Friday, October 30, 2009

The Great Blueness

The other day it was too rainy outside to play our usual golf so we decided to do indoor creative movement instead. One of the keys to what I do is flexibility, in basically every sense of the word. Physical, mental and emotional. No possibility for golf? Doesn’t mean we should miss an afternoon together. During my time with children over the years one thing has become increasingly clear to me: it is less about what we do and more about the attitude with which we do it. Of course there are certain golf swings I want them to practice and techniques that are important but if they aren’t focused and having a good time, it really doesn’t matter what gets done.

Cut to last week. I decided to do a few stories with the children. The one I started with is called The Great Blueness and it’s currently out of print. My copy is old, worn and pretty much falling apart at the seams but it’s a favorite and I treasure it. To summarize, The Great Blueness is about a town with no color. The book opens with a wizard waking up in the time of “the great greyness.” He decides to make a magic potion and at the bottom of the pot appears the color blue. Everyone is thrilled and they paint the whole town blue. After awhile, though, the town begins to feel sad. There is simply too much blue. The wizard goes back down into his basement and creates the color yellow. Everything is wonderful! The town is happy and thriving until everything becomes too bright and people can’t see. On it goes. Red makes people angry, etc. The wizard is busy at work and the pot begins to overflow as all the colors come tumbling out. The world is beautiful and bright in a variety of different shades! The end.
I love this book and so do the children. We always have a lot of fun with it and last week was no exception. What I realized in doing it, though, is how symbolic it is for the way I see life and education: no one color works, we need them all. Holistic. I come back to this word over and over again. It is what I strive for in my classroom always. A holistic experience. I want these children to work their bodies, minds and hearts because I know that they are all important components of education. When children are taught in a holistic environment and all their faculties are strengthened they feel stable, centered and, yes, more able and willing to take on the daily challenges that throw all of us, regardless of age, off balance.
Flexibility. If the red is broken, so what? Grab a yellow. If the green doesn’t work? Create a blue. If it’s raining outside? Stay indoors. You might just get to paint the world a million shades of color.

Have a great week!


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Unknown Impact of Community

The meditation on community began for me last weekend when I took Christine D'Ercole’s willPower and Grace class at Equinox. As most of you know fitness is a big part of my life and I absolutely love my time in Christine’s class. Her methodology is amazing and I always leave feeling empowered and centered. She goes through mantras throughout her class (re: yes I can!) and the entire experience is incredible…one I thought my students should have, as well.

Enter the classroom. I was working on tree pose with my five year olds and some of them were having trouble getting up. I decided to bring willPower and Grace in right then and there. It started like this: I told them about my own experience in the class and how it had helped me with some challenging things in my life and then I said, “sometimes I hear some of you say, ‘I can’t,” and you know what? We are going to change our words. Let’s say to ourselves, out loud, ‘I can, I can, I can.’” Within moments most of the students were up in tree pose. Sure they were still wobbly but they got the message loud and clear: my words affect my actions.

What I kept thinking was: other people’s words affect my actions, too. So much of what we say and do goes unnoticed, or so we think. Does everyone tell their spin instructor that she really got you through a tough day with her encouragement or the man who serves you your local Starbucks that his smile was just what you needed this morning?

As I was leaving class the other day a little boy was putting his sock on and he was having some trouble. Practically in tears, he looked up at me and asked, very politely, if he might have some help. Normally I would have dropped to my knees and yanked that sock right on, but I recognized this moment. In school we call these moments, “teaching moments,” moments that go beyond the instance themselves; moments that have the possibility to impart some wisdom. I crouched down on his level and said, “Do you remember what we were talking about in class? How our words affect the things we do? Let’s say it together now, ‘I can, I can, I can.’” We said it together over and over but he continued to struggle. What I noticed was, despite not getting the sock on, he was calm about it. It was as if he knew the sock would eventually get on. He wasn’t upset anymore. A few more minutes went by and I busied myself with shuffling papers, watching him out of the corner of my eye. Finally, after what must have been a good five minutes, he leapt up from the floor and bellowed, “I did it!” Pure, absolute joy. A moment, I hope, that will stick with him when other challenges arise, as well.
willPower and Grace has proved to be an amazing thing in my classroom. The other day one of my students exclaimed, “let’s have an ‘I can’ parade!” and we marched around the room chanting, “I can.” They love it. Like me in Christine’s class they feel empowered and centered. Her gift has spread.

Does she know? Well she does because I made a point of telling her and we are working on some exciting things together, actually, but how many other people in my life slip through the cracks without being acknowledged? I have been trying to make it a point to say, “thank you,” whenever I can, to acknowledge the people who make my world what it is on every single level.

The other day I was talking to my friend Rebecca who runs a children’s program called Nurturing Narratives. We were talking about partnering our respective programs and the topic of service got brought up. I have always considered myself to be incredibly lucky that my job is something that brings me so much joy but what I realized last week is that my job brings me joy because I have the ability to serve others, to bring fun and creativity to children’s lives. As Rebecca and I said, “is there anything better?”
A mother came up to me after a golf session a few days ago and said, “what you do is about so much more than golf. You bring these children you.” It was an extraordinary compliment and one I have been thinking a lot about. That is the service we can provide: simply bringing the world us. Whoever you are and whatever you do is enough because by being authentic, you touch people. Thank those in your life that bring you them. Say it out loud. I think it’s time we started recognizing the amazing community around us and how vital a role each of us plays in making it all work.

