With an athletic older brother, an intelligent older sister, and a demanding mother, Justyn was constantly burdened with expectations. At the mere age of five, he appeared joyless and rarely had a smile on his face. When he couldn’t bear it any longer, he would run to his mother, expecting a comforting embrace, but was met with a severe scolding instead.
Justyn’s mother, evidently an assertive woman, clearly expected a lot from her children. She consistently pushed her daughter towards perfection in school and always critiqued her son’s swimming technique, even after his best races. Her successes with her older children made her even more aggressive with Justyn. Her expectations weighed heavily on him as he confronted his first year on the team.
I somehow sensed that Justyn was a very competitive person, just like his brother, but he still refused to swim at practice. The idea of monotonously swimming laps just didn’t appeal to him. After a few practices, the other volunteer coaches labeled Justyn as “the kid who simply didn’t want to be there”, but I refused to accept this. From that moment on, it became my mission as his coach to inspire him to enjoy swimming.
The next practice, I came prepared with my bag of tricks. In a calm, soothing voice, I started talking to him about the toys I brought for him to swim with, hoping to excite him, but I had no luck. The following day, I came in early to throw rings into the pool before he arrived, a routine that worked repeatedly in the past. I hoped that this device would motivate him, but it wasn’t enough. He simply followed his routine of hanging on the wall until his lips turned blue and he couldn’t withstand the cold any longer.
I went home that day slightly disheartened, but still determined to find a solution. I spent the entire afternoon brainstorming other things I could do, but nothing jumped out at me. I felt that each idea I had written down was either impractical or ineffective based on everything I had already tried with Justyn. Then, it finally hit me! I needed a solution that fit his uniquely competitive personality. I continued brainstorming, rejecting many ideas until I finally thought of the perfect solution and was eager to try it out.
The moment Justyn got to practice the next morning, I simply asked him “Wanna race?” I saw a smile light up his face. This was the moment he had been waiting for: a chance to let his competitive juices flow. He rushed down to the pool and immediately hopped in. Then, he quickly pushed off, determined to win the race. I chased after him, delighted by his reaction. Even though I beat him, he only used this as further motivation. He was a fierce competitor and we turned all of our practices into a series of competitions.
Justyn was definitely the hardest kid I ever worked with since none of my typical approaches connected with him. Despite this, I never considered giving up, even when many of my peers already had. I looked past his dejected appearance, wanting to bring out his inner passion for the sport. Working with Justyn made me realize something: the real challenge in solving a problem is finding a solution that is suited to its unique circumstances. When I started customizing my approach to Justyn, I finally had success. Now, whenever I struggle with another problem, I look back at my experiences with Justyn, using it as inspiration to continue pushing to recapture the sense of joy I felt at that moment.