Recently I had the privilege of coaching some talented kids at at taekwondo tournament. Thankfully my chief instructor has given me many opportunities to teach and coach in class and at other competitions, so I felt prepared. What I didn’t expect were some of the things I would learn from the experience:
- Relax and enjoy the ride. There are delays. And then there are more delays. There are discrepancies in judging. There are panicked searches for misplaced equipment. There are more delays. It’s best to just settle in and get ready for a very very very long day. Patience is key, and humor is a sanity saver.
- You will become a “kid person,” whether you naturally are one or not. I’m not naturally a kid person. I wasn’t even comfortable around children when I was a child, but somehow in class and at tournaments my mothering instinct kicks in, and suddenly I can relate to the kids from my own school and even kids from other schools. I’m protective, I joke with them, I enjoy teaching them, and I’m very proud of them. I learn from them every day…and then I hand them back to their parents.
- I’m a taekwondo purist, i.e., I can’t deal with demos. Don’t get me wrong, I’m in full support of taekwondo demo teams. I certainly couldn’t do half the things they were doing…but I just couldn’t reconcile the drill team type of dancing and overuse of the song “Gangam Style.” If you want to do a demo give me some well-coordinated blocks, some kicks, some breaking, some self defense, and a few well-placed yells and I’m good. It can be done very well without the cheesy music, the goofy dancing, and for heaven’s sake, the FREAKING RIBBON TWIRLING. Otherwise get back to the regularly scheduled tournament. I wanna see someone get kicked in the head.
- You will be on the edge of your seat. Who’d have thought grade school kids would have me gripping my chair and staring wild-eyed like a madwoman. We had two tie breakers with both our little green belt star students: one of them had to do his form three times against different kids before he was awarded a well-deserved gold. Another, after two rounds of dealing with me screaming at him to “Get in!! Stay close!! Do combinations!!” finally won the sparring match with a tie-breaking point. Whew! That made my entire week.
- Sportsmanship is classy, and bragging is trashy, no matter the sport. Humility is a tenet of martial arts. Most of the time this is maintained throughout a tournament, and sometimes it’s not, and that is truly disappointing. Anyone who raises their fist and does a snotty little cheer after scoring a point in the middle of a damn sparring match deserves a well-timed kick to the chest. A true martial artist practices grace and respect, even in the heat of competition. Life is too short to be a jerk. We’re all in this big sparring match called “life” together.
- Your students will surprise you. Some competitors crumble under pressure. Some rise to the occasion. I am always amazed at their determination and ability to tap into their taekwondo spirit and do things I’ve never seen them do before.
- You will surprise yourself. You will find yourself being present and entirely focused on another person rather than being caught up in your own thoughts, worries, insecurities, or doubts. There’s a special kind of joy in watching others work hard and succeed that keeps me energized for hours.
- A hot dog from the snack bar tastes like manna from heaven if you’ve been pacing around exhausting yourself all morning. This needs no explanation.