My elementary school phys-ed teacher was a laid-back guy named Siegfried Schnabel who never yelled – he didn’t have to. He calmly treated his Grade 2 charges like little adults who were expected to arrive fully prepared at gym class and do a job and, as I recall, we responded in kind.
From the venerable Mr. Schnabel, I learned how to turn a perfect cartwheel, made it onto the basketball team, and improved my flexed-arm hang standings from a laughable eight seconds to almost a minute. But the memory that remains most indelibly seared from childhood gym class was when, thanks to his teachings, I fell – literally head over heels - in love with the high jump.
Through Mr. Schnabel’s patient, thickly accented instruction, I learned the art of running 14 strides in a J-formation and throwing myself, counter-intuitively, backwards over a horizontal bar, Fosbury Flop style, that I would never think of trying to clear in a forwards motion.
Far from being a natural talent, I learned in small increments and with each failure and desire to give up, I was calmly told to get up, stop whining, and try it again. Probably the best life advice I ever got.
I was hooked on the high jump for the next four years, but time marched on, and curriculum, schools, and priorities changed. The high jump simply fell off the list as life, academia, and whatever other childhood, and then adolescent, demands took over.
When my youngest came home from school a couple of years ago to tell me they were learning high jump in their track and field class, I was over the moon. Until he described the frontwards method the instructor was implementing and it bore little resemblance to the thrill I experienced from the backwards body throw cushioned only by a few vinyl mats and blind faith in manipulating all my gangly limbs over that damn bar.
When I finally had occasion to bump into my son’s phys-ed teacher at a school function last year, I pointedly asked if he would be teaching the Fosbury Flop method of clearing the bar, to which he replied the board had adopted the new, safer, scissor-style jump due to the reported high number of injuries of the traditional method.
I’m trying very hard to rein in the impending rant but allow me this – I’d rather my kids get hurt trying to be the best they can be than compromising the sublime sense of achievement and personal growth in order to satisfy an actuarial report and academic statistical profile.
From being the youngest in a large family, I learned how to stand out. From being picked on in school, I learned how to fight. From any adversity life throws at us, we learn to confront, adapt, and evolve.
I want my kid to fall flat on his face to understand that, no matter what, you have to get back up, sop up the blood, take a deep breath, and try again.
I don’t want to make life safe and easy for him – on the contrary: I want to make it real.