Tuesday, July 06, 2010

One week into centralised national training and Caitlin now says she wants to quit. I could see this coming. I know that this has been brewing over the past few days. She’s been going for daily training from 4pm to 8pm practically everyday except Saturday and on Sundays, she goes for school training – also at CCAB – for three hours. Her national coach has recommended that she completely stop school training to avoid confusion in coaching techniques and instructions. The school coach concurs. But I wanted her to keep in touch with the school squad at least once a week to keep a sense of loyalty to the school and to the coach. But perhaps, this is not quite a good idea after all as you will see when you read on.

Okay, I know her daily routine is rigorous. By the time she gets home from school, at 2pm, there’s barely enough time for her to have her lunch, get a bit of rest, and finish her homework etc before granddad comes to pick her up at 3.30pm. By the time we pick her up from training at 8pm, she gets a late dinner at 8.30pm, showers, does a bit of reading and then its bedtime at 10pm. So yes, it’s very hard. It’s tough work.

But the tough routine is not the reason why she’s caving.

When we pick her up from gym, KH and I always go a bit earlier so that we can watch her train. We’ve made some observations of our own. Firstly, it’s very clear that everyone is there to train. The gymnasts are very independent and disciplined. They train on their own most of the time, going through drills and routines over and over. Sometimes their peers will give comments and suggestions but the coaches seem to have a very light hand. It’s just plain hard work and everyone seems very single-minded on this point. There was once we saw a gymnast attempt a somersault but fail to land on the balance beam. She fell hard, hitting her head on the beam. There was a loud bang followed by a keening cry of pain, audible throughout the gymnasium and all of us parents there watching froze in horror. I was asking KH anxiously: should I call an ambulance?

But what really surprised me was that none of the other gymnasts went over to see how the girl was. She lay there for a quite a while. Only one coach walked over. The others paused for a moment to watch a bit and then went back to their drills. It seemed quite cold to me.

So I infer that the bottom line is – no one is there to make friends or be buddies. Everyone there is purposeful and serious about training. At the end of the day, everyone there is a competitor. They compete to be in the first team, they compete for spots to represent the nation in competition, they compete for medals.

For Ms Popular Caitlin, who is used to a great deal of camaraderie among her team-mates in school, this is quite a sea change. The girls she’s training with had entered the training squad a year before and so they were familiar with the coaches and with each other. So she feels a bit left out and excluded. Plus her Mandarin is not very good and so understanding instructions from the coaches, who are all Chinese nationals, becomes challenging – so much so that her training mates have had to translate once in a while. She’s also had to get used to other coaching techniques. Luckily, she still has her former school coach with her.

So the duck out of water feeling is what Cait is struggling with now. In addition, now that she’s training in the national squad, everyone there is as good as or even better than she is. For someone who hates to feel inferior, this is a real come-down. She’s got her work cut out to catch up and keep up. There is pressure not to lag behind.

For the first time, she’s been making excuses to not go for gym training so I knew that the storm was coming.

Yesterday we had a talk and she blurted out that girls in her school team (she still goes back for occasional training with her school) also call her “Traitor!” for training apart from them. She was in tears when she told me about this. I know how hard it is for someone like her, who wants to be liked, to be a partial persona non grata now.

It is painful and I feel for her. I also know that this is what the path is like. It can be very lonely. Look at our table tennis world champions. Damn if you do and damn if you don’t. Win and Chinese nationals call you traitor for not playing for China. Win and Singaporeans scoff and say you’re not true blue Singaporean but imported talent.

People are going to throw names at you all the time, I told Cait. Yes, it hurts. On the flip side, there are also lots of people who are very proud of you – our family, our friends, your school, your teachers, your coaches. We’re proud that she’s come so far. But more than just the name-calling, it's knowing that you are not going to fit in that well anymore. Like it or not, you're different (or better) and the opportunity cost of training elsewhere means you will not feel like you belong in either places - not at CCAB (because of the competitive nature of the place and the people) and not in school (because you lose the momentum of friendship made through shared hard work).

Still, it’s bitter knowledge to learn at this age. And I think this is only the beginning. Learning to move beyond the comfort zone, learning to be adaptable, learning the new rules of a different jungle, learning to develop rhino hide, to sift out comments that are constructive and valuable versus plain name-calling, to learn about envy, loneliness and being strong enough to take it all, wanting the big brass ring badly enough to take it all. This is what she has to learn. She has to ask herself how badly she wants it.

