How To Decide

Every now and then, I ask myself: do you want to be a generalist or a specialist? What do you want to do? Or perhaps the question to answer is, "What do you want to be?" That's not an easy question but something to reflect on periodically. Well, if that's the case, it's an easy answer.

It depends.

Okay, then what? Now we're at the hard part. What should you do? Where should you go? There are too many choices, and too many people trying to tell you what to do. People have good intentions, but you have to filter through all that information to make a choice. So now you're stuck... you don't want to make the wrong choice, so you decide you need to do some more research. As you start researching, it becomes overwhelming, so you don't want to do it anymore. You procrastinate and then turn to some other distraction... most likely some form of screen time. Maybe you go listen to music. Maybe you go out and stare at a sunset and hope that words magically appear on the horizon to give you a sign. Whatever you do, you'll do it... later.

I know this feeling well because I do it too. My coping mechanism is to buy a book that may give me new insights. But wait, another book is on sale and that could be useful too. Instead of reading the book to gain insight, I buy another book because it feels like I'm doing something. Now that I have a little under 600 books, maybe I'll start reading again... tomorrow.

It's a scaled down version of the same problem: what should I read? Should I read more of one author, or from many? Should I read broadly or for depth? Then maybe I'll go through book reviews, research what other people read, and then not actually read because all that research felt like I did something, and wow, I'm tired... Let me just take a break with some screen time through Netflix, video games, or social media.

And so it repeats. How will the cycle end?

There are a few outside forces I can think of, and they often are at different extremes. On one side are your parents or authority figures. On the other side are your friends or for some, parents too (or a lack of parenting).

Parents or authority figures are constantly telling you what to do, based on their beliefs. Whether they come from good intentions or ulterior motives, like "saving face" or living vicariously through their kids, it's an external pressure that is often uncomfortable. Some of them will have their share of expertise, while some of them will have second-hand expertise that they heard from their friends, or in the case of my late grandmother, from the Chinese radio station.

It feels like if you're driving, and everyone in the car is trying to give you directions, but you already know where to go. And if you don't, then that's probably even worse... um, good luck with that one! Regardless, it will feel overwhelming negative.

On the other end are your friends. Your BFFs and people you think that will be there with you forever. Good luck with that. For my older readers, you know exactly what I'm talking about. For the younger ones, please take a moment to remember all the people you've already left behind from elementary school or if you've moved from another city. Every transition in life will have you leaving people, but you will meet new people too. As you get older, you'll have an extremely tight circle. And that may even change, because it all depends on where you want to go. It depends on where they want to go. All I can guarantee is that nothing will stay the same forever. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Your friends have their own dreams and pursuits, and of course you want to support them. They also want to support you, so everyone encourages each other and it will be overwhelmingly positive. Some people are in even more positive social circles where everyone can dream big. Everyone is each other's hype-person, and it's kind of cute to see people hype each other up like a personal pep rally ("You've got this!"). But that's all they can do, because most people in your social circle are of the same age and experience. What often might seem like a good idea that nobody's done before is likely a really bad idea that someone older has tried and regretted. True story.

So what do you do, when the older generation is demeaning and condescending? Because they had experience in an era which is much different than things are now? What do you do when your friends have zero experience? Because they can only hypothesize on things they've read on the internet for two minutes because anything more than five minutes to read gets swiped over?

Play some badminton!

Before you curse me out for wasting your time (no guarantees here!), I'm actually here to advocate exercise as the great equalizer. No, it doesn't have to be badminton. Anything that has a game-based element, doesn't give too much of a physical advantage, has various social aspects, and can be a lifetime activity fits here. I would lean more toward racket sports and martial arts because the game element allows for the equalization of physicality with technical or tactical (and of course, psychological) expertise.

