If the sport of gymnastics taught me anything while growing up, I'd have to say that it was the knack, the obligation, and the desire to persevere. There's a fine line between gymnastics and elite gymnastics – the difference lies not in the hours trained nor the effort put in, but rather the philosophies and methods the coach incorporates into that training. There are many coaches out there who are openly loving and blatantly supportive of their gymnasts through all of their successes, failures, fears, and injuries. As it so happened, when I was training to be an elite-level gymnast my coach hadn't been one of them.
Not to say that he didn't care about us, mind; it's just that he'd be quick on corrections and pointing out our faults while any sort of praise was a rare thing indeed: a stern nod usually meant the skill was acceptable but not great, and a slow clapping of hands was the equivalent of a job well done. To get a smile from him wasn't impossible, but it was definitely a feat only reserved for the highest of honors.
There would always come a time when someone on my team would fall into a rut – just couldn't seem to hit that skill, was too afraid to go for that outrageous trick (You want me to let go of the high bar, flip head-over-heels over it, then somehow catch it again? Are you crazy?) – and they would build the situation up so much in their mind that the goal seemed unattainable. But my coach would have none of it. If we were afraid of a skill on the balance beam we would have to stand up there on the beam till we went for it. It didn't matter if we stood there like a statue for hours. The rest of the team would move on to their other events and programs, and that lone person would stay behind to battle her demons.
Sometimes our coach would leave this girl alone to get over the issue on her own, while at other times he would take to yelling at her for being so "stupid" – for it was an obstacle she was clearly more than capable of conquering. And while this method worked for the most part, it doesn't mean that the recipient was necessarily happy about the approach. If the problem kept persisting (and it usually did) the way our coach made us handle it often caused much stress. Girls would often be seen huddled in a ball crying in the locker room before practice, wanting to quit the sport altogether; because of the hysterical state they were in – the state our coach often forced them into – they simply couldn't see how putting forth the effort or getting over the issue could possibly be worth it.
I remember once how one of my teammates got so fed up with her release-move on bars that she ripped her grips off and chucked them at the wall in a fit of rage before yelling at our coach: that she simply couldn't re-grasp that bar no matter how hard she tried, she'd been working at it for the past hour unsuccessfully, her hands were ripped to shreds, that if she fell the four feet to the hard mat one more time she was bound to break something, and that she couldn't take it anymore – she was done. The tantrum had caused the entire gym to stop what they were doing in order to watch the scene. All was silent. Everyone waited with bated breath to see what our coach's reaction would be, preparing to cringe at what was sure to be a harsh retaliation. But instead what he said surprised all of us.
"Fine," he said while gesturing toward the door, "Feel free to leave. But you know you have a choice to make here. Leaving now is the easy choice. To stay here and continue to work on it is the right one. No one can do this for you. You owe it to yourself to stay, fight through it, and accomplish your goal."
My teammate turned tail and left within moments after those words left his mouth. Though what our coach said must have gotten through to her somehow, for she did end up returning to practice again the very next day in order to try again. And when she finally did perfect her release-move a couple of weeks later, she thanked him for talking sense into her.
What my coach said that day has stayed with me over the years. It really put into perspective why he approached our fears and issues the way he did, for that's the way any rough spot in life works: ignoring the problem and running away is not the solution. In order to accomplish anything you've got to learn how to toughen up and fight through it. It may not be easy, but it will all be worth it in the end. This I believe.