Posts Tagged ‘growth’

I’ve been working on this sports book project for over seven years. I have tried to identify the personal places I need to grow and some of what I’ve worked through has been tough to process. I have avoided thinking or writing about this one…until now.

I am proud of my sports story. I played four years as a Division I soccer player and a year as a Division III basketball player. I achieved recognition in both sports. It is only recently I have been forced to contend with the fact that how I accomplished what I did wasn’t really all that good. There was a lot of pain for that gain, and more than there should have been.

Generally, I pay attention to those things that strike a nerve with me. A pain-filled nerve was struck for me three times in the past ten days and I need to attend to the thoughts that have emerged.

Last week, a friend of mine shared that her daughter had suffered intensely over the winter months of her sport season. The coach was emotionally abusive, but no one wanted to deal with it because the team was winning. It is a difficult position for kids and families to be in. Their choice is to endure the abuse for the sake of the team or stand up for your personal right to health and safety. I always chose the team. Most athletes do. Athletes are encouraged to put team above self and very rarely does anyone consider how potentially damaging that decision can be. Those who stay engaged beyond discomfort, working through humiliation or physical punishment, are lauded and celebrated. Toleration of coach emotional abuse is a complicated issue, but it is high time we begin conversations to change destructive coaching tendencies.

The second thought-provoking instance happened on Facebook. I commented on a shared article post about how NFL coach Mike McCarthy yelled at refs after his kid’s basketball game. I commented that he likely has emotional issues he needs to attend (as does every yelling parent everywhere) and a commenter argued that she was glad she played in a time when coaches were allowed to yell at kids because it made her resilient and tough.

Yelling coaches also made me tough and resilient, for sure. It was my only defense. This instance, however, McCarthy was in the role of a dad. The commenter forgets that a dad’s behavior, even when that dad happens to be a coach, opens an entirely different box of emotional fireworks for his kids.

My drunk and yelling dad certainly contributed to my determination. He was the fuel for my angry energy. His abuse, although explicable, should never have been excused, yet I chalked it up as something that just happens for some fans at sporting events. Too many people say the same thing.

I suffered emotional abuse at the hands of my alcoholic father, a number of times in connection to basketball memories specifically, but I forgive him. I forgive him for yelling at referees during games because he was battling his own demons. I forgive him for drinking four beers in fifteen minutes before driving me and a teammate home from a game he coached because I know he wanted the withdrawal-shaking to stop. I forgive him for showing up drunk at the hospital because I too found it a little overwhelming that I broke both my arm and my leg in one fall. I forgive him for standing me up when he told me he would take me to dinner after a college game and I forgive him for missing my senior season in college because he was in jail.

I forgive him, but I continue to be affected by how those memories shaped me.

I thought I had completely moved past my emotional abuses, and in relation to my dad I’m doing pretty well. I also had pretty decent coaches growing up and aside from one horrific conditioning night, as punishment for an irretrievable season, I wouldn’t say I was abused by coaches.

Coming to terms with the part I played in tolerating and perpetuating my own abuse, however, has been harder to work through.

The third nerve-strike happened when my husband and I were watching an ESPN 30 for 30 show last week about professional wrestler Ric Flair (AKA Nature Boy). I was riveted. He wrestled for forty years. Each day he would abuse his body on the mat and then he would drink five cocktails and ten beers at night. Every. Single. Night. His son was on the same trajectory of becoming a professional wrestler and a raging alcoholic, when he overdosed on drugs and died. Flair’s daughter is now wrestling on the professional circuit, in honor of her brother. I couldn’t turn off the program and I couldn’t get the story off my mind.

I recognized the tendencies, the addiction, and the dysfunctional drive. The question that then arrived was “Can an Athlete Self-Abuse?”

It seems like I should have known the answer to that already. Obviously they can. There are eating disorders, addiction to exercise, and toleration of abuses that should never be tolerated. I’ve recognized self-abuse in others, yet I hadn’t ever turned the mirror to acknowledge that I too abused myself in the name of sport.

You would think it would be easy to write that, “I was abused in sport”, but it’s not easy to admit. The thing is, my abuse was subtle, never criminal, and, disturbingly, mostly at my own hands.

I achieved recognition for playing and I prided myself on the highest level of sacrifice in that pursuit. The thing is, I had no clue what I was pursuing. No one asked me my long term goals and I know for a fact I couldn’t have offered one had they inquired.

