Industrious: Anna Chiacchia On Work Ethic, Laziness, Alcohol, And Letting Go Of The Need To Be Liked

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Junior Anna Chiacchia (photo by Ron Szot)

As a freshman, Anna Chiacchia didn’t start in any games for the women’s basketball team. She played at third singles for the women’s tennis team.

Now a junior, Chiacchia is averaging 26 minutes a game in basketball and is second on the team in scoring. In tennis she’s already considered one of the best players in Fredonia history. In the spring she trains with me four days a week; in the summer she rises at 5 a.m. to train with her sister before work.

As she walked in for her interview she had just found out she was being nominated as a “Fredonia Superstar,” awarded to Fredonia’s top eight students each year. She treated the news as unremarkable

Chiacchia is the most industrious student-athlete I’ve ever coached, the character trait John Wooden made a cornerstone of his basketball program at UCLA:

Ryan Maloney: You receive a lot of accolades, like being nominated to be one of the top eight students at this school. Why do you think you get awards like this?

Anna Chiacchia: I think it’s because I’m a hard worker. I’ve always been very aware of what I need to accomplish, and I’ve never been one to be lazy. Growing up, my parents never had to yell at me about getting homework done or being on top of things. You can see that with my sisters, too.

Maloney: I would think if you sisters have that work ethic it would be something about the way you were parented. Can you speak to that?

Chiacchia: My parents were pretty strict growing up. I didn’t see a PG-13 movie until I was 13; they were strict about when we went to bed, getting our work done and stuff like that. We were always good about it, but they were also strict. I credit a lot to my parents, especially once I came to college. They were right about everything, as much as I hate to admit it.

Maloney: Like what?

Chiacchia: Just everything: academically, athletically, socially, they were right about everything. Just getting to college and meeting people–some people have terrible social skills and manners. I feel like my parents were always on top of teaching us how to greet people, how to look people in the eye, our manners. They wanted us to be very good at socializing. They got it into our heads how important it was to build connections with people. And even with drinking, I always wondered why they were so weird about how I was against drinking. They never said, “Wow, good for you that you hate it so much, Anna.” They were more like, “Anna, you need to be more accepting of it.” I always thought, “Why would you want me to be? Aren’t you happy that I don’t want to do that stuff?” But they said, “No, Anna, this is something you’re going to be around your entire life whether you like it or not.” I used to be completely against drinking and I would judge people who did it: “That’s disgusting.” Since college I feel like I don’t judge people for drinking. I understand why my parents were on me about it, because it’s something that’s going to be around in all social situations.

Maloney: When did they start talking to you about that?

Chiacchia: In high school, because whenever kids would party I told them how I didn’t want to drink. Once I got into my senior year of high school and college it was, “Anna, you have to get used to this stuff.” I was very judgemental and kept to myself in high school; I didn’t understand why people couldn’t just stick to the rules and do what they’re supposed to do. In a way, my parents did raise me like that, to do what I’m supposed to do, but that’s all I knew and that’s all I really wanted to do. Then, coming to Fredonia there are parties that go on, and I think I’ve become more accepting of it. I’ve grown a lot as a person; I don’t judge people at all. I get where they’re coming from and why they do it. I don’t agree with all of it, but I get the part of having fun, when before I’d be like, “Why do they need to drink? That’s disgusting.” I’ve grown a lot since coming to college in that sense.

Maloney: How else have you grown?

Chiacchia: My first two years I got too scared when I was playing–I think too much. Whenever I’m doing bad it’s because I’m thinking too much; I’m thinking, “Am I doing what my coach wants me to do?”, “Am I doing what the players on the team want me to do?” I want to please everyone, and I’m thinking too much instead of just playing. I think that was my problem, and now I’m finally to the point–not that I don’t care about people–but I’ve stopped caring what they think and I just go out there and play. I’ve always had the ability to play like this, but I think I’m finally to the point mentally where I’m like, “I’m just going to play. I don’t care if people get mad that I didn’t pass to them.” I’m not saying I play selfishly, but I feel like I’m doing better in that sense. I had to grow a lot to get out my own head, worrying about other people judging me or me judging other people.

