It’s always weird to see yourself fight

Eldest showed up with the iPod partway through my last fight, the one for women grand champion at the Ontario Grand Nationals tournament on Saturday. Bless her sweet little heart, she had no idea what the fight was or who I was up against. Just the best fighter in the world, no big deal. So she’s shouting at me like she thinks I can actually win this. It’s adorable.

But seriously. It was an honour to be in the same ring as this extraordinary fighter and last as long as I did. I did my very best, but as you can tell, she’s a lot more relaxed (and, er, better) than I am. I don’t have a video of the fight I won in my age division, but I hope I was a little less tense there.

Bonus: the kick that gave me that scratch on my face I’ve been wearing like a trophy is included in this footage. Try to spot it. 🙂

As for me, I learned a lot in these tense 94 seconds that I hope I can build on. Thanks, Ms. Plowden.


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Normal by death (a novel) – chapter sixty-two

[previous chapter] [start from the beginning]

Jean-François Toussignant felt at peace. He rose with the sun, shaved, got dressed, and ate his prison breakfast in silence. He even managed to enjoy his coffee. Which was saying something, as you’ll know if you’ve ever tasted cop coffee.

He was ready. Finally, his day had come. He had written his speech and practiced it many, many times. He hadn’t counted, but he figured it had to be well over a hundred times, since he practiced it at least four times a day and had done so for about a month. He knew what he wanted to say by heart. He felt like a stage actor who had to remember an entire play, except of course he’d written the play. And, well, it wasn’t a play. But you know what I mean.

His trip to the court from his undisclosed location up in Mirabel took about 15 minutes longer than usual because of a crash on Highway 15. Distracted early-morning commuters, most likely, one rear-ending the other, both cars spinning out of control and coming to rest ungracefully in the ditch. There was an ambulance with lights flashing. Not a good sign, although these days they sent ambulances for every minor scratch, to avoid lawsuits from motorists claiming their nagging backache was due to the fact that there had been no certified medical expert on site to look for signs of trauma. There was so much bullshitting in the world nowadays, Jeff thought as he looked at the stranded cars. There was no sign that anybody had been hurt at all. But still, people made a fuss. So pointless, especially when you considered the real problems in the world today.

Like parents screwing up their kids for life. He knew if it hadn’t happened to him he’d be a much different person today. He wouldn’t be on trial, for one thing, looking at the very real possibility of being sent to jail for the rest of his life. He might even have managed to find love, to find it within his heart to commit to another human being’s happiness and build a life together. Maybe, he thought, he could have been a decent dad.

But as things were, his ability to love had been shattered when he was very little. So he walked the earth, wounded, unfulfilled, un-whole.

Well, now, come what may, he was determined to make things right.


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The thing about help

When you’re on a self-improvement journey (you are, right? it’s kind of important), you keep hearing or reading people urging you to ask for help when you need it.

I hate that. Asking for help. Was never good at it. In part because when I was much younger, asking for help meant a great dose of berating with not much actual help attached to it, so I learned to do without that sort of “help”. But also, now that I no longer have so much toxicity in my emotional life, there’s a thing about asking for help that I really don’t like at all.

It reveals you as a vulnerable and most imperfect biped. And some of us (cough) have a great deal of trouble with the dreaded V word.

No, I don’t like being or feeling vulnerable. It’s unpleasant, insecure, awful. But – and I have to thank Brené Brown for this – it is very much necessary to get past where you are now and on towards the better person you really want to be. So I try.

And it’s the darnedest thing because after so many years of avoiding asking for help like it was going to give me ulcers, I am very used to doing everything myself. Even with the best will in the world, I have a practical problem in that I find it difficult to identify something, anything, that I could need help with.

But I did! We have to arrange for our little boats to be pulled out of the water, winterized and put away for the season in the next few weeks. Now we do the work ourselves – we have a trailer that I expertly (well, almost) back onto the ramp and we drive the boat onto it and winch it up; yes, I do the winching – and we do that ourselves because asking the marina folks to do it would cost something like $125 a pop and since we’re able to do it ourselves why not save that money for more important things. But this year one of our boats needs a fair bit of cleaning (those marine carpets, I tell you). And it needs the kind of cleaning that comes with one of those pressure washer gizmos. Which I don’t have. Usually I wash it by hand – with eco-friendly biodegradable detergents and lots of elbow grease – and it works pretty well, but that boat is now five years old and my cleaning jobs don’t do it anymore. So I’ve resigned myself and will ask the marina to do the cleaning of the carpet for me. With their power washers it will be a quick and easy job.

