Relieved AF

I just returned home from an extremely successful week at Canadian Championships and I feel accomplished, exhausted but above all, I feel relieved!

You see in my 13 years as a national level coach I’ve been blessed with a high success rate. 45 National Champions, 15 national team members, a few World team medalists, a World Age Group champion and a World Games medalist. All of this before the age of 35. This success I’ve been blessed with is starting to feel like a curse in my well being… hear me out.

With every successful season comes the expectation from athletes, parents, other clubs, provincial and national governing body employees to produce high level results and continue the trend. An expectation to show up with a high caliber team that makes few mistakes and challenges for podium finishes at all levels.

I remember being younger and being genuinely elated when I watched an athlete nail their passes and accomplish their set goals. Now I exhale a sigh of relief, relief that they kept it together, that they delivered to their potential and of course that I contributed to the final picture.

Last week, when I walked into the first training session at Nationals, I was more nervous, scared and on edge than I’ve ever been in my life. The stress, pressure, expectations felt heavier than they did even in the World Games final. It was greater than any stress I’ve ever felt as an athlete or coach. My heart beat was a little quicker than usual and my ability to catch my breath was slightly compromised. Even now as I type about the experience these two symptoms return. I’m stressed just picturing the event and it’s already over. (By the way, even just rereading this paragraph brings on those symptoms)

I remained insanely focused throughout the event. Trying to rest a lot, having lunch alone a few times just to collect my thoughts and prepare mentally for the next group of athletes. I needed to be able to breathe, be able to not answer questions about current standings, questions about what I though would happen etc… it was important for me to do this so that my athletes couldn’t feel that I was stressed, so they couldn’t feel me second guessing myself or questioning my training plans. Doubt doesn’t inspire confidence and believe me an athlete can tell when a coach is freaking out. For me to contribute negatively to one of my athletes performances due to personal, unmanageable stress would be the ultimate failure.

My senior athletes were the conclusion on the competition and they all hit solid and ended up on the podium. Out of a possible 6 medals in that category, my athletes took home 5. Did I feel happy for them? Absolutely! Did I feel proud of our work as a team? Definitely! But above all that was the overwhelming thought of “thank god they hit”.

Following awards, I got in my rental to go “for coffee”. I really just needed to get leave and let out a stress relief cry. I couldn’t contain it any longer and I’d rather get it done in a car than at a gym in front of people. It had to be a short lived moment. I had to call my boss to give an update, get back to gym to work on some team selection and of course had to be ready to manage my team of 18 athletes, 17 of which were my personal gymnasts.

Now no one has ever told me that I needed to produce to be employed, it’s never even been a joke topic. But I know the opportunities I have received in the last decade are due to the results I have produced and the reputation that has come with them. It’s stressful to know that athletes drive 45-60 min for you, that some have moved across the country for your coaching. It’s stressful knowing that families spend $3000-$8000 a year on training and competitions that you prepare their kids for.

It’s stressful trying to sort out how much attention each athletes needs and who needs to be the priority at each stage of the process. It’s stressful having parents watch you work 2.5 hours a day/4 days a week, noticing the amount of attention you give, listening to the words you use and questioning whether a competition is a waste of their money. It all leads to ridiculous pressure to continually create high end results in a sport that is unpredictable and unforgiving. And that stress comes to boiling point when an athlete salutes the judge at a major event.

The need for excellence is hard to understand, comprehend and relate to for many. Excellence is all I’ve ever known in sport life and it leads to a solitary even lonely existence at times. The amount of sacrifice it requires seems unnecessary to most. Coaches don’t take sick days, they can’t work from home or remotely. They have to work certain evenings and weekends. It changes your entire social game if you are someone who is insanely passionate about it because those big competitions become your focus and tired coaches can’t be as effective. It becomes very easy to imagine and picture burn out. The idea of having nothing left to give due to emotional exhaustion. It’s a position I never want to be in.

This year I relinquished a lot of control in the work place, made decisions based on the suggestions of others rather than on my gut instinct. I think that will be the first change I make going forward. I’ll go back to my way, all day, everyday. I’m the expert, I’m the one responsible. I’m the one that’s held accountable. I’m hopeful that will help me have more confidence in the process rather than fear of the outcome.

The expectation I feel to continue to produce is palpable. The pressure is becoming insurmountable. Failure in this career or lifestyle isn’t uncommon and isn’t easy to avoid. Eventually all great empires must fall and I enter each competition wondering if my empires time has come.

Ok time for me to slow this breathing down and move on.

