Warning: a long post about a book – not so much a review, but more like inspired thoughts and stuff:
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Wow, I’ve just read Jennifer Sey’s autobiography, I don’t mean ‘wow’ to that, but wow to all the spite that’s going on in peoples comments online regarding whether things were true or false, or fair or wrong or…. Zzzzzzz.
Look – I am… a nobody.
I am that ‘general public’ the book is (only partially) aimed at.
I am that person that doesn’t know diddley squat about the reasons why people workout everyday for years, why parents are so passionate, why Coaches are deemed unsympathetic and why injuries and tears are ignored and discipline is high on the agenda.
Sey’s book answered all my questions, and gave me a great insight into the driving force behind why these girls (specifically) continue and continue and continue. That’s the truth. It didn’t turn me to detest Coaches worldwide, it didn’t prompt me to write about the evil of the gymnastics world. Its a story – based on experiences – of a life in gymnastics. That’s it. For people that are interested, its great.
Its not the end of the world, the beginning of the apocalypse or going to kill off people’s livelihoods or destroy Gymnastics. Therefore it stuns me to wonder why people are flapping about a ‘best of’ recollection from a persons life 15+yrs earlier.
The book reads well – I found it easy to read and I read it quickly. The appeal of reading it stems from watching the coaches work with kids at my local gym. I see them train so hard to the point of sucking the fun out of it all and I’ve often questioned why they chose to return, are their parents insisting they keep training, do the coaches insist, do they (the kids) love it so much they want to keep attending regardless of how much it reduces them to tears? Etc. In writing ‘Chalked up’, if the intention was to present an understanding into catalyst to attending these gruelling sessions – then I think it achieved that.
Its not the coaches, its not the facility, its not the kids themselves. It is their parents. Whilst it was evident in Jennifer’s story, its also evident in my gym.
Its the parents that sign them up for it, they start the routine, they drive them where they need to go, they listen to the coaches advice, they have the dream, they live their life through their kids achievements. The child does what it is told to do. The coaches do what they love to do. The parents are the ones with all the control, they are the middlemen and the neutral party. Want to blame anyone? Start with the parents.
When I first walked into the gymnasium and saw the workouts there, I was stunned, and my friends were too. We joked about how brutal it was, how much the kids cried and how relentless the training was. Those same thoughts still happen now some 2yrs later. However I do see it with a different perspective now. This place I attend isn’t a play centre, its a school with discipline and rules and a purpose in its existence: not just for fitness but to develop top athletes. Athletes can’t exist in casual, do-what-you-like surroundings. Obliviously not all people want to be elite athletes, but the unmotivated and weak-willed soon duck out and leave the dedicated ones to their passion.
** Mark wanders off topic **
And that’s the key word there: passion. Do you have one? Have you ever had one? If so, then you’ll understand what having a passion means. Those that never have had one, won’t get it. Having a passion to do something is incredible. Its a drug, an addiction, its relentless and unforgiving. It blinds us, separates us from friends and family, drives us to get up everyday and to stay involved with it long after dark. If you have a passion for something, you will throw yourself at it as much as you can, you will dream about it, it will twist your perspective on the world and you will be drawn towards those that share the same thoughts. Its a black hole of happiness, sense of purpose, social acceptance/exclusion (depending on the activity) and of course – Love.
** End Off Topic **
Passion for something is more than a hobby. Passion for something is one step short of, or possibly equal too addiction – largely on a positive level – but can spill over into a dangerous level.
This is the path that Jennifer fell into.
But lets get a sense of perspective here, Not all kids that join a Gym become National champions, or Olympic gymnasts. Not all kids that join a gym become anorexic / bulimic or turn to drugs during or post training life. Whether coaches are brutal and heartless is matter of opinion, no more so than a school sports teacher whose job it is to teach and train kids to the best of their ability. I’m pretty sure most coaches wouldn’t be employed for very long if the students they worked with were rubbish and got no-where. I’m also pretty sure that the same people who’d claim that coaches are brutal, are also the same sort that think the army is a bad idea, extreme sports should be banned, dogs should be muzzled at all times etc etc.
This story, her story, lets face it, is a rare thing… and one that people should have access to discovering.
This book won’t appeal to the average man in the street, everyone knows this. This isn’t a book to give your daughter who’s thinking about taking up gymnastics, this isn’t for parents that are thinking of sending their kids to gymnastics classes. The main appeal of this book is to ex-gymnasts that want to compare their experiences to Jennifer’s and to researchers looking to write fiction on the subject. Its this second element which holds the most value. Accurate depiction of lifestyles needs this type of book, warts and all. Without valuable resources like this, we end up with crap films, bad books and rubbish adverts. I applaud anyone and everyone with knowledge on a topic to get their knowledge out in the public domain – knowledge is useless unless shared – a mantra I often repeat.
** Mark wanders off topic again **
I couldn’t help but make comparisons with my own training methods of skateboarding over the years. The 2 sports are miles apart but very connected. Skateboarding for me was my passion: daily, rigorous and painful. Though it was undisciplined and largely uncompetitive for me, difficulty was high, progress was slow and professional guidance was almost zero. That didn’t deter me one bit and if anything drove me on to figure things out for myself.
Being involved in the sport for 20+yrs means I have seen how kids go from having ‘fun’ to full International Professionals, dripping in money, clothes, travel expenses and prizes.
** Mark wanders back again **
Kids believe what they’re told, hold so close to them these peers that believe in them, and always, always go on to resent those same peers, when they finally learn they’ve been used as a commodity in a business pursuit. Always. This resentment may be small and slight, or massive and venomous, but it is always there.This is the point: no-one tells a kid ‘hey you’ve got talent, is it ok if I put you under the spotlight, shower you in PR as long as my business makes money off your back, and when it stops, I’ll be dropping you faster than I picked you up?’ No, people don’t say that, for a good reason. Because, what the kid doesn’t know, won’t hurt them right? No-wonder any business involved in young peoples activities are so frequently monitored.
I read it, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Nothing in it surprised me massively. I am not a gymnast, though I have been attending a gymnastics facility at least twice a week for 2 yrs and have been mesmerised at the training and achievements that’s been going on in building.
I’ve passed my copy on to Alison now who works at my gym, I’ll be interested in hearing her viewpoint on it.