I realize this doesn’t sound like a big deal at all. But to me it is. I’ve actually decided to ask someone else to help me with something.


And it feels fine. Of course, it’s not a consequential matter, emotionally speaking, but in a way it is. I consider this cleaning job a tiny but good step in the right direction.


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Normal by death (a novel) – chapter sixty-one

[previous chapter] [start from the beginning]

It was Tuesday morning in the middle of April. The birds were singing, the grass was starting to show promise that it would eventually require mowing again. And Nathalie Toussignant had to be shaken awake. Marc had given her sleeping pills around 11 o’clock the night before and she was dead to the world. Whoops, wrong metaphor, Marc thought.

Sylvie, that life-saving friend of theirs, had kept the kids overnight and would continue to look after them until the courtroom ordeal was over. The kids were having a blast, staying with their friends and camping out in their basement, so they didn’t mind. Nathalie missed her babies like crazy, but she was smart enough to know that she didn’t have the energy to be a half-decent mom right at the moment. She would have to make it up to Sylvie somehow.

“Come on, honey, it’s time to get up. Your brother is testifying today. I know you don’t want to miss it. Please, get up.”

“Gmmmgn,” she answered. It sounded better in her head, but not by much.

It took Marc a solid half hour to get his beloved upright, showered and dressed. Now he had to feed her half a piece of toast with some coffee. He put cream and sugar in her coffee and she objected.

“I drink my coffee black!”

“I know, baby, but you need nutrients to sustain you for the day. I figured you wouldn’t be very hungry,” she made a face at that. Hell no, she wasn’t hungry. Hadn’t been for days and probably never would be again, or so it felt at the moment. She hadn’t weighed herself but she could tell her clothes were starting to feel a bit loose. Whatever else this trial did, it was awesome for her waistline. But Marc worried about her. He knew she’d need strength today, and he was determined to help her get it in any way that he could.

“I figured adding cream and sugar to your coffee would add calories to your day. And you need your calories today, my love,” he added with a smile.

“You know what I really need? I need this trial to be over. I knew it was going to be hard, but I never expected it would be this heart-wrenching.” Tears welled up in her eyes again.

“I know. You want to know what I was thinking about last night when you finally got to sleep?”


“That after this is over, we should arrange to send you and Sylvie together for a weekend somewhere. I’ll look after the kids and you girls can have nice-looking dudes put hot stones on your back or mud on your face or whatever the heck women get done to their bodies when they go to the spa. As long as the dudes are gay, I won’t mind.”

“Oh, Marc, really?”

“Really. I got some overtime pay that came in before this trial started and I kept it in the bank account, just in case we needed some extra cash… Wouldn’t that be a fantastic way to spend it?”

“You know when I said in court that you were the best thing that ever happened to me?”

“I vaguely recall something to that effect, yes.”

“I wasn’t lying. You are amazing. Thank you.”

“No, honey bunch,” he said, hugging her gently. “You’re the amazing one. You were always the strongest of us all. Now let’s go finish this thing.”

[next chapter]


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When strategies work 

I told you a few days ago about our two-pronged strategy to get Eldest to do well at today’s tournament in London.

It worked.

Neither of us placed in kata (where we didn’t have a strategy) but we both did well in sparring, where we did. Hmmm. Maybe we should always strategize for everything.


Eldest’s goal was to win her first fight or, failing that, not to lose it by more than four points. She won 3-2.  She then had to fight a much bigger (and let’s be honest, better) girl against whom she lost 5-0. Then she fought another hard opponent for third place and won 1-0 by scoring with a sidekick in the very last second of the fight.

You bet I’m proud.


Eldest with her third-place trophy.

Me? I only had one opponent today but she’s an excellent fighter against whom I was 0-2 this year. It was a hard fight (and long; we went more than a minute over time), but I won. Yay! That got me to grands, against the winner of the younger black belt women division. Who’s just a spectacular world champion, no big deal.


