Sunday, December 2, 2012

An Unexpected Journey

Wendy & I are big BIG fans of J.R.R. Tolkien and his classics The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Although I’m not an avid reader in general, we’ve read (and listened to!) both novels numerous times, and we prioritized a Middle-Earth theme when we built our home theatre, “ArneStar,” in 2004. I even won a costume contest through The Minnesota Orchestra when I dressed up (and acted like) Gimli for “The Lord of the Rings Symphony” in 2006! Needless to say, we’re beside ourselves with excitement about The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, to be released in theatres in two weeks. If the Lord wills (James 4:15), our biggest test of fandom will go way beyond seeing the midnight show at 12:01 a.m. on Dec. 14: Wendy & I are saving up for a 20th anniversary adventure to New Zealand to explore the islands where all six films were (and are being) made!

Far beyond this merely being an indulgent column about one of my geeky hobbies, I believe there are many parallels betweeen Bilbo’s adventure and the experience of each Jughead & coach as well as Wendy & me through this company.  Nearly every Jughead starts with an eager (and/or apprehensive) desire to juggle due to a friend, sibling, or a parent prodding him or her, but many unexpected joys and trials ensue over the course of months & years of involvement. For the coaches who were once Jugheads themselves, they’ve had to make the challenging leap from teen to adult authority figure, exercising at a much deeper level the mentorship skills they began honing as student leaders. For Wendy, her journey started by supporting my humble coaching endeavor through childcare in 1994-1998, then helping me launch the business full-time in 1999, then leaving her own career in graphic design in 2004 to more fully dedicate herself to our “hobbit hole” home and our “unexpected party” of a company. For me, I suppose I’d need a whole book to describe how this has been an unexpected journey, but suffice it to say that I especially relate to Bilbo.

I was “nudged out of the door” not by Gandalf, but by God who called me to youth work. I’ve been supported not by a Company of Dwarves, Elves, and other Middle-Earth allies, but families, friends, a school district, and now a church who rents us space.  I am on a quest neither to find treasure in a mountain nor destroy an evil dragon, but to lay up treasures in Heaven and destroy my own sinful tendencies to be selfish and the Captain of My Soul.

Although fictitious, The Hobbit offers many life lessons. The beauty of the real tale of JH is that all members and leaders are simutaneously beneficiaries and benefactors of life lessons learned and taught by and through them. May each person who “dares” to call themselves a Jughead go away positively changed for life, applying the lessons of this adventure to the many stops on “the road” that “goes ever on and on.”

Developing Youth Through Juggling Since 1994,

Coach Paul

Monday, November 5, 2012

Graceful Finishes Build Character

When Billy Watson helped to transform some of our basic coaching techniques beginning in 2004 (while he was still a student!), he introduced to us the idea of short, controlled juggling runs (aka The Pyramid), because the most common drops occur at the beginning or the end of patterns. In a gym with hundreds of props, it’s also important that each Jughead cleans up when finished, rather than carelessly leaving props lying everywhere.

My family really helped to reinforce the virtue of finishing well. When I threatened to quit my 7th grade basketball team due to my coach disciplining me, my brother convinced me to stay, lest I jeopardize any opportunity to play in 8th grade. I didn’t quit, and we won the city championship the next year. By contrast, I did choose to cut short my junior year track season due to my lead in the spring play. My coach used me as an example to the other runners because he appreciated my honorable good-bye rather than walking away without a word. I thrived even more in theatre with closure from the track team and a blessing from my coach.

Here at JH, we try to emphasize follow-through on all commitments, from finishing a snack (I hate wasting food) to finishing a contest (even if in last place) to finishing a school year or season well. I realize that life gets busy and priorities change. If kids drop out suddenly (especially mid-year), the biggest challenges include loss of passing partners and loss of friendships for the fellow members who stay & the coaches who have mentored. At the least, I encourage any Jughead moving on to leave gracefully with a formal good-bye, whether in writing or in person. Only 47 kids in company history graduated rather than quit, so the latter is the norm. How one moves on, however, is still an important way—perhaps the last way—that youth are developed through juggling. Finish well, for character’s sake!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Value of a Service

We live in a service-oriented society. Car maintenance, haircuts, and financial/legal services come to mind as common areas where people hire out needed work. Then there’s the recreational services common in our culture such as music lessons, exercise classes, karate schools...and juggling clubs. I’ve observed that the prevalence of services to middle class America has skyrocketed in the past 20 years or so. While not everyone can afford all the services our society has to offer, nearly everyone chooses to afford some services.

Some services are critical: if the furnace goes out, it needs to be fixed. Others are negotiable: my sister, Jean, has saved hundreds each year by cutting her sons’ hair their whole lives. Some are key for certain times of life but may be short-lived: consider private music lessons and well-intentioned-but-seldom-used gym memberships. Then there are some services that may not be critical, but offer such enrichment to life that they are thought of more as a lifestyle than as a conscious expense. It’s just part of the family budget, often as crucial to overall well-being as dental cleanings and oil changes.

