After her first day attempting to teach Taekwondo to high schoolers at Calamvale Special School, Australian Taekwondo champion Jess Borg was ready to quit.
“I like a challenge but this one really took me aback,” she says re-living her first experience of a special needs class.
“They weren’t having this. I walked out of it saying ‘what the hell’? That was terrible on my behalf. I don’t even know what I taught.”
A month and half later, the 20-year-old has learned lessons that have transformed her thinking and her approach to competition.
“Honestly, it has been an amazing experience,” she says now, beaming.
“It’s changed my attitude towards everything.”
Calamvale Kickstarters is a story of courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control and indomitable spirit
Like all Kickstarters instructors, Jess was equipped with a specially designed and fully planned curriculum (https://www.taekwondokickstarters.com.au/for-deliverers).
Unfortunately, when Jess turned up full of energy and possibilities, her sceptical and easily distracted special school Taekwondo rookies didn’t match her enthusiasm or her focus and were in no mood to concentrate or co-operate.
So, the young 4th dan faced a moment of reckoning early in her Kickstarters coaching career.
“Me being me, I talk really fast,” she explains.
“They were getting frustrated with that and I was getting frustrated that they couldn’t understand me.”
And so, she stopped speaking.
Jess sat down with the students, asked for feedback and listened. She also sought advice from her Mum, who has experience in the disability sector.
Then Jess re-set and returned; with a new approach.
“I came back for that second session and I was nervous,” she says.
“I had to slow everything down, take it back and go from there.
“I turned what we were doing into games. It made it more interesting and fun. I was able to adapt to them really well and they were really good at it and they loved it. They were getting involved and we turned Taekwondo into a Simon Says game. I had to think on my feet because I had to adapt so quickly.”
The Queensland and Australian champion, who trains under Yong Hur at One Taekwondo, has coached kids before. And as a categorised competitive combat athlete who is studying a business-law double degree at Griffith University and speaks publicly on behalf of the Olympics Unleashed program (https://www.olympics.com.au/resources/articles/olympics-unleashed/), Jess isn’t easy to shake or stir.
Prioritising Poomsae proved a masterstroke.
“They loved it,” Jess says.
“They went away and practised and I was just so impressed. We’d be building on that and they’d be more engaged and they’d be asking questions. The teachers were getting involved which is awesome so the kids felt more comfortable.”
Suddenly, the job Jess was afraid to go to had become a source of pride and passion. Students who would not go near her on Day 1 now high five her after they nail a move.
“I walked in not knowing what the heck I was going to be faced with,” she says.
“I was freaking out. I was nervous. I was uncomfortable. I didn’t know if I wanted to keep going.
“But once you are in there and playing with them you see their goals, their ambitions.
“To see them get the hang of something and to see them when they’ve got it right, the smiles, yelling and cheering.
“It just warms your heart to think you can bring that much joy to someone. Even when they are having a bad day.”
Jess’s perseverance has clearly had an effect.
When asked to write about the experience, the students confess to being Taekwondo converts.
“I loved the punching and twisting,” said Loki.
“Miss Jess was kind, patient and friendly.”
“I liked punching and kicking,” said Ayant.
“I hope we see you again.”
Jess is convinced the lessons she has learned in Kickstarters class will serve her in elite competition.
“Now I know how to adapt my mindset,” she says.
“I take a step back and I ask ‘what is not working right now and what can I change?’
“I have to think on my feet and you have to do that when you are fighting.
“I’ve learned how to communicate better. I’ve learned how to adapt. I’ve learned so much more about myself from them.”
What was supposed to be a bit of pocket money turned out to be the toughest battle of Jess Borg’s career.
And in this fight, everybody won.