My strategy, which I made up on the spot, was either to score one point or last more than one minute before losing 10-0. (We have a 10-point mercy rule.) I didn’t score, but I came close (my punch landed a half-second after hers), and I did manage to last 1:44 before being mercied out. I also got a bloody cheek from an ax kick to the face (stupid velcro straps on those foot pads), which I wore like a badge of honour.


It wasn’t easy fighting this champion who’s at least 20 years younger than me, but even though I lost 10-0 I fought as well as I could and lasted longer than I hoped.

So there. Now we bring back some hardware and some extremely valuable lessons learned. And I couldn’t be happier.


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Not just for kicks – blog post #4

This blog post is dedicated to Peter and Judy Morden:

This quote appeared on our dojo’s social media profiles late on September 23, the night before a big tournament in London, Ontario, where we (cough) were hoping to win lots of medals and trophies…


I cough because of course we’re all aware of the truth of the quote. It’s not the trophies and medals that matter. It’s the lessons our children learn. But as I like to say, winning is kind of fun, too. It just can’t be the goal of the thing. Whatever it is you or your children do in life, you’ll find that winning is – to use the cliché – not everything. Learning is. Growing is. Becoming the best person you can be – now that’s getting closer to the point of it.

One of the issues I had with allowing my daughter to join the tournament team was that I suspected her of wanting to look cool in special team uniforms more than I thought she actually wanted to work hard and compete and improve her art. We talked about this many times over the last couple of years and while she admits the uniforms appeal to her (and not without reason; they do look cool), it wasn’t her prime motivation.

That’s excellent. Because there is something really neat about those uniforms. It’s not that they look cool. It’s that they look extremely cool on someone who’s earned the right to wear them. Which we did by qualifying for Team Canada.

We just got Catherine’s shiny new Team Canada traditional gi this week and she was extraordinarily keen to try it on after months of waiting for it. I must say it looks good on her. I think it makes her feel good, too, as you can see from her facial expression.


Team jackets aren’t bad either, huh?

It’s always a good idea to make children earn their cool stuff, ideally after learning a few good lessons about perseverance, hard work humility, adversity and grit. It wasn’t an easy road; we both got bumps, bruises, and many tournament losses, I mean, learning experiences. We both went through the same process to earn the right to wear the national team uniforms, and what a great experience it was to share that journey with her.

She had to work very hard to earn it, she had to work past her initial “learning experiences” and come back stronger, and in the end, on the weekend of the national qualifier, she had to perform under pressure. She earned her spot, and she knows it. And when she put on that gi this week, her face showed it. It was a big realization for her. I could talk to her about the benefits of hard work for 16 years it would not have the same impact as receiving this famous gi she’s earned through her own hard work.

Yeah, one day that exceedingly awesome white gi will be in a box somewhere gathering dust. But I sincerely hope the lessons she’s learned earning it stay with her forever.


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Normal by death (a novel) – chapter sixty

[previous chapter] [start from the beginning]

When the phone rang again she was tempted to yell into it without even checking who it was. But her decades of PR kicked in and she resisted the urge. A good thing, too, because as it turns out it wasn’t her mom.

“Martina Labrecque?”


“Jason Martel from CBC News.”

“Oh, hi.”

“Hi. I saw your Facebook page and the reaction it has generated on Facebook and other social media sites. Would you have a few minutes to talk to me about it?”


“Great, thanks. What made you want to start this page?”

“Well, that’s going to sound funny to you, but I was watching a panel show on Sunday on CBC. You were there, with a lawyer and a doctor.”

“Martin Greenberg.”

“That’s right. And he was talking about the impact non-loving parents can have on their children and it just hit me like a ton of bricks. Like he was talking about me, personally. So I decided to write that post and start my page to express sympathy for the accused – not support, you understand; I don’t think there’s anyone who wants to be seen justifying or excusing murder – but sympathy for what he must have gone through.”

“I see your post hit a nerve. You’ve gone viral.”

“Yes, and that tells me there is rather a lot more of this going on out there, of parents failing their children in all kinds of ways, and that makes me terribly sad.”

“Did your mother react to your page and posting?”

“Actually she did, just a few minutes before you called she was on the phone with me.”

