Tuesday, April 26, 2011

To Grow

We have lots of rink friends.

Since we're at the rink several days a week (and when I can skate, I'm there almost every day), we get to know people, especially if they're at the rink as much as we are.

In particular, we're rink friends with two girls who are figure skaters (and their mom). They're both close to Eli's age, extremely nice kids, and they skate their asses off, which makes them the figure skating equivalent of Eli.

Here's the thing, though: they skate three hours a day, five days a week.

Figure skating, as I've found out, is hardcore.

These girls had a competition in Dallas last weekend, and when I saw them at the rink, I asked their Mom how it had gone. While we were talking, she mentioned some of the coaches she'd seen at the event.

What I didn't know about figure skating is that after the Soviet Union fell, their battalion of skating coaches (the best in the world, based on results) scattered, with many of them heading to the U.S.

What she said is that some of the coaches (not just Russians, but largely so) were incredibly cruel to their skaters. Brutal. And she told me some stories she'd heard about how these coaches train their skaters, which was even worse.

That made me think about the classic, old-school coach, the one who screams all day at his kids to "build character" or "toughen them up." In a lot of ways, the hardass football or basketball coach really isn't any different from the hardass skating coach.

Different sport, same guy.

It's always bothered me that people defend those bastards, or that humiliation and cruelty are somehow supposed to build character. But until the nice skating mom started talking about the coaches she saw, I've never been able to put into words just what was wrong with the bastard approach.

In an instant, though, as I was thinking about what she said, I finally got it.

There's a way to build character that involves thoughtfully challenging a child in a nurturing environment so that they learn to challenge themselves. It's a way to make something grow.

The other way to build character is to use cruelty and borderline sadism to make someone stronger. It's a way to kill something so that what's left is tougher.

That seems like a sad, small way for children to become adults.

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