It’s good to challenge ourselves and step out of our comfort zone.
My mantra, as a volunteer coach with Special Olympics Singapore, is to be patient and caring. It takes time for athletes with intellectual disabilities to learn, develop and hone their skills.
The journey they go through, is a more important measure of success, than the results itself.
My journey with one of my students, Nadhrah, in particular, holds a special place in my heart. Nadhrah has Down syndrome, and I’ve been coaching her in swimming for a long time. She trusts me and opens up to me about what is going on in her life. Although she sometimes finds it hard to express and articulate herself, I can understand her by listening to her carefully. This makes it easy for us to communicate with each other.
Sometimes, Nadhrah may get frustrated when she can’t correct her stroke or convey a message to me. That’s okay, because I know she doesn’t mean to get frustrated. I make it a point to stay calm when that happens and talk to her about it later. I understand why some people may shy away from communicating with people with intellectual disabilities. It takes time and patience, and most of all, a calm and open heart. But a slight mindset shift is all it takes. It’s about understanding that our friends with intellectual disabilities need our acceptance and respect, just like the rest of us.
This mindset has helped me coach my athletes well, and I’ve seen improvements in the way they swim as well as behave. Coaching for me isn’t just about helping athletes excel and win. With Nadhrah and other students, I also believe in teaching them good morals and values in life, giving them tips on how to interact with people, being respectful to their parents and so forth.
Something else I believe in as a coach is encouraging my athletes to push their limits. As a swimmer, Nadhrah does quite well with her breaststroke so I’ve recently been coaching her in freestyle. I was very proud of Nadhrah the first time she successfully completed 50 metres of freestyle. Freestyle is not an easy stroke. Eventually I plan to introduce her to butterfly and backstroke. It’s good for Nadhrah to be challenged and encouraged to step out of her comfort zone.
We all need to be encouraged to step out of our comfort zone. I’m glad I did 15 years ago.
When my students call me “Coach JC”, I feel a surge of pride and responsibility. As coaches, we are teachers of life too. For me, this is a lifelong identify and commitment and I hope to continue playing this role