Without a doubt, I battled with RED-S Syndrome starting in high school and all four years of college. It is an energy deficiency complication that affects all systems of the body, including the psychological aspects of performance. It was not diagnosed while I was an athlete, but all the evidence is there. I didn’t start my period until after I turned 16, I broke two bones in one fall, I was diagnosed with anemia in college, and I spent more time in the training room than I did on the field.

In spite of injury after injury in college and lackluster performance after puberty, I kept at it. I was tough, resilient, and gritty. I wanted to prove to the world and to myself that I was above my circumstances. I was stronger than anything that might have made me feel shameful and I could prove it. It seemed like a constructive mindset at the time, but in conjunction with everything else I hadn’t taken the time to analyze, this was not my healthiest time.

I tolerated practically anything. I put up with: sexist weight room attendants and coaches, whispers of icky sexual advances by gymnastics coaches, rumors of players sleeping with coaches, having to talk a coach out of his “funk” because he was distraught our 16-year-old captain wasn’t paying enough attention to him, driving a van full of college teammates, as a freshman, back from Nebraska at 90-miles an hour because the hungover assistant coach couldn’t drive, driving 45 minutes one way to coach for my childhood club even though I passed five other clubs along the way, accepting the emergency hire position to replace an emotionally abusive coach, agreeing to clean up his mess even though I had three children under the age of five and I had no aspirations of being a college coach. There is a lot more, but you get the idea.

I was the punchbag clown that kept popping back up after being beaten down in order to prove I could take anything that came my way. I must have thought I deserved to be injured or hurting practically all the time.

My work with this book project, including my relationship with sport and finding healthful ways for our family to navigate sports, I am convinced there are healthier ways to engage.

There is a difference between grit and self-abuse.

Self-abuse is behavior that causes damage or harm to oneself.

The definition of grit that resonates most with me comes from Cindra Kamphoff’s book Beyond Grit: Ten Powerful Practices to Gain the High-Performance Edge. She writes, “The leaders I see kill it know their goals, know why they are pursuing their goals, and keep going despite setbacks and adversity. Without understanding why you want to achieve your goals, it is almost impossible to stay devoted in your pursuit.”

As a high school and college athlete, I didn’t have goals or a clear idea of why I was pursuing them. I just knew sports kept me busy, afforded me recognition and success, and was the proof I could offer the world that I was worth something.

Healthy athletes have goals and clear boundaries. They know what exercises strengthen them and what exercises hurt them. They realize they need to push muscles through micro-tears to make them stronger, but they don’t push hard enough to inflict harm or injury.

If you haven’t had conversations with your children or your athletes about goals and boundaries, it is time.

Ask these questions:

What are your athletic goals? What are the ways you are pushed too far past your emotional boundaries?

Keep in mind, stretch and challenge is what grows you, but pushing too far can damage you. It is a fine line.

Emotional abuse is “making an individual fear that they will not receive the food or care they need.” In the context of sports emotional abuse plays on fear of not achieving a place on the team, playing time, or opportunities at the next level. That fear can be imposed upon an athlete or it can be internally driven.

Where is the line between challenging a kid and crushing him?

Where is the line between pushing a kid and paralyzing her?

Where is the line between internal grit and self-abuse?

The answers to those questions are unique and different for everyone. Part of why coaches avoid the “emotions” conversation with teams is because it’s exhausting to imagine addressing the emotional needs of each and every athlete. There is not a playbook that can be shared or X’s and O’s that make sense in the emotional world. Each athlete’s emotional needs and journey are theirs alone and it is difficult to appropriately navigate that journey but oh-so-necessary.

Sports Abuse is real. There is physical, sexual, mental, and emotional abuses happening consistently by coaches, parents and by the athletes themselves. Since we have our kids in sports for their health and well-being, and as exhausting as this work is going to be, it’s time to pursue the complete health and well-being for people who show up to take part in sports, and work to end the abuses we’ve let run rampant for way too long.

Copyright 2019 Meagan Frank

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susan cain quote art

I cheated the first time I took the Myers-Briggs Personality Test. In my late twenties I took the test and the results tagged me as an INFJ. Everything I had observed about myself, or probably more accurately wanted to believe about myself, meant the test results were obviously wrong. I changed a couple of the answers in order to change the ‘I’ into an ‘E’ and went into the group discussion proud of my declared “teacher” personality. There was no way I was a contemplative counselor…or so I thought.

Fast forward fifteen years and my accidental discovery about the truth. Last month, one of my book clubs picked Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. I looked forward to the read because, without a doubt, I had identified my husband and one of our three children as profoundly introverted. I was sure I would learn so much about how my extrovert (ok, maybe ambivert) self could better navigate relationship with them because obviously I was so unlike them.