Badminton is an activity where different generations can compete against each other. As long as the level of play is reasonably balanced, the sport is very enjoyable and all the benefits of regular exercise apply. There's an incredible social aspect as well, and this is important because the activity can bridge the gap between generations, allowing the sharing and exchanging of different experiences. Tournaments are very good examples of this. Playing in your regular niche group is typically not. However, socializing often comes in-between and after playing badminton. Perhaps it's good to take a break to let others play for an opportunity to socialize. Or, after, go eat together, probably one of the greatest socializing activities... as long as the group can decide on where and what to eat.

Sport is something that brings people across generations because it's based on competency, not always biological age. For kids, at some point, you'll be at a level where you can beat your parents (but trust me, they'll still be telling you how you should play. Sorry). For adults, you see how kids can have potential to become good players, but you will also see when they fail to realize that potential. That perspective is harder to see from the eyes of a junior, because they don't have that same concept of time in how experience is developed. That is one reason why coaching juniors are very different from coaching adults.

In my mind, the coach isn't an authority figure. That's not how I define a coach, because in my mind, the coach is the person that bridges the gap between your parents (i.e. authority) and your friends (i.e. your inexperienced hype group). Why? Because if the coach isn't doing that, then you have NOBODY that will help you. Your parents or authority figures will either be too hard on you (or in some cases, too easy or non existent), and your friends will either hype you into false beliefs, or worse, be those type of people where they think that it's some badge of honor to suffer, or some other twisted self-deprecating belief.

If your coach is an authority figure, then they're just an instructor. Just do this. Just follow instructions. If you don't succeed, then it's YOUR fault. But, I would also argue that the coach is not your friend either. They can be friendly and there can be moments of friendship, but they don't ask to hang out or meet your friends outside of sport. Do not confuse the social aspects of the sport with being "friends". Ultimately, the difference is that the coach is there to help you decide what you want to do.

A good coach will offer you support and encouragement in how to handle other authority figures, because they have typically seen other athletes in a similar position. They will have had athletes that continue competing, go to college, or start their own businesses. They will be positive when your parents or other authority figures are overwhelmingly negative.

As for those who need to brought back to reality, a good coach will be firm but honest when athletes get too full of themselves, because they KNOW that there will always be someone better. Being the best in your "pond" doesn't mean anything, and there are always bigger fish to compete with. However, they will also encourage those who lack self-confidence; they will do their best to pull people up and push them to be the best they can be.

Sometimes former athletes who become coaches forget that they're coaches. They still have the mindset of an athlete. As an athlete, if other people had problems, I had to leave them because I needed to do my own thing. I'd have to let the coach deal with the issue.

As a coach, now you have to choose: survival of the fittest, or no one left behind? Reframing the question might help:

Is it a job, or is it a calling? Do you just put in the hours and then walk away? Or can you create a positive culture that displays the true benefit of sport, where everyone is striving toward excellence? Yet, understanding that the ultimate goal is not to win but the ability to continue playing as long as possible? You cannot win if you cannot play, and if nobody wants to play with you, you cannot win.

Understand that we cannot all win in the game of badminton, but we can all find a place to win in the game of life. We all make forced and unforced errors in both games. We all have challenges that seem impossible to overcome. We all have different voices telling us what to do.

Authority figures and some coaches will tell you that "you should have done this". Of course they're correct in hindsight. It's like shooting arrows, then painting targets around the arrows.

Inexperienced figures will just inflate your ego. "You got this!" Or worse, they stop you from trying. "They're seeded. They're too good. You're gonna get killed." Some coaches too: "Just stay positive." Or sometimes, they say nothing and clap.

A good coach is adaptable. What they do isn't transactional either. What this means is that your wins are your wins. Your losses are your losses. The athlete decides between all the voices pulling them in different directions. The coach is like the Netflix recommendation algorithm: they give you their best recommendations but it's up to you to decide.

Stop scrolling and make a decision! Based on what you choose, the coach will update their algorithm accordingly. We all make mistakes, but that should never be the end of things. Let's try again.

A good coach does the right thing, even though there are always situations that aren't black or white.

A good coach doesn't have power. They only give it away.

A good coach empowers their athletes.
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