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The shot put training field.
"Pause for a moment," Dai Li said, clapping. "Come over here. Let's have a meeting first."
The five young athletes immediately paused and gathered around Dai Li. Dai Li swept his eyes amongst them with a serious look on his face, then asked, "You know how lousy your training has been these days, don't you? I am confused. Why are you fooling around all day and not taking the training seriously? Did I do something that offended you, and now you are holding a grudge against me?"
Dai Li said this on purpose. What he really wanted was to make the athletes talk. Before any of the five men responded, Dai Li pointed at a young athlete. "Zhanshan Zhao, you go first."
"No, sir, absolutely not." Zhao shook his head right away.
"Now you go, Jiankang Chen," Dai Li said, pointing at another athlete.
"We just met each other a few days ago. How could I possibly hold a grudge against you?" Chen answered with a grin.
"So nobody is upset with me?" Dai Li kept on glancing at them. "Let's make things clear today. Why are you refusing to take neither the training nor my instructions seriously? Are you treating me with contempt because I am new?"
"No, sir, why would we?" Chen continued with a grin. The others nodded in agreement.
Dai Li observed their facial expressions, and noticed that Bin Wang seemed to have something to say. He called his name right away. "Bin Wang, go ahead!"
"Me? Go where?" Wang was not expecting his name to be called, which caught him off guard.
"Just say whatever is on your mind. Be a man and speak your mind. Don't hide it inside!" Dai Li gave a straightforward answer.
Bin Wang hesitated for a moment, then gnawed his teeth. "Well sir, since you asked, let me say it out loud. We all know that you know a thing or two, and you pointed out our technical flaws on your first day. But to us it doesn't matter anymore whether we correct the flaws or not. We did not make it onto the sports team, which means our athlete career path has come to an end."
Bin Wang's words seemed to be the ice-breaker. Lei Qin was next to him and made the same comment. "Mr. Li, we all know that you are doing this for our good. But we truly feel that everything you are doing is meaningless. It's a waste of time to spend your hours and energy on us. If we were truly talented, we would have been selected by the sports team."
"Indeed. It's not that we don't want to train hard. But no matter how hard we train, it won't change the outcome." Jiankang Chen's grin had disappeared. "I'll be 18 years old after this summer. I would not have stayed here if I had anywhere else to go. My family actually wants me to attend a technical school for a vocational program. But the semester won't begin until September. So here I am now."
"Sir, please save your energy. We are not cut out to be athletes. As a matter of fact, none of us intend to be athletes any longer, and we all have back-up plans figured out." Bin Wang pointed at the others. "Jiankang Chen is going to a technical school. Zhanshan Zhao is going back home to run a small business with his mom. Lei Qin is heading south for work. Feng Luo wants to go back to school and retake the college entrance exam. As of me, there is an industrial park under construction in my town. I'm gonna try my luck after the construction is finished and see if I can find a job there."
This is exactly what Zhongyi Xu had told me. They have not achieved something in a long time and are giving up on themselves.
Dai Li looked at them sternly and uttered, "I haven't given up on you. But you have given up on yourselves already? You are not losers. You are still on your way to success. But now you are giving up before your arrive! I don't know how long you have been practicing shot put, but I know you have made tremendous progress. If someday in the future you look back and see how you had given up, wouldn't you feel regret?"
The five young athletes fell into silence. They had been training for shot put for many years before being selected by the provincial youth team. It had been their career for years. If they were to give it up due to lack of achievement, there would surely have been regret in their hearts.
"I may regret it, but that's the reality!" Lei Qin spoke first. "When we first arrived here we were ambitious, thinking now that we were on the provincial youth team, it was our time to shine. We had dreamed of entering the provincial sports team, and even the national team. We also dreamed of winning the gold and silver medals, and breaking the world record like Feixiang Lin. But our dreams were only dreams..."
Lei Qin looked emotional and was about to cry. He took a deep breath to calm himself, and continued. "I remember the dozens of people entering the youth team with me. We were going through the same training and had the same effort. Yet every day someone was falling behind. Fewer and fewer people stayed. I was trying my best every day, but all I could see was being left behind by those gifted ones. There's nothing we can do about it."