Have a wonderful week!


Tuesday, October 6, 2009


SNAG (Starting New at Golf) is a unique program designed by experts in the field of golf. By using a variety of training tools people can learn and develop in the sport off the golf course. SNAG is a perfect compliment to the game as well as a valuable program for those without a readily available golf course (such as people in urban areas). I first fell in love with SNAG’s methods years ago and I have employed them in my program ever since. SNAG is perfect for children. It can look, just sitting on the sidelines, like these children are simply snapping ribbons around and rolling balls but they are really learning valuable tools to help them in the game of golf such as a variety of swing techniques, patience, concentration, wrist control and determination. I often say golf is the absolute mind-body sport and the SNAG tools reflect that philosophy perfectly. From their specially designed balls to their specific bulls-eye clubs they not only make golf fun for the children but also absolutely accessible.

SNAG is fun! The SNAG tools are all brightly colored and colorfully named and the children love playing with the Snagazoo (a device used to work on a chip shot), the Snapper (a long ribbon used to work on wrist control) and the Rollers and Launchers (both modified clubs). For a complete list of training tools and to learn a bit more about the program, please visit:

See you all outside!


An Afternoon in the Park

Last week we had our second outdoor Urban Golf Academy session at 97th and 5th. There is a beautiful bend in the park filled with lots of open, green grass…the perfect place to practice our favorite game.
I arrive about thirty minutes before the children and start setting up. We have lots of different tools we use to work on every aspect of the sport. I set up four different stations. There are four shots in golf: the putt, chip, pitch and full swing shot. We worked on the putt, chip and full swing at these stations.

-The first I call the “little points” game where children work on lining the ball up and rolling it towards a "Rollerama" (makeshift Velco bench) with different numbers on it. The goal is to have the ball line up with the number 1 which is in the center of the Rollerama (the balls adhere to the Velcro). The children put or "roll" (in SNAG terms) the ball towards the target.

-The second station I set up is to work on full swing. The children use modified golf clubs to work on their swing. They stand in color-organized hula-hoops that tell them where their arms should be for their swing. For instance, if they want to work on a regular shot, they are meant to stay within the blue area of the hoop.

-The third station I set up is where we practice “chipping.” Chipping is a skill used to get the ball up and into the air when it doesn’t have a great distance to travel but the grass is tall and the ball needs height. In this station we work with a tool called a snagazoo that makes a funny sound when the children bend their wrist. For chipping shots the swing is very small and the goal is to keep the snagazoo perfectly silent (quite a feat amongst the youngsters).

-The forth area I set up is with the snapper. The snapper is a stick with a long, red ribbon attached to the end. If anyone has ever seen rhythmic gymnastics it is basically the same tool they use. The snapper is meant to help children with wrist control. When they are working their wrists in the ideal way the ribbon will “snap,” hence its name.

The children start to arrive around 3:10 but one boy comes around 3:00. “Does this mean we can start earlier?” he asks eagerly. Definitely a sign of a good afternoon ahead.

Once all the children arrive and get settled (we have about 10 today, aged 4-8), I call everyone over to a rock a few paces away for a “quick meeting” before we begin. I go over a bit of what we are going to do today, who is going to start where, and we’re off.

The girls head on over to the snapper while the older boys start working on their swing and the younger boys work on the snagazoo and the “little points” game. I am careful to keep an eye on the overall dynamics of the group and split my attention equally. Luckily my amazing co-teacher, Monica, and a trusty assistant are there to help. I walk around to the different stations and engage with each of the children to get a feel for how they are doing and what level they are at today. One of the girls get’s a “bulls-eye” on the little-points game and three of her friends cheer. High five’s all around.

After about ten or fifteen minutes I call the children in for another “quick meeting.” I tell them what I saw. I always start with positive reinforcement and go over (quite pointedly) what worked. I use different children as examples and we have a brief question-answer. Then we split up again and rotate stations. After each switch we have a quick meeting. It is a great way to pull the energy of the group together and make sure things don’t get too fractured or splintered as well as give the children the opportunity to get fast feedback and responses from me.

We always pick up all the balls together as I want the children to be engaged and active in every aspect of the sport. We switch three times, enough for every child to get to practice at every station. Once we have finished we all gather for a final meeting, under a tree by the sidewalk. As we sit in the shade we talk about how each of us has a different recipe for our golf swing with very special ingredients all our own. I ask each child what they think their key ingredient is and help them to understand that the things they need to work on are not problems, but unique skills. There is always some chatter and a lot of noise coming from the snagazoos, but the children often seem calmer after their golf practice then before. Despite the heat and the activity they have come together to focus, improve and most importantly, have fun. High five’s all around, indeed.

The Urban Golf Academy is now back from Montauk Downs Golf Course and we're holding sessions in a number of locations throughout the city. If you’d like to find out where and when our sessions are please refer to our schedule on the sidebar of the blog or feel free to email me.

See you all outside!