Three seemingly unrelated things happened in the last twenty-four hours.
I received a link to a Youtube video of an acceptance speech by Maria, my oldest daughter, receiving the emerging journalist award.
I had a long talk with Hayward Nishioka, one of my judo heroes ever since I was a kid.
My two middle daughters, Ronda and Jenn, came home for Thanksgiving.
All of these events together brought into focus what we really should be teaching our children. As we went around the table at Thanksgiving dinner and gave thanks, each person began with, "I'm thankful for my family and..." I truly believe they meant it, too, and didn't just say so because they were afraid I would whack them in the head with a turkey leg.
Hayward and I were discussing judo (what else) and he said,
"If we produce someone who is a champion and they have a bad attitude and bad behavior, what have we really done for that person? I would say we have failed him."
Maria, who is a sportswriter, has a daily window on the fleeting career of athletes, even Olympic and professional ones. As she asked me the other day,
"Really, Mom, if you meet someone who won the Olympics, say, in the shotput, what do you think? You probably think to yourself, that's nice. That probably took a lot of work. And that is ALL THE AVERAGE PERSON THINKS ABOUT IT. Do you think, 'Hey, I'd like to hire that person' or be their friend? No, I bet you don't."
They both had the same point. Now, I am as competitive as the next person. Okay, let's be honest, I am as competitive as the next person, their mother, father, sister, brother and Uncle Marv all combined. Still, I have finally realized the truth of what people like Jim Pedro, Sr. , Hayward Nishioka and Martin Bregman have been telling me for years. It is the journey and not the destination. When I was younger, I believed that people said that because they had not won the world championships or the Olympics and so they said that it didn't matter to make themselves feel better. Now that I am older and occasionally smarter, I realize they said those things because it was true and they were right. How did my daughter figure this out at twenty-five and it took me until I was twenty years older than that? I chalk it up to her having better parenting than me!
Don't get me wrong. Winning is great. Winning is awesome. It is better than money, better than drugs, better than sex - okay, well maybe it is not better than sex. That might depend on who you are with and what it is you are winning. HOWEVER... with both winning and sex, no matter how great it is at the time, when it is over, it's over.
Well, in the case of sex, I had four great kids. Two out of three husbands weren't bad either.
For judo, for competition, at the end of it, I gained a lot and I have tried to pass those gains on to my children. The great concern to me as a coach, and as a parent, is exactly the one that Hayward shared. Winning is by no means a guarantee that athletes will succeed in learning those lessons we want to teach. On the positive note, being less than a superstar as an athlete doesn't necessarily mean we failed to teach them the important values in life.
Ronda is on her way to the Kano Cup and should be in her second Olympics next year. When she was 14 or 15, she went to a camp at the Olympic training center. In the coach's notes on her, at the bottom of the page, he had written and underlined twice the words,
"This kid fears no one!"
If you watched the video of Maria's speech, the presenter begins by saying,
"Maria does not possess the deadliest sin in journalism - fear."
Reginald Stuart, of Knight-Ridder News, said,
"Maria is very passionate about what she does ... she is focused... she never backs down."
Maria herself said,
"I decided wasn't going to back down... You do have a voice and you need to take a stand and you can't be afraid of what other people think and I want to thank my mom... who is, for better or worse, the reason I am outspoken as I am."
My daughter, Jenn, who was always pretty much of a homebody, moved to San Francisco as a nineteen-year-old college junior. Now, at 21, she graduates from college in a few weeks, and has saved enough from her part-time job to be moving into her own, non-parent-paid-for apartment and starting her career.
The lessons I hope athletes learn from sports:
Work hard. That includes doing the things you DON'T want to do, like running sprints uphill, taking classes in Earth Science when you are a history major or moving to Fort Wayne, Indiana to get your chance as a sportswriter. Too many people confuse hard work with sweat or hours put in. Last week, my niece asked my husband when he came home how was his day at work. He answered,
"Work pretty much sucked. I was in meetings all day. That's why they have to pay you to do it. So you come into work even on the days when you know it is going to suck."
Unfortunately, too many of our athletes fail to learn that hard work and discipline don't mean just working out hard on the days you feel like going to practice. It means working out even on the days you'd rather go to a prom, sleep late or watch a football game. It means working out even when some of the other people you have to practice with are kind of jerks or if you think the coach is a dick and doesn't like you. You'll meet people who are jerks your whole life, and no matter how awesome you are, some people just won't like you (look at me, for example, soul of sweetness and light that I am, some people still don't like me, yes, hard to believe, I know). Trust me, no one is looking for employees who brag, 'I come to work 80% of the time', yet we have athletes who expect a kiss on the cheek and a box of doughnuts for showing up at eight out of ten practices.
Courage. Aristotle said that courage is the virtue upon which all other virtues depend. As C.S. Lewis explained it, years later, if we don't have courage, then we are virtuous so long as there is no cost. If we are honest, but afraid, we do nothing. If we are hard-working and intelligent but afraid, we do nothing. Maria had the courage to speak out to those who tried to silence her. Ronda has the courage to face opponents around the world, opponents who many, in the U.S. and abroad, think she can never defeat. They are wrong, by the way. Jenn had the courage to move hundreds of miles away, on her own, to a city where she didn't know a soul, and make a success of it.
Never give up. My little Julia is only nine years old. Yesterday we got the brilliant idea to ride our bikes to judo. Since she is only a little kid, it took us an hour. Then she worked out for the hour remaining of the kids' practice and worked with me for another half-hour of the adult practice until her father came and picked her up. She felt like giving up lots of times, I could see it in her face, but she didn't.
Finally, be thankful. All the teaching you get is not because you are some great prima donna talent. It is because people in your family and community love you and cherish you. They are not lucky to be teaching you. You are lucky to have them teaching you. If you are really thankful, you will show it when you are older by teaching others, not because you are doing them a favor, but to repay the favor done to you.