 I know that nearly all families choose JH membership for their kids instead of something else. Even if money isn’t an issue, time almost always is. For the vast majority of JH constituents, juggling stays a priority at least year-to-year due to the social, athletic, artistic, and long-term benefits to the childhood and adolescence of each Jughead. In the full swing of our 19th year as a company, I hope that you see the value of this grass roots, tuition-based, optional, extra-curricular youth development service.  One fall session costs more than a year’s worth of typical haircuts, but my continual prayer is that each club day serves toward a lifetime of memories, changed lives, and loving relationships that far exceed that of merely having a busier schedule or lighter pocketbook.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Reflections on 20 Years of Youth Work

In my summer column, I described how God called me away from my planned vocation in talk radio and to the unlikely career of older child care manager, which led to the one-of-a-kind business that I’ve now run for 14 years after leaving Wise Guys in 1998.  But whether going to Wolf Ridge with the Wise Guys, IJA with the Jugheads, or any myriad of experiences in between, youth work has been the calling that ties together the last 20 years, three months, and 11 days of my career.

I’ve had interpersonal fulfillment in youth work too vast to even summarize here, but suffice it to say that my direct experience of making a difference in (many) kids’ lives, and the amazing support from the parents over the years, are major factors keeping me going.  I realize that 20 years really isn’t a big deal from the perspective of a classroom teacher; I respect that profession greatly, and I don’t know that I could have kept up with either those early hours or the perpetual “home-work” had I pursued my thought of teaching high school English.  However, as my job more closely resembles a youth pastor than a teacher, and since the average youth pastor reputedly only lasts about 3-5 years, 20 years is a long haul indeed!

Given my career origins in child care management, I must admit that the term “juggling coach” has always been a little uncomfortable for me, since I have neither formal training nor can I match the skills of Ultimate Club (let alone my coaching staff!).  However, by God’s grace, I do consider myself a “life coach,” and I can think of no greater joy than to comprehensively influence and guide others who seek, or at least are open to, mentorship. 

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve had real desires—and real attempts—to change my vocation since 1992, but I’ve been met with closed doors.  Even when I hired Scott in ‘07, I dreamed of pulling back more and more in order to try out new sidelines.  However, even if my technical skills are lacking and my ego has longed for other forms of talent-based accolades, my passion for youth work has had a 2nd (or 20th?) wind in the last couple of years, and contentment is now more common than elusive for me.

So, I can say after 20 years that despite all of the world-class accolades this company has garnered, juggling is still just a tool—a means to an end—toward true youth development.

Developing Youth Through Juggling Since 1994,

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Expect Disappointment

A subtle but clever line in the classic fantasy movie “The Princess Bride” (1987) is delivered by the Spaniard Inigo Montoya who insists that he must know the identity of his swordfight partner, Dread Pirate Roberts.  Roberts’ wry refusal: “Get used to disappointment.”  I often think of this silly but truth-hinting phrase when I either experience disappointment or mentor others who do (and that includes all of us).  Whether failed by circumstances, other people, ourselves, or unrealistic (or even realistic) expectations, disappointment is simply a fact of life.  However, the truth is in the phrase, “get used to...”  That implies expect it, but it need not imply “stop trying” or “give up one’s goals & dreams.” 

Taking just the realm of the performing arts, I’ve had plenty of stark disappointments since childhood.  But as I’ve learned to “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:18, NIV), I’ve not merely accepted disappointment; I’ve often (but certainly not always) seen God’s will in my let-downs!  My most significant let-down applicable to this company?  Had I made it past auditions for Disney World or Radio AAHS in 1994, I wouldn’t have stayed on at Wise Guys in Edina...which led to my founding of JUGHEADS. 

Give thanks for the “drops” in life.  Don’t cause them, but expect them.  They often lead to wonderful and unexpected recoveries!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Driver’s License and Other Little Goals

There are big goals in life, but the seemingly insignificant little goals are the key to actually achieving the big ones.  For me, one of these goals is my driver’s license renewal due up about a month from now.  For the first time in 15 years, I want to (honestly) list my weight as “170 lbs.”  Silly? Maybe. Vain?  Perhaps, especially now that I’m sharing it so publicly.  But in the wake of my yo-yo weights from about 1997-2007, I developed an iron will regarding my current resolve to get fit and stay fit--whether it be for marathons or a simple I.D. card.  Hey, in my present hiatus from road racing, my D.L. renewal is a different kind of objective deadline! 