“What was her reaction?”

“It wasn’t positive.”

“Was she mad at you?”

“No, not so much mad as unbelieving. She accused me of making things up.”

“I see.”

“And of course, you as an outsider are in no position to judge who’s right and who’s wrong, who’s lying and who’s delusional.”

“I didn’t say anything!”

“No, but you don’t need to. I’ve had plenty of people reacting the way you are right now; there is always a bit of silence while you try to figure out where the truth lies and realize you can’t. That’s OK. I’ve made my peace with that. My goal is not to convince the world that I’m in the right.”

“Can I ask you what your goal is, then?”

“Sure, but you’ll probably find it doesn’t amount to much. My goal is simply to stop lying to myself about the pain I’ve been feeling all these years. It’s to acknowledge that pain and what it did to me.”

“So you’re angry?”

“No, not anymore.”


“You’re surprised?”

“Well, it’s just that I get the sense that a lot of the people who write on your Facebook page have anger issues. I mean, there’s a lot of rage going on, and I just don’t think it’s very positive…”

“So I can assume you have good, loving parents, then?”

“Well, yes, as a matter of fact I do.”

“I’m happy for you.”

“But what about the anger, do you not see how negative it is?”

“No, not really. I mean, in my own experience, when I finally allowed myself to acknowledge the pain I’d been living with for decades, yes, there was anger. I’ll admit that. And it wasn’t the good, productive kind of anger either. It was the kind of anger that makes you want to hit back, you know what I mean?”

“I think so.”

“But the funny thing is, it didn’t last. It was replaced with a huge sense of relief, like I didn’t have to carry this enormous burden anymore. I was finally free! When my mother phoned me just a few minutes ago I did not yell at her. She tried to pick a fight with me, accusing me of making stuff up, of embarrassing her, but I just didn’t fight back! I don’t have to anymore. And that’s what I would like your readers and viewers to understand; that it’s not just about getting angry, or getting even, or – like Mr. Toussignant is accused of having done – taking revenge. To me and to all those people who have reached out to me via that Facebook page, it’s about getting rid of that burden we’ve been carrying all along.”

“You mean, the pain?”

“Yes, the pain, and also the guilt. It will be hard to understand for you, who have loving parents, but a child who grows up without being hugged by his or her mother thinks it’s his or her fault the mother isn’t more loving. Those kids think there’s something wrong with them! If there wasn’t anything wrong with them, their parents would love them! Some of those kids grow up being berated or insulted all the time by their parents. I certainly was – I was called all kinds of bad names by my mother, constantly criticized. She called me dirty, lazy, stupid, ugly, and many more hurtful things. Well, after years of being called these things, you start to believe it, you know? So there’s a certain level of guilt mixed in there with the pain. It varies from person to person, I’m sure, but judging from the messages I’ve been getting these past few days, it looks like most people in situations like mine have a burden that contains both pain and guilt. So yeah, finally getting rid of that burden after all those years feels really good.”

“Have you been following the Toussignant trial?”


“What do you think so far?”

“Well, I think it’s horrible to arrive at a point where a son feels compelled to kill his parents – if that is indeed what he has done. We will see what the jury thinks of his story, but whatever the verdict, I feel sorry for the accused and his pain. I just wish he could have found a way to deal with it that didn’t end up with his parents dead. And that’s another reason why I started my Facebook page. I wanted to find a way to tell other people who are suffering alone that they don’t need to continue suffering and that, as cheesy as it sounds, they are not alone. That there’s a good, positive way out of the pain. There’s no way to erase the past and make the hurt not happen, but there are ways to find happiness regardless.”

“Have you found happiness, then?”

“Not yet, no. I mean, not quite. But I think I’m a lot closer to it than I was two weeks ago, so that’s progress, right?”

“Right. This is all fascinating, and I would like your permission to quote you in my story.”

“Sure, no problem.”