Pain and denial glistened in Qin's eyes. The same emotion began to appear on the faces of the others. Dai Li listened carefully, with the images of Qin's story in his mind.
A young man was at the top of the school team, the county team, and even the city team. He had joined the provincial team full of expectations, where everybody was as good and as talented as him. This was where the best athletes in the entire province gathered, yet he was no longer the best of the best.
He had gone from "extraordinary" to just "ordinary." The coach did not treat him differently, and assigned him the same training as everybody else. Gradually, he fell behind and could no longer catch up. He had always savored victory in the past, but now he had to swallow the bitterness of failure! Then, finally, he lost the confidence he had once had. Without the same ambition, he had given up!
This was a common situation on the youth team because there were not enough coaches. Especially during the new athletes' arrival each year, one coach was usually working with dozens of athletes. If one coach had too many athletes to train, it was just like a physical education class. The coach was unable to focus on every single athlete. They had to assign the tasks like a physical education teacher and ask the athletes to complete them on their own.
In this process, a difference was developing among the athletes. The top-performing athletes gained more attention from the coach and more guidance in turn. The under-performing athletes were gradually ignored and became the "stragglers." As the strong grew stronger, the weak grew weaker.
Dai Li never believed in this "one-pot-stew" training approach. To him, each athlete should be trained in accordance with his aptitude. It was like cooking dumplings—the dumplings that cooked faster would be the first to float to the top, but that did not mean the ones slower to rise were any less delicious.
"I understand it now," Dai Li said, letting out a long sigh. "I understand how you feel. But I'm begging you at the same time, please do not give up. Try again. I pointed out your technical flaws. I believe as long as you make the corrections, your performance will surely improve greatly. I hope you can give me another chance by following my instructions and see if it works. This is also another chance for yourselves, your last chance to try. Even if you don't continue your career path as athletes in the future, at least you can say you tried. There won't be any regret in your sports career as long as you try."
The five men fell into silence at the same time. Nobody replied to Dai Li. But Dai Li saw different responses from their facial expressions. Zhanshan Zhao and Bin Wang seemed lost. Lei Qin appeared to be struggling and conflicted internally. Feng Luo showed refusal to cooperate. Jiankang Chen was indifferent to Dai Li's remarks.
Qin is the breakthrough! Dai Li made his judgement immediately. Compared to the others, Qin's struggle was the most vulnerable, and also the easiest response to take advantage of. He would never turn Dai Li down.
"Qin, your biggest problem is putting your elbow too high when you thrust. Let's try lowering your elbow and see what happens." Dai Li dragged Qin to the throwing circle before he could speak. "Let's start with the throwing movement without the shot," Dai Li ordered. Qin was cooperative.
"Stop. Right here. Lower your elbow and try again..."
"Stop. Don't lower it on purpose. Be natural and try again...
"Right. Excellent, just like this. Now try again with the shot."
Qin learned to lower his elbow with Dai Li's instructions. This, however, was just the beginning. It would take a lot more practice to form a habit.
Dai Li handed the shot to Qin. "Qin, this is actual training. Try it the way I just showed you and see how far you can throw." As he was speaking, Dai Li entered the system and reloaded the explosive force halo.
During the training sessions these past few days, Dai Li did not load the explosive force halo, as he wanted to see the actual results. But now, in order to make Qin believe in his effective instruction, he decided to use the explosive force halo.
Qin stood in the throwing circle and adjusted his breath, preparing for the put.
"Pay attention to your elbow, and think back to what you just did. Be natural. Yes, just like this!" Dai Li continued to instruct him by his side. Qin made a solid thrust, and threw the shot.
Pong! The shot hit the ground with a dull sound. Everybody witnessed the shot land beyond the 15 meter marking.
"15 meters! Did I see it clearly? Qin threw beyond 15 meters! 14 meters was good enough for him on most days." The four athletes opened their eyes wide with astonishment.
"15 meters? I threw 15 meters? I've never thrown 15 meters!" Qin's heart was filled with a long-gone, thrilling joy. He looked at Dai Li the very next second. Mr. Li is right! His instructions really worked! Maybe I should do what he told me, and give it one last try!
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