I could go on about how my personality is extremely predisposed toward goal achievement once I set my mind on a thing.  But suffice it to say that my D.L. weight goal relates to other seemingly insiginificant or even silly goals that the coaches, student leaders, and I reinforce in the Jugheads on a daily basis.  “Stay in rhythm in warm-ups.  Don’t pick up a drop ‘til after a pose or a dance step.  Learn and use leaders’ and peers’ names.  Achieve all of the Rec. standards by the end of the year.   Be honest with your snack choices and clean-up.  Inform us of rehearsal absences. Be courteous in team drills.”  Now, none of these are explicit (or implicit) grad. standards for any high school represented among our members, nor will college or job applications ask for a candidate’s five ball record.  However, little goals lead to bigger goals, and discipline in small areas usually leads to discipline in bigger areas.  Jesus put it this way in a parable to His followers:  “You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much” (Matt. 25:21, ESV). 

In a previous column, I listed my Top Five reasons I maintain my personal fitness: God, Marriage, Career, Quality of Life, and Longevity.  However, something as simple and finite as a D.L. renewal is a very reachable standard, especially after 4.5 years of training.  This season is all about the Jugheads achieving reachable standards, and it’s the little choices and little goals they’ve set and achieved since last fall or over the past 10 years that add up to all current successes.  Be faithful in a little now, and one cannot know the positive impact awaiting down
the road--in both mundane and grand manifestations.

Juggling Priorities--Part 1 & 2


If you wouldn’t have guessed it, I come from a family of wordsmiths.  All four of my siblings and I enjoy writing in various forms, from regular community newspaper columns to poetry to some dabbling in fiction.  Since my early years of youth work, I’ve thought about writing a book combining life experiences with wisdom/mentorship-type advice.  That, combined with my passion for discipline in several diverse areas of life, caused my brother (Jim) to come up with a book title for my hopeful endeavor: Juggling Priorities.  While this book isn’t even in its planning stages yet, it gives me an excuse to focus the opening columns of 2012 on that title. This month is about JUGHEADS’ priorities; next month will be about life’s priorities.

January through July are markedly more busy for this company than our half-summer shut-down and our contests-and-standards-driven fall months.  The first half of each year has big events that permeate almost everything we do here: regional festivals (MadFest & MONDO); the EYJA Showcase; Juggle Jam; and the IJA Festival.  With these immovable milestones in mind, each club day places a priority on routine planning, skill honing, team creativity, music studying, and goal setting.  Even though this makes for a relatively highly structured atmosphere, the free times are all the more sweet: e.g., snack conversations, basketball or combat at club’s end, and a bonding that takes place because of such extra efforts to work toward common goals.

As Wendy, the coaches & I juggle the priorities of what it takes to make JH tick, I’ll venture to say that we keep five basic balls in the air: hospitality for the members; clear communication to the parents; maintaining and adding to traditions that give us roots and ever-expanding branches and fruit; keeping finances solvent regarding prices, equipment, rent, supplies, and compensation; and ongoing leadership development so that the company runs smoothly at all levels.

Running a juggling company is a balancing act in itself.  May this year be richly rewarding as we all juggle priorities within this truly unique priority of youth juggling.    


Last month, I covered five basic priorities in the life of this company.  Now, I’ll cover seven basic priorities that this director tries to keep “in the air” for balance in life and success in youth work:

1.  Spiritual. Commitment to regular Bible reading, prayer, church, fellowship, and designed acts of kindness (service).
2.  Relational. God, marriage, family, friends, JH families.
3.  Physical. Running, core, nutrition, hydration, sleep, rest.
4.  Financial. Stewarded giving, saving, spending, investing.
5.  Musical. Daily banjo practice toward mid-life proficiency.
6.  Intellectual. Regular reading: news, growth, inspiration.
7.  Professional. Career development, driven largely by all of the above—plus my own childhood and adolescent experiences.

That’s a lot of “balls” to keep in the air on a (nearly) daily basis! However, I’ve personally learned and admonished the Jugheads that discipline in one area of life almost always leads to discipline in other areas of life.  Imbalance in any given area requires a re-examination of one’s priorities, but if the priorities are right, one can add to, rather than have to choose between, wise priorities for a full life.

 Admittedly, I have an advantage with certain personal goals and priorities due to the fact that Wendy & I are unable to have biological children, and we’ve not felt led (and/or we’ve had doors closed) to adopt children.  However, such a place in life as a married middle-aged childless man in the prime of life with a strong Christian faith and a conscientiousness nature to live a fruitful life drives my goals.  If I ever write a self-help book, I suppose I could devote at least an entire chapter to each of the above priorities (and perhaps others) and how they continue to shape who I am.

Meanwhile, I’ll continue to admonish the Jugheads, student leaders, and even the coaches to make the most of one’s time both in and out of this company.  Personal priorities may differ from person to person, but one key to eventual success and balance is choosing a set of priorities, learning to juggle them, and recovering from the drops that mark every human life. Dream big, discipline the details, and pray for joy in the journey.