“I am also working on another TV special for the weekend, and ideally I would like to have you on the program to talk about your experience, your Facebook page and the reaction you got from it. I especially like what you just told me about the positive ways there are of moving forward, or getting past the pain, and of finding some kind of peace or happiness. I confess I’ve been getting thousands of comments from viewers and readers about this story, more than I’ve ever received on any other story I’ve covered. We also got huge feedback after the special panel we did with the lawyer and the psychologist. This trial has obviously struck a chord. Personally I don’t want to sit there and talk about the sensationalist aspects of the story, because I find this crass and negative. Instead I’d really like to get past that and focus instead on the larger implications of the problems people like you and Jean-François Toussignant face, and on the possibilities there are of finding a positive way forward. Would you be interested in talking about this on the air?”

“I’d be happy to.”

“Great! I’ll try to convince the show’s producers that my idea is the right one and if they agree I’ll give you a call back. Thanks a lot for your time today!”

“You’re welcome.”

Martina couldn’t help smiling as she hit the “end call” button on her phone. How weirdly natural it felt to talk about her private life to a complete stranger, and one who didn’t look a day past 20 years old at that. But she did remember herself starting out in her business, and getting a hand up from a few sympathetic older folks who saw her potential and helped her develop it. Maybe now it was time for her to pay back fate for that help and give this young reporter a chance to do something good.

[next chapter]


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An evening in beautiful Morrisburg

Eldest (aka VP Marketing, Runnymede Films) and I had the great pleasure of spending the evening with the Canadian Club of Morrisburg and District. I gave a talk on How to change the world and have fun doing it, while Eldest manned the merchandise table and otherwise enjoyed herself at the head table, being piped into the room and so on.

It’s not every “almost-ten-year-old” who is able to take part in this sort of event, but this one sure likes grown-up gatherings where you get to toast the Queen. She even asked an excellent question about my talk (which I swear I didn’t plant). I’m quite pleased to watch her turn into a very pleasant young lady, and kinda proud, too.


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Normal by death (a novel) – chapter fifty-nine

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Martina’s Facebook page had exploded when reports of the courtroom drama started to emerge. Martina herself missed the action; she was at work when it happened, and had deliberately logged out of Facebook so as not to be overly distracted by it.

She took a peek around 4:30, after her boss had left for a late-day meeting from which he would most likely not come back. And wow. She was still reading the new messages when the 6 o’clock news started on a television screen somewhere in the distance. She watched the report by Jason Martel and went back to her computer to add her own two cents.

Drama in the courtroom today when the sister of the accused, Nathalie Toussignant, was forced by aggressive questioning to come to grips with her own feelings of resentment towards her late parents. Apparently she ended up screaming, in tears, that yes, she hated them, too.

I don’t know Nathalie Toussignant, but right now if I did I would hug her close and tell her she’ll be fine. Because she has finally allowed herself to acknowledge her long-standing pain.

I’ve been there, too. My pain had been buried pretty deep, at least as far as I was aware. I was probably kidding myself; I’ll bet you I had been aware of this pain for many decades without letting that knowledge come into my consciousness.

Pain is funny that way. It’s there, but you can mask it. Personally, I used work and overwork to keep from feeling mine. It worked for the longest time. But the reason I started writing about my experiences is the Toussignant siblings. When I first heard about his defence, that’s when my own pain about my own childhood rushed to the front of my consciousness. It would no longer be ignored.

My original post from last week was painful, as I explained then. It’s good that I did not have to write it while on the stand, in view of the public, because I probably would have looked and sounded much worse than Nathalie Toussignant did in court today.

Because you see, the thing about delayed pain is that when you finally start to feel it, it really hurts and it will not relent until you’ve let it express itself. And how does pain express itself? By hurting. So in a funny sense, the more you acknowledge your pain, the more it hurts you. Which is some twisted kind of reward for finally allowing it to come to the surface, but never mind that for now.

The point I’m trying to make is, for those of us who are new at acknowledging our pain, Nathalie Toussignant’s experience today is one we feel very deeply in our bones. And I for one sympathize with her.

Martina sat back and watched the reactions pour in. They were coming fast and furious. A few were derisive and made fun of Nathalie Toussignant for being a crybaby on the stand, but most of them were, like hers, deeply and sincerely sympathetic.

She jumped when her phone rang.


“I see you’ve decided to take your writing seriously.”

“Oh. Hi Mom.”

“I cannot believe the things you write, Martina. I don’t know where you get the idea that it’s OK to invent stories to make yourself sound interesting, but I assure you it’s only making you look more pathetic.”

