Jan 29, 2015
Teacher Becomes the Student

ryanjohnson-head.jpgBy Ryan Johnson

The author recently took time out of his busy schedule working with high school athletes to to explain to a group at a senior center how many of the fitness training principles he uses with athletes could help them. He also ended up learning a thing or two himself.

My wife is a customer service representative for Home Instead Senior Care, which provides non-medical day-to-day care to the elderly. Part of her job requirement is to visit senior care centers and arrange for presentations about various topics on behalf of her company. So my wife asked me if I wouldn’t mind speaking to a group of senior residents one day about keeping active and healthy. I told my wife I would love to speak to the group.

My presentation covered staying active and much of the focus was on balance and stability and it was remarkable how similar the presentation was to what I use with youth groups. I described how there were 1,440 minutes in the day and that 30 minutes of those could be devoted to activity and fitness. In fact they could be broken down into 10 minute segments and several could be done in their chair or leaning against a chair.

I detailed how some experts predict that by 2030 there will be more than 80 million adults over the age of 65. I added that because more people are living longer it is important to now focus on the quality of these years.

We discussed the leading causes of death and how several could be addressed via a healthy diet and regular exercise. We even demonstrated exercises they could do to improve their quality of life.

All in all, the presentation was a great success. Actually, we were warned ahead of time by the facility staff that it is not uncommon for the seniors to get up and leave if they didn’t care for a presentation. I am happy to report that we didn’t have a single early defection.

But it was after the presentation when the real learning began. I was introduced to a man named Bill, who was a cook in the Navy and a gunner on the ship when needed. Bill entered the Navy after his junior year in high school.

One of the stories Bill told was of his high school wrestling championship and how much his high school wrestling coach and the training he provided was essential to his success. He also told me about being on a ship that was under attack by Japanese Kamikaze pilots.

I listened intently as he described watching every third bullet, the tracer, track towards the planes and having to turn his gun very quickly just to track the planes–so quickly that he separated his shoulder as a result. This shoulder separation would hurt Bill every single day of his life, though he wasn’t complaining about it. Bill also told me how he sat in this ship and watched as troops stormed up to Iwo Jima and watched a Marine reach into his shirt and pull out the original flag that flew atop the hill.

As I shook his hand to leave and thanked him for the wonderful conversation, he in turn thanked me for the presentation–but he didn’t let go of his grip right away. He then looked me squarely in eye and said, “If those high school kids of yours can keep half of their strength from sports, they are going to be so much better off down the road in life.”

For me, that was a poignant and powerful reminder of my work with young athletes and how what we’re doing today can have such profound effects as they grow and progress through adulthood. It really is all about the big picture. And I thought I was the one doing the teaching that day…

Ryan Johnson is Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at Wayzata (Minn.) High School. He is also a frequent blogger for T&C. He can be reached at: [email protected].

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