I took the introvert/extrovert test (3 separate times). Turns out, I’m actually an introvert too. Sigh. I’m still considering the possibility that my husband made me that way, but regardless of my level of comfort in admitting the truth, knowing this about myself is a game changer.

How can this be? I’m a coach, a journalist, a speaker and I consider myself incredibly verbal. That, and for most of my life, people have tagged me as an extrovert. According to the Myers-Briggs description of INFJ’s:

INFJs are deeply concerned about their relations with individuals as well as the state of humanity at large. They are, in fact, sometimes mistaken for extroverts because they appear so outgoing and are so genuinely interested in people.

The more I investigate the description of my particular personality the more sense it makes. Introverts can be and do pretty much anything. We just make adjustments so we are more comfortable. Part of what I’ve subconsciously done, over the course of my life, is I’ve inadvertently adapted the use of my own energy system so I can be better at those things I love to do.

This personality revelation explains why I’ve been somewhat reluctant to coach. I love coaching, but there are parts that tax me and I’ve always prioritized the energy needs of my house above everything else.

I know in my gut that coaching is SO, SO important and there are parts that I really do love. I love analyzing the game, individually counseling athletes, planning contemplative exercises, providing individual technical instruction and relating to the players and family members as well as the coaches with whom I get to coach. I’ve figured out the more I can have planned out beforehand and the more practice I have at the rhythm of a season, the better I do. I’ve set up good communication strategies, drawn clear boundaries with parents and players, worked hard at relationships with them and I’m diligent about all administrative aspects of my job.

I can only engage in those things for regimented periods of time though. Breaks in seasons and days off to rest, are paramount to my effectiveness. Thankfully, I’ve figured out what works for me. (Next step is figuring out how I can encourage a team that is seemingly quite introverted to step out of comfort zones too-blogpost to come)

I’ve been lucky, though. Without seeking out opportunities to coach, coaching jobs have literally landed in my lap. I do feel I am meant to be coaching, but without life unfolding the way it has, I’m not sure I would have pursued it. I think it is harder for introverts, interested in coaching, to have the opportunities they seek.

I’ve actually seen it firsthand in our house. There is no mistaking my husband’s introversion. For many people he is so deeply introverted that he seems off-putting. He is not out-going and certainly unlike most apparently extroverted coaches who seem to be so good at being out there. The thing is, he LOVES to coach and he is really good at it. (especially for the college-aged athlete) He still plugs in where he can, but I’m not sure the coaching world, including families and athletes who espouse extroverted coaching, is quite as receptive to  introverted men who coach.

What do you think? Are you an introverted coach? Are extroverted coaches better at coaching? Should coaching staffs comprise a certain combination of personalities to be most effective?

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2018                                     www.meaganfrank.com

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Coach a resolution

I adopted the hashtag #closethegap as my focus for last season’s team. There exists a profound skill/commitment gap between our team and the teams in our conference. People have pointed to our high school’s championship football team for some of the gap that exists, and I would be foolish to pretend football doesn’t matter. We are in a small western Wisconsin town and the number of students participating in athletics makes same-as-football-season boys’ sports somewhat disadvantaged. Demographics, too, make it tough for us to compete with some of the communities that have more resources, both human and material. None of those factors can be an excuse, however, and I refuse to play the blame game.

I have a responsibility for the growth and success of this soccer program and plenty of recent self-reflection has led me to my current resolution. I don’t want to call it a New Year’s resolution because then it seems as though I only intend to be resolute for the new part of the year or for one year only. I am resolving to make changes in how I coach, in how I approach coaching and the decision to do something, about a craft I have studied and worked at for over twenty years, is a big deal.

I blame Kate Leavell, author of Confessions of an Imperfect Coach, for this recent surge of inspiration. The perfectly-timed arrival of her book on my desk has tied together a number of the loose thoughts that have been swimming in my head for years.

I have been a somewhat fraudulent coach. Ok, maybe fraudulent is a strong word, but I know I haven’t been “all in”.

Every single coaching job I have had has been an “emergency” one.

The first team I coached was a premier u-17 girls team in Colorado. The club director asked me to coach them after their coach was caught partying with one of the players. I steadied the ship mid-season and coached them one more year before we moved out of state.

The next coaching job I had was as the head women’s coach at UW-Stout. I was hired one week before the season started. A literal emergency hire and one of the hardest things I have ever done. That emergency lasted for five years.

