September 20, 2013

Put Me In, Coach!

Alan F. 009UCP is honored to have Sacramento resident Alan Flynn guest blogging in August, September and October. Alan has cerebral palsy and grew up in a small farming community in the Midwest, the middle child in a family of five boys. He has two adult daughters and a new grandson. Through his writing, he hopes to challenge himself and others to reach new goals in every aspect of our lives and gain self-understanding and enthusiasm for the opportunities waiting for us. This is his third blog post.

I entered the world of mandatory physical education classes in the mid ‘60s before acronyms like ADA and terms such as adaptive P.E. were part of the public vocabulary. My teachers were caring and well-intentioned, which I appreciated, but they really didn’t know what to do with me.

My freshman fitness experience was to work alone in the weight room while my classmates participated as a group in the gym. I wasn’t told the reason. I suppose the coach feared that volleyball and soccer drills were either too strenuous or too dangerous for me – they weren’t.  Perhaps he didn’t want me to be disappointed by losing at competitive games. Isolation in the weight room didn’t make me feel like a winner!

With minimal instruction and no goals or standards set for me, I was left to make the best of it on my own. I had no idea how much weight a boy of my age and weight should be able to lift or how many repetitions most freshmen guys could accomplish without breathing hard. I tried to challenge myself to do better each time. It would have been more motivational to see how I compared to other guys my age.

I didn’t know what to do to make an A in “weight room” – or even what was expected for a passing grade. In the end, I got “credit” on my transcript, but no letter grade. It didn’t feel like an accomplishment. 

As I look back after almost 50 years, I realize, oddly, that the thing that bugged me most about the weight room was the bare light bulb and the unpainted cinderblock walls. It wasn’t intended to be a prison, but…

Thankfully my “individualization” in the weight room didn’t last forever. The bulk of my high school career was spent participating with my classmates. Bright lights. Vivid school colors. Camaraderie.  Much better. Often fun.  

But the concerned and well-meaning coaches often adapted my program in just the wrong places: 

What I needed was five extra minutes to change out of street clothes and get in line for callisthenics. Not allowed. Instead, I was expected to run only five laps for every seven the other guys completed. For me, it was humiliating to stop early. I would rather have challenged myself  with the same standard as everyone. 

After almost 50 years, I wonder why I never talked to the coach about it.


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