Den XO

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Make it stop

Why is it that at some point in the last 2 years, I’ve decided that I’m allowed to feel sorry for myself when it comes to my inability to have a romantic relationship? I hate it!

In every other aspect of my life, accountability is mandatory and moving forward after successes and failures is a necessity.

So why is it that when it comes to finding love, I allow myself to feel sorry for myself. It’s unnatural and unsettling. Lately, I’ve been so down on myself for what I’m allowing my brain to think. I even had a full blown breakdown before bedtime last week.

I feel so god damn average and it feels like you can’t be average in the singles market. I have an average body, face, sense of humour, financial background… so average!

You need to be exceptional. I am exceptional in my career and in my former athletic career but that seems to hold me back even more. It’s hard for people to wrap their heads around my unconventional work schedule and work sacrifices. It makes me seem unavailable and too busy for other things. Which kills me because that should be a selling feature and yet it’s a hinderance.

The worst part of all this is that I’m doing it to myself. No one has ever said these things to me, this is my personal self hate game and self pity. And I fear it’s starting to affect my ability to be myself and really put myself out there. I’ve become fearful of new experiences and meeting new people. I’ve become timid in showing my personality and talking about myself. It’s such a stupid game I’m playing.

The reason I share this with you all is because I think it just solidified the concept that the most important relationship you have is the one you have with yourself and sometimes that’s the one you need to work on. That’s what I’m doing. Working on myself and my inner demons so that I can feel more comfortable being me in all situations.

No more feeling average.

Den XO

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59 – eyes wide open

I want to talk to you about one of my biggest influences in life. A person who has taught me a lot, helped me through a lot and has helped shape the man I am today. I want to talk about my godmother Gisele Vachon.

My aunt turned 59 this week 😮😮😮 it’s weird to even type that because my memories of 25 years ago are still so vivid and pure. To me she’s still the aunt that would come watch my gymnastics practices with my mom. They would sit there together and knit things while I went through my 4 hr trainings. Making friends with other parents while occasionally looking up and seeing what I was up to.

She must have come to almost every training for 6-8 years. 3-4 days a week of 4 hr trainings. She worked in the city I trained in so she’s after just meet us there and watch for a bit or she’d actually join us for the ride depending on her schedule. If my mom couldn’t drive me for whatever reason, she would. She was always a big supporter of my drive in sport.

As I got older, the relationship changed. I wasn’t a kid anymore and so our gym chats turned into life chats. It transitioned into a friendship more than a family tie. We are really similar, like obnoxiously so. I often joke that my oldest sister is my mother, the middle one my father and that I am my aunt hahah both of us are single working girls!

We have conversations about what scares us. What makes us anxious and what makes us self conscious. We talk about our goals, our inner dark secrets and about what we wish we could take back. We have shared so much together! I even got to be with her for her first time on an airplane! We took a 4 day vaca to Mexico and it was insanely fun. Sharing first experiences with someone is actually the coolest thing. It makes you feel like you are contributing to something bigger than you. Enhancing someone’s life and shaping their outlook.

Anyways, the point of this post was to say that I’m proud of her because she is finally starting to care about herself. The majority of my life I’ve watched her dedicate her time to her nieces and nephews as well as to her work even if it was detrimental to her health and personal development. But in the last year something shifted. She’s now healthier than I can remember her being, her body image is way better and her ability to release control outside factors has improved. She is starting to embrace her changing world and be more open to new experiences. She is LIVING!

When I think of her, I think of someone who is funny, kind, curious, intelligent, loving, accepting, caring, strong and independent.

So I’m going to LIVE with her so that I can help her have the full visual experience of the world that i have been so privileged to see myself.

A quarter of a century separates us in age, but less than a inch separates us in our hearts. Happy 59th Birthday matante. I hope you celebrated yourself for all the amazing things you are. I hate that we are getting older but I have faith that we are only getting better. I love you.

Apologies: This post is sloppy and it’s disorganized and I tried rewriting it a few times but for some reason when it comes to talking about my aunt or my parents, I can’t keep my shit together. Probably cause they have altered their world to make sure mine was better and partly because I don’t see them as often as I wish I could and definitely because I know I don’t get to have them forever. But it’s honest…

Den XO

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Praying… for 2018

Every year I use iTunes to find out what my most played song was and the result usually gives me some insight on what kind of year was.

I didn’t need iTunes this year, I know and anyone who follows me on social media knows that Praying by Kesha was my song this year. I needed this song. I really needed this song.