“More pathetic, huh? That’s really all you have to say about it?”

“Oh, no. I have a lot more to say about it. Starting with the fact that this little Facebook thing is going to cost you your job, and you better not come to me for help finding another one.”

“Right. Because you were so helpful in getting me this one…”

“Your sarcasm does not impress me, Martina. And I mean it; when you’re jobless and you’ve run out of money, don’t come here for help.”

“I have money, Mom. More than I need.”

“Yeah, I’m sure you do. But did you think about what people would say when you wrote that string of lies? Do you have any idea how horrible it is to learn that your own daughter is writing mean things about you from a friend of my cousin Louise, who saw your page on a CBC story online and told Louise who told me? You didn’t even have the guts to tell me yourself?”

It was such a string of disconnected criticisms that Martina didn’t have any idea what to address first. The need to make that decision, too, would not be ignored any longer.

“Bye, Mom. Don’t bother calling again.”

And that would be that.

[next chapter]


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Not just for kicks – blog post #3

This post is dedicated to friend/partner/fellow competitor Martina Couture:

This weekend we are going to London (Ontario) for this exciting tournament hosted by the legendary Bernardo team. We are suitably pumped, and also of course anxious. Tournaments tend to do that to us.

This is one of the last tournaments before Worlds (there’s another one the weekend before we leave for Ireland), and we are anxious to do well because heck, we’ve been training like machines all summer and surely this ought to show somewhere, right?

At the same time, what if we find out that all even with all this training we still are the same old selves we used to be? That’s where nerves come in and make a mess of your mental game.

People often misunderestimate (yes, I know – I love that word so I use it) the importance of the mental game. They look at their favourite athlete doing their thing and doing it well and think, well of course they’re awesome – they train all the time and they’re secretly supernatural beings from the planet MusKulo35. But it’s not true. They are normal human beings who train like crazy in all kinds of ways. And like us, most of the work they need to do is the kind that happens between the ears.

That’s true for a lot of things that aren’t related to competitive karate. Anything we do that’s a challenge for us – at work, at home, anywhere – requires a huge amount of mental work.

There’s the part where you shout at yourself to train harder. Your body wants to give up, you’re tired, you don’t feel like it, there’s a movie you want to watch, and instead you’re training and sweating and there seems to be no end of it and you just want to take a break and go lie down for a minute. You know that part? You have to shout at it (some days, you have to shriek) to go away. Because you’re working to get better and that’s all that really matters.

There is also the stupid little voice in your head that keeps telling you what a gigantic fool you are to think you can compete with the best. Who are you kidding? You’re just this ordinary person and look how awesome the other ones are. You don’t belong in that ring. Go home, you silly moron.

Yes, you have to shout at this one, too. Quite a bit, and very loudly. Personally, I recommend swear words. That little voice is your enemy and the enemy will not stop until it has destroyed you. Don’t let that little #^Y#@ get away with it. Show it no mercy.

Also, you need to have a strategy.

Mine for this weekend is to remind myself that I’ve actually done quite well in my last few tournaments – getting a bunch of second places in kata and winning two of the last three competitions in point sparring. So I’m going to walk in there like I belong because you know what? I do.

How do you strategize for a 9-year-old? I’m not inside my daughter’s head, but I know her fairly well, so here’s what we’ve been doing: For kata we have worked very hard together to make sure she has all her details right, if only to make sure she walks in there confident that she knows her stuff. For point sparring (where she has not done as well this year), she has a two-tier goal: To try to win her first fight and, failing that, to lose by fewer than four points (which is the margin she lost by last time).

When I first suggested that two-tier goal to her she breathed a huge sigh a relief. I think she was afraid I’d demand a gold medal or something, and that made her quite a bit anxious. I don’t want to do that. She has been sparring a lot this summer and she is getting much better, but there is always a balance when dealing with kids between pushing them to push themselves and pushing them so much they hate their sport and you. Each kid is different and you need to know sometimes when to back off a bit.

I hope I’ve hit the right balance with her, and that she does well enough in London this weekend to get a solid confidence boost that will help carry her through the last bit of training before Worlds and ideally give her a sense of how she should go about hitting important targets later in life.

I’ll let you know how it went.


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