Next up: a U10 girls team in Woodbury and a couple youth co-ed teams in Menomonie. For each team, they needed someone to coach and I reluctantly raised my hand.

My current job as the head coach for the Menomonie High School boys team was one I hesitated to pursue too. For two years, as a parent, I watched from the sideline and struggled to coach our son through the difficulties of being on a team that lacked a positive culture or a stabilizing voice. When the revolving door began to spin again, for what would be the third coach in four years, I found myself sitting across the desk from the Athletic Director in an interview before I realized I was doing it again. I was agreeing to take on a struggling program in peril.

So here I am. A seasoned coach who has told herself for twenty years, coaching is a temporary position, a part-time gig.

What if it’s not, though? What if coaching is exactly what I am supposed to be doing? What if I pursued it completely and decided to get as good at it as I can?

My response would be, “well then, I have a lot to learn and even more to do.”

All of this brings me to my new resolution.

A Bing search of the definition of resolution yields the following:

Resolution

  • A firm decision to do or not to do something.
  • The action of solving a problem, dispute, or contentious matter.
  • The process of reducing or separating something into its components.

So, my firm decision? To pour myself in to coaching others. Sometimes it will look like soccer, but most of the time it will look like parenting, advising and teaching. I totally want to set up a booth at the end of my driveway like Charlie Brown’s friend Lucy that solicits “Help” for 5 cents.

The problem I want to solve? Inspiring those around me move toward the best versions of themselves. (another book influence: Perfectly Yourself: Discovering God’s Dream for You, by Matthew Kelly)

The process and separating into components? That’s goal-setting. I have a new hashtag for this year.

#timeandspace

I want to create spaces for people to grow and set aside time to be there with them as they do. It’s actually something my husband and I have been trying to do for our kids and our summer employees without really having the hashtag to describe it.  I want to bring that to the teams, athletes and fellow coaches with whom I work. How I’ll measure that daily, weekly or monthly is something I’m still exploring and I’ll spend more time with this concept in future blogposts.

For now, I wish you the very best in your own resolutions. May you make your own firm decisions to problem-solve for the good of those around you and find purpose in the pursuit.

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2017                                     www.meaganfrank.com

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There are too many indications that we are a society in crisis.

It’s evident in media coverage and popular television shows.

In-fighting among our leaders runs rampant. The obesity rate continues to climb for all of us. Young men are perfectly satisfied  with mediocrity and feel no sense of drive to even move out of their parents’ homes. Young women lack confidence in their own abilities, and/or character, and follow media examples to defer to what they can offer sexually or how best they can engage in dramatic displays of dysfunctional relationship.

What does this have to do with how we coach young athletes?

IT HAS EVERYTHING TO DO WITH HOW WE SHOULD CHANGE OUR APPROACH TO KIDS!

The best estimate that I could find for participation in organized youth sports activities in the United States is 30- 40 million children.

That is where we need to go to start building creative, energetic, enthusiastic, well-rounded people who are going to make a positive difference in the world.

Analysts and commentators talk regularly about a seeming lack of leadership.  I contend that there can be no leaders without the freedom to create. Secondly, leaders come from a place of inspiration, and if we squash the efforts of the fledgling leader to explore opportunities for themselves…we will continue to spiral as time goes on.

That’s what’s missing in youth sports, you know. Kids have lost the freedom to be creative, to think for themselves, to make mistakes and find a way to fix the problems all on their own. We are killing kids’ desires to lead.

Dr. Vicki Harber, a Professor in the Faculty of Physical Education & Recreation at the University of Alberta and a member of the Canadian Sport for Life Leadership Team, wrote an article entitled Physical Literacy for Confident, Creative, Healthy Children. In it she discusses the very tragic reality of today’s modern child.

We need to listen to this!  We need to be willing to let go and let kids be who they are meant to be. Our job as parents and coaches is not to mold children like piles of clay into a pre-determined statue. Instead our job is to celebrate the innate abilities that these kids already have and encourage them to explore their potential all on their own.

How do we do that when our youth development has become so structured and programmed?  Kids don’t have the opportunities, or the time, to go out on the playground and imaginatively play. They want to be with their friends who are signed up for teams and activities, so they sign up too.  The problem is, when they get there, the structure remains adult-driven, and what the kids really NEED is lost in the programming.

So build it in…

As coaches of youth teams, how is creative play built in to your practice plan? Schools have recess, choice time, and movement exercises where the kids can form some autonomy.

