I saw you there today- so happy. Having fun with your friends. Being yourself. I admit, I was busy going over all of my kids’ routines- so I didn’t get to watch every single part about your practice. I didn’t get to see all your moves and tumbles. Cartwheels and handstands. Didn’t get to watch you as you perfected your moves for the upcoming competition during today’s lunch-time practice.
But out of the corner of my eye- I caught you running down the mat towards the vault- a big smile on your face. It was joy. Pure bliss. I know you love gymnastics club, and I know that it feels like home. I hope it is home- that is will always be a place where you feel welcome.
Later on, after gym mats had been stacked away and lunch sacks zipped open, I popped by your classroom. You were having lunch; I was checking out the outrageous costumes your class was wearing. I had a laugh with one of your classmates as he showed off in front of the chalkboard.
I love you kids. I really do.
It is such an honor that you all let me drop in from time to time- shooting the breeze. I’m not your teacher. But I love you like I am.
Just as I was about to leave the room to go back to my work for the afternoon, you looked at me excitedly and said, “Mrs. Gard, I can’t wait to show you my back walk-over next practice.” And right at that moment someone else was talking to me too. Not wanting to interrupt the flow of that prior conversation, I let him continue while you were left looking at me expectantly. It might have seemed like forever, but it was just a moment. A brief hesitation. And in that one instant before I had time to process what was coming next- before I had time to respond: someone else leaned over towards you- in front of all your friends. And that someone looked you in the eye and said, in as disgusted a tone as can be mustered: “She doesn’t care about your stupid back walkover.”
I don’t know if your face fell. I don’t know if inside you crumbled into tiny little pieces. I don’t know how many times you’ve heard those words before- I don’t know if you even believed them. But I got the feeling that this might not have been the first time. And in the instant it took to process what just had happened- a million memories flashed through my mind. A thousand words came tearing back into my memory. Voices from the past and present were screaming in my head, words sounding much like those said to you:
You don’t matter.
No one cares about your stupid life.
And in that instant it took for me to register your face with those emotions of mine. In the instant it took. I made a conscious decision- if it was the last thing I ever did on this earth- to look you in the eye and tell you. That someone cares.
I did tell you. I stopped everything else I was saying- stopped directly in front of the class. Because at that moment in time, there was no other conversation as important to me as this one. There was nothing else that mattered more to me than you. And I looked at you with all the care and all the love and all the concern and all the emotion I could muster- feeling like I was you- for I once was. Maybe I still am. And as I experienced that wave of emotions wash over me, something happened. I saw you. I really saw you.
Even now tears fall freely as I write. I told you with my heart that I do care about the absolutely amazing stuff you do. I told you I care about that back walker-over. And I told you that I can’t wait to see you do it for me at our very next practice.It’s going to be amazing. I just know it. If I could go back in time again, do this all over again, I would tell you this: I would say in front of your whole class how proud I am of you- of all of you. My kids. How proud I am of athletes who give things a chance, who take risks, who make mistakes and get back up again to do it once more. Even when they fall. Even when they find themselves faced with overwhelming odds. I am proud of kids who are willing to try. Kids who are not afraid to be themselves. And you know- a coach can learn a lot about life on the gym floor. Can learn a lot from watching kids. You might find this out someday. You might become a coach yourself.
And if you do, you might come to discover, as I have, that who we learn the most from is our kids. Our students. The ones we teach, coach, laugh with. The ones we love. For what I’ve learned from all of you is that it’s okay not to be perfect at something so as to give it a go- that having fun is the very best reason to try out a sport. I’ve learned that perseverance is the goal, not perfection. I’ve learned that people bring the best they have each day they show up for practice- and it’s my job as your coach to honor that.
And I’ve learned that kids are amazing, resilient, incredible and helpful. I’ve watched as your teammates have helped one another develop their skills. Seen kids helping kids in ways that inspire me beyond what words I could ever pen right now. Because each day you all come to practice, I have seen everyone having fun- each and every day. All of you. And as your coach, I can’t ask for anything more from all of you than that.
Except for just this one thing: Don’t ever- EVER let anyone define your worth. That comment today? It came from someone who might also be dealing with their own stuff. Don’t hold it against them. They brought their best today too- it’s just that each of our ‘best’ looks a little different. Don’t let those words define you. Don’t let them hold you back from being beautiful, amazing you. Don’t let anyone ever take your incredible value as a person away from you. Ever.
Know this for sure: you are worth it. I believe in you.