Praying made me cry the first time I heard it. Praying made my cry when Kesha first performed it and Praying can still make me cry of I let it.

Praying helped me learn to let go of the past and just find peace in the present. Praying taught me that anger holds you back and stops you from being better. Praying isn’t just about you, it’s about everyone else. Yes she wrote it for Dr. Luke, and yes we can all picture a past relationship or friendship that nearly killed us emotionally.

But Praying is about forgiveness. It’s about releasing that person and that bad memory from your soul. It’s about wanting more for them, for yourself.

Luckily hard times make you tougher, they make you stronger, they make you rise up and that’s what we have to do. We have to

STOP hating each other

STOP holding the past against each other

STOP holding ourselves back due to our past or our fears

And lastly, but most importantly

STOP and think about the words we say to people and how we treat them so that Praying is never a song that is sung while thinking of you.

As 2017 takes its final curtain call, I’ll be surrounded by some great fucking people, laughing, smiling, singing and dancing. But deep down, I will also be praying. Praying for a better, kinder and more accepting 2018.

Remember the good guys and stop giving a Fuck about the bad. Oh and lastly, pray…

Don’t just listen to it, really hear it.

2017 – I’ll just say this this, I wish you farewell

Den Xo

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Just live with it?

Everyday in life you have to make choices about your present that influences your future in both minor and major ways. Sometimes the path is a clear and obvious one where as other times you are trying to see through fog to determine the best way.  Neither decision is more valuable as often the biggest changes in our lives stem from small ones we didn’t even realize we made.

So about those hard ones… can they be reversed? Can you admit fault and reverse to change the path. Is everything final? Do certain options have expiration dates that you may just have to live with and let go of.  Or can grit, passion and resolve overcome it?

My youth led to some poor grown up sized decisions. Choices I made on a whim, without full information, without due processing and out of fear. 

I played cautiously in life out of fear of failure, fear of the unknown and fear of judgement.

I still picture it, picture him, picture life. 

I still dream…

Den XO

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Would it feel better?

If you are in your 30’s and still single, you have probably built up a fair share of wins and losses in both the love and lust departments. Are you lonely yet? With my 32nd birthday quickly approaching, I’m not exaggerating when I say it pains me not to have a man in my life who loves me to celebrate and be with.

Sometimes the loneliness is palpable .

I try not to complain. Friends and colleagues express how great my life is to me on a regular basis, some even claiming jealousy. And I don’t disagree, I do have one amazing life. I’m in my dream job, travel regularly, have a substantial amount of success in my career as well as in my past sport life and I actually have the greatest friends and family on the planet but at the end of the day, I come home to an empty condo. No one to welcome me, no one to embrace me and no one who makes my face light up when I see them. I hate myself a little bit for saying this but it hurts not to have a man!in my life.

I discussed this at great lengths with a friend recently and they talked a lot about timing. About how we could find someone we love and it simply couldn’t work not due to lack of feelings, desire or compability but rather due to time. That life was pulling in other directions which made building something impossible. 

I find myself wishing lately that I hadn’t prioritized my sporting career for as long as I did. I mean I spent 20-25 hrs a week for just about 2 decades training. It left next to no time or energy for that matter for a social life. What if I had spent more weekends out with friends, or in social leagues or university instead of in the gym. Would that have affected my “timing”?

Being single isn’t all bad. It allows for a lot of freedom in my work and creates the opportunity for impulsive decisions which often bring great adventure. But I fear becoming hopeless and numb to love.

The last few failed attempts at a relationship have left me feeling next to nothing. I’ve just shrugged them off almost as if it’s just what I expected. Like this is just how it’s meant to be for me. 

I don’t want attention for this. I don’t want to be told “he’s out there”, “you’ll meet him”, “you are a total catch”… The truth is people end up alone all the time and I know that it’s a possibility. I know that it’s just mankind’s way of trying to be encouraging and supportive but I hate it because it’s not true. Not everyone finds their soulmate, not everyone gets to live happily ever after and that’s life. 

I don’t understand how having pretty much everything can still feel like you have nothing. I’m starting to be afraid that if someone kissed me where it’s sore, would it feel better? Would I feel anything at all? 

Den XO

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The complete elite athlete

I spent 15 years of my life as a high performance athlete and the last decade as a high performance coach. In that time I’ve come to know and observe many of my sports finest athletes as well as the rest. Out of all the high performance competitors I’ve come to know, I’d say only 10% are complete elite athletes, willing to do what it takes to achieve at the sports highest levels (dream kids) About 20% are lesser talented however insanely hard working (coaches love them) and the remaining 70% are talented athletes who think showing up and having certain skills qualifies them as top athletes (my least favorite).