Why can’t we do that for the sports teams?

Let kids be a part of the practice plan.  Ask them what they want to do, and don’t get annoyed that all they want to do is play games.  All they SHOULD be doing, at most youth levels, is playing games.

Kids are crying out for help. They are dropping out of youth sports at an alarming rate. They are giving up on activity altogether because it was never fun from the start. Be challenged by this. At whatever level you participate: as a parent, as a coach, as an administrator…take a good hard look at how creativity is built into the sports experience and how creative leadership is celebrated for all of the kids who participate.

If we are dissatisfied with where things are, we need to be working to make it better. It’s a matter of principle:

“In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.”

Thomas Jefferson

Our kids deserve more from us. They deserve a chance to be kids…to develop passions…to be celebrated not for doing things just like everyone else, but instead for coming up with a new idea.  Let’s bring that to the sporting arenas!

I know I’ll revisit this topic, and any thoughts on the subject are welcome. The dialogue is necessary, and I hope you’ll engage with comments and suggestions.

For more information on Meagan Frank or her current book project: Choosing to Grow: For the Sport of It you can visit her website:  www.meaganfrank.com

2012 Copyright   Meagan Frank                                                Choosing to Grow

February 1, 2012

Today is National Girls and Women in Sports Day. DON’T STOP READING!!! I know the topic of women in sports can be controversial. There are those people who think women’s sports are a bore. There are the women who don’t understand the psychology of a woman who would sacrifice so much of her life to something that seemingly no one cares about but her. There is still blatant sexism when it comes to women and sports, and I am becoming increasingly aware of the tension. All I want is a small opportunity to share with you some of the recent growth I’ve done with regard to this subject.

Some cool things happened this past week to broaden my enthusiasm for girls and women in sports. On the other hand, things have happened to promote my awareness that there are many issues female athletes still face.

First, the cool stuff:

  • I took the minutes for a quarterly meeting for Positive Coaching Alliance. The launch committee for the Twin Cities office is comprised mostly of men, but I have felt warmly accepted by them and I feel encouraged to contribute to this effort.
  • I accepted an invitation to present at the Female ADM Symposium for USA Hockey about girl team dynamics and team-building
  • I attended the University of Minnesota Tucker Center Film Festival featuring Salaam Dunk– a documentary about a college women’s basketball team in Iraq whose members were competing on a team for the first time in their lives.
  • Little Sprout (our 6-year-old daughter) had an opportunity to skate with her team at the Excel Energy Center (where the Wild play) and no one cared she was the only girl.

Some of the not-so-positive things I’m noticing:

  • Mainstream media has little interest in women’s sports. Try this yourself: count the local sports news stories about girls or women. I saw one story the ENTIRE week. Apparently I am not crazy. An extensive study done at the University of Southern California determined that not only is the coverage of women’s athletics in LA abyssmal (1.6%) but that is DOWN from 1989. National sports giant ESPN is even worse. (1.4% coverage of women’s sports)
  • On a much smaller scale, but important in our house right now: Middle Sprout’s U10 girls’ team had to play in the worst rink our hockey association uses. It was the third time they have played there this year, and there seems to be a discrepancy in the way the association schedules the games between the boys and the girls.
  • I’ve struggled to get a response to repeated attempts to connect with the Star Tribune sports editors. (I know most editors are too busy to connect with anyone, so I hope it’s not the content of the articles I’m proposing…nor the fact that I am a woman that has delayed response)
  • And sadly, the Women’s Professional Soccer League (WPS), a league that had once shown so much promise for female soccer players, has suspended operation for this year. (and who knows if there will be momentum to get it started again?)

So, why are all of these things important: WOMEN’S SPORTS SHOULD MATTER TO ALL OF US. It shouldn’t matter to just the women who play at the highest levels, but also to the women who want a social place to experience the magic of sports competition.  It should matter to the men who father girls, to the men who marry them, to the men who work with and for them, and this will require a necessary shift in culture. We need to believe and promote:

Sports done right, make all people better.

It is widely accepted that sports are good for girls, specifically.  Youth sports expert, Brooke DeLench, has a phenomenal article laying out how Sports Benefit Girls in Many Ways. The benefits cover physical, social, emotional and intellectual aspects of life.

The benefits far outweigh the challenges, and I know with absolute certainty that I will continue to grow through the female sporting experience.

Copyright 2012  Meagan Frank                       Choosing to Grow

To learn more about Meagan Frank or the current book project she is working on, you can visit her at www.meaganfrank.com.