I feel for her and I can understand why she wants to throw in the towel. But I also feel that this is such a waste of talent. I am also angry that she is giving up. Why can’t she take it? Why can’t she WANT to take it? As an adult with access to a wider vista, I can see so clearly all the opportunities she would be forgoing and I'm getting an ulcer just realizing it.

But more than just anger at the loss of opportunity, I worry that she will grow into someone who just gives up easily without a fight. Is she becoming someone who will just take the easy way out? Yet what is really the easy way out? Everyone has choices in life – the fork in the road – so who is to say which one is the easy way out?

As a mother, I feel sad that she’s also got to learn hard lessons at this stage in her life. I also wonder, looking at the older gymnasts training, if this is what I want my daughter to become – this coolly indifferent, single-minded person who does not really care when others fall.

I feel conflicted myself.

“Why can’t I just do gym? Why can’t I just train with my school team?” she asked plaintively.

I think I was being a practical and ambitious mom when I replied, “To what purpose? You train and then for what? What is your goal? People want to move ahead – to represent school and then maybe, represent nation. But you don’t! So what’s the point of training so hard? Just do recreational gym then. Tell Mr Lim to downgrade you from competitive gym to just recreational gym. Then you can still do the stuff you love –but without the pressure of training, without the stress of competition!”

She just looked at me stricken because hard-nosed as that might sound, it’s also true. She has enough of a competitive streak in her for that alternative to sound unpalatable.

Do I push her? Or leave her? Am I pushing her for myself or for her? The lines are so blur. As a mom, do I accept my child for who she is, or do I push her to accomplish the ‘more’ that I think she is capable of? Do I let her make decisions which I think are bad for her in the long run, and then rue the day when it happens? Or do I steer her in the direction that I think is best? As an adult, I have perspective that she does not. Do I do the “this is what’s best for you” routine? Or allow her to make mistakes? I can explain the consequences and the opportunities lost till the cows come home but she may not have the maturity to grasp this. So do I just grit my teeth and let it happen?

Like dental hygiene – you know too many sweets are bad for the kid but you can explain it till you’re blue in the face and the kid will still bug you for more sweets. Do you let it happen and say, well, you’ll realize what a big mistake this is when your teeth start decaying? Or stand firm and say nope, no more sweets because mummy knows best?

I had a grim angst-ridden night last night. But before she went to bed, the funny girl left a hand-written contract – yes contract - on my pillow. It read:

“I, Caitlin Chong, agree to go for CCAB training on ONE condition – that you will allow me to go for Sunday training with school.” It came with blank spaces for me and for her to sign, with my full name in one corner.

I could not help but laugh. But as KH pointed out – it really sounds as if we are pushing her to do this. If she really wanted CCAB training, there should be no need for conditions. Sigh. Maybe its not a good idea to let her stay with school training until she's more comfortable at CCAB.

What are we going to do? I don’t know.


mummyof3 said...

WOW! Very impressed with Cait.

I know some of the angst, to a different degree, i suppose. But all that you have said here about Cait, I find so familiar. Our girls are v similar in temperament.

Pray, pray for her, with her, let her know tt ultimately, she will have to find it in her to reach for it. I wouldn't know what else to say/do tt you haven't said/done.

mummyof3 said...

sorry, one more thing. you have to tell her to give it time. try asking for a min commitment time, say, another 6 mths. hard as it is, they have to learn to endure the hardship of the learning curve, the settling down, the pain of failing, it's just part of it. tt's how endurance/commitment/discipline is built.

we made A stick out malay for more than half a yr before deciding it really wasn't working. and when she wanted to quit choir last yr, i told her no, stick it out till this yr's performance, n now she's coasting n happy again. not quite the same degree of pain n hardship as your girl (she's one tough girl!) but imo, whatever they do, they have to learn to bear it thru the hard n dry bits.


Anonymous said...

Very smart of Caitlin to come up with a contract with her mum! She forgot to include a witness so that this piece of paper becomes a valid contract!


mummyof3 said...


you don't need a witness for a binding contract. cait's got it right, and she's got a binding contract (if mummy signs and/or agrees) - a promise for a promise even if it's not written down or witnessed is a good contract.

the witness is for purposes of proof. tt's a different issue.

: )

sorry, pat, cldn't resist.

Cory said...

Cait already knows. Like the others said, give her some time. And she's funny alright. But the fact she put it in writing really means she thought things through :)

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