The complete elite athletes are elite minded 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year. From meal selection, to minimal social calendars, to training on holidays and of course committed rest/recovery cycles, these people arrange their life around their athletic goals. 

There is a large sense of entitlement these days in our society. Many people think that just because they show up, they deserve equal compensation to others regardless of their performance, commitment and professionalism. I see this in too many elite athletes. Just because we commit to spending 10-20 hours in a gym doesn’t mean you are training like those Olympians and World finalists.

Being a top elite athlete requires many sacrifices, life choices and an accountable mentality. If you can’t do that or as a coach can’t get your athletes to, chances are as a team, you will always fall short of the top.

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1- Your fitness needs to match your level of talent. Sport is about maximizing the body and minds potential. In order to do so, you need to have the right fitness for your sport. In gymnastics sports, being flexible, having power and speed and also being light are huge factors to success. The more fit you are the more training you can handle and the more control you have over your muscles. Talented unfit athletes can do skills, but they can’t do them as high or as clean as a more fit equal, they are at a disadvantage. When athletes are failing, I don’t think enough of them ask themselves “am I strong enough for this skill?”. I think if they did a lot of them would realize the answer is no.

As an athlete, I knew that I was only capable of certain skills at peak fitness so if my skills were inconsistent or lacking technical precision I increased the time spent on fitness not just my time spent attempting drills and skills. 

2- Food and Weight matter. The most controversial topic in judged sport that I believe too many coaches ignore.

Who doesn’t love pizza right? Well your ankles don’t like it when you land on your face and you’re carrying the extra weight from that poor food choice. Gymnastics is a high impact sport. Your joints take a pounding even when you don’t feel a jar or a jolt. Controlling your weight and your diet helps you keep your body healthy and your training more consistent. If you have a fluctuating diet and weight, you spend each day trying to sort out which body you’re working with. You spend more time trying to adapt than actually growing in sport.

I knew my ideal weight for off season and competition season. Since you can’t maintain peak shape year round and avoid burnout, I spent the training months at about 157lbs and around 6-8 weeks from competition season I’d lean myself out to 153lbs. I was the quickest, sharpest and cleanest version of myself at that weight. Did I make technical errors at that weight? Of course, I’m not perfect but I certainly looked the part of the top level athlete and had the energy/stamina for week long competitions and physically intense training. 

I’m not saying you can’t treat yourself from time to time, however if you think your daily Starbucks fraps and lattes are enhancing your performance you are dead wrong. You want that drink and success? Add 20 minutes of running to burn that off.

3- Being in the gym doesn’t mean you’re training. “I train blah blah hours a day” yeah but are you sitting on your butt taking turns every 5 minutes because you’re too busy socializing? SHUT UP! Hours spent in the gym mean absolutely nothing if you have a poor training rhythm and super low intensity. 

I trained less gymnastics hours than most of the people I fought against to make the national team but my training was anything but slow. A turn every 90 seconds with no sitting allowed between them and only quality turns that counted towards daily plan completion. Do 3 of each pass didn’t mean face plant or ass drop 3, it meant do 3 properly. Poor quality isn’t an acceptable standard to the athletes who are leading in any sport.

I also spent 50-75% of my training time doing fitness. The percentage got higher as I got older and my body could handle limited impact. Again, a strong body is capable of more and is an asset. Whether I was sick, sore, tired or just off, Goodlife Fitness was still part of my daily routine, even on days where gym wasn’t part of my schedule. 

4- The selection procedure isn’t the reason you didn’t make it. You failed. It’s not because someone is biased or because the procedure was against you. Sometimes we just aren’t good enough and there is nothing wrong with that. Stop blaming every other factor and person involved in the process. Look at yourself and figure out what you need to change.

Also related to this is your attitude. No one wants to cheer for the kid throwing the pity party so change your face and your attitude if you want support from your sport community.

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We all have different goals and reasons for participating in competitive sport and that’s important because not every athlete wants to be or is meant to be an elite level athlete. All I ask from my gymnast (and used to from myself) is that their goals and commitment level match. 

You want to be elite? Then don’t half ass it. Give yourself reasons to be successful rather than trying to place blame as to why you aren’t. Get your butt in the gym and work harder that you did the day prior and raise your expectations of yourself for your day to day life choices. 

Earning national and international medals isn’t easy. That’s why only three people get to and if you aren’t 100% into your training, chances are you aren’t one of them.

Den XO

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