom was mortified, our teacher laughed, and I sort of felt bad that it came across without any compassion. I just knew you had the ability to do it, and I wanted to see you succeed! Thanks for not hating me afterwards 🙂 )
www.bloomberg.com – “A Million Kids Stopped Playing Baseball. MLB Wants to Win Them Back.” Ira Boudway
www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/ – “Sport and Children”