Maloney: Why did you develop this aversion to drinking in the first place if your parents didn’t put it on you?

Chiacchia: I don’t know where it came from. Growing up my parents were very strict with certain things–my mom would cover our eyes during a kissing scene at a movie, but at some point I guess I developed a judgement of anything that wasn’t safe and within the rules. I just always stuck to the rules, and I was like, “I don’t get why people have to travel outside the rules. Why can’t people just do what they’re supposed to?” Then I finally realized,especially this year, that you don’t always have to be doing the “right thing.” It’s not fun.

Maloney: Can you talk more extensively about going to Waldorf and how it influenced you? And also what it is, because a lot of people won’t know.

Chiacchia: I went to Aurora Waldorf School, which is one of many Waldorf schools around the world. They care more about developing you as a learner and a person than they do about cramming you with facts. I felt like leaving Waldorf I didn’t know as many facts as other people knew coming from public school, but I felt like I was stronger at retaining knowledge, being skilled at other things, and learning things faster and easier than other students do. They’re huge with having kids draw and paint, do woodwork and sewing and knitting, and we did this thing called “Eurythmy,” which is basically using your body to tell a story and move to music. We went outside a lot more and interacted with each other instead of sitting in a classroom and memorizing facts. We didn’t have tests or homework and we didn’t take notes; they taught us and we just sat there and had to retain the knowledge. We all had these things called “Main Lesson Books.” At the beginning of each day we had “Main Lesson.” Our Main Lesson might be physics, and then our main lesson would be history, instead of going from class to class.

Maloney: So there was one teacher for all the lessons?

Chiacchia: Yes, except for classes like German, or music, or things like that. We learn most things in Main Lesson. When they were done with their lesson we would open our Main Lesson Book and we had to write down what we learned. They would tell it to us as a story, and then we had to write down what we remember from the story. That’s how we learned. Leaving Waldorf, I don’t think I knew as much facts-wise, but I think I learned how to learn better than other students. I even had to learn how to juggle.

Maloney: You had to learn how to juggle?

Chiacchia: Yes, to pass Waldorf it’s one of the requirements for gym. You had to be able to juggle, to do double dutch, to be able to make a stool, a bowl, a spoon, sew your own pajamas, knit socks. It sounds strange, but it really helps develop different parts of your brain. I know the juggling thing sounds stupid, but if you think about it it helps kids with coordination so much. They develop you a lot as a person.

Maloney: I think part of it is that public school, and school in general, only values a certain kind of intelligence. It doesn’t really value physical intelligences.

Chiacchia: I feel like public schools are very focused on you knowing the facts to pass the exams. Waldorf doesn’t care about that; we don’t have exams; we don’t have any of that. They care more about how we are as people as a whole.

Maloney: Then how did you transition to high school? And how did basketball and tennis come into the picture?

Chiacchia: My parents were huge about getting us all involved in sports.

Maloney: Before high school?

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Photo by Ron Szot

Chiacchia: Before anything. As soon as we could play sports they got us involved. I’ve done everything: soccer, swimming, tennis, basketball, volleyball, track, skiing, lacrosse, almost every sport. At Waldorf there isn’t much athletically, just that there’s one sport for every season. So in the fall everyone had to play soccer, in the winter it’s basketball, and in the spring it’s track. Everyone had to do it. We would just play a couple schools and that’s it. But then transitioning from Waldorf to high school I went from a class of 15 to a class of 300. For once there are people in school who I’ve never seen before. In Waldorf you know who everyone is. There, your class is almost like your family. Transitioning to high school was a huge change. I was miserable. I was exhausted, too. I remember describing it to my parents: “I feel like a robot. This is awful.” Everything was so robotic: You go to the same desk, the bell rings, you walk the same way, sit down at the next desk, and you’re on a set, timed schedule of going from class to class. You finish that, go to sports practice, and go home. I remember as soon as I got home I would pass out right after I ate dinner. I wasn’t even doing as much physical activity, but sitting in class I felt like a robot and it was exhausting. I hated that feeling. It was a weird transition coming from Waldorf where it’s so much more free-spirited, to feeling like a robot. I wasn’t used to it. Kids were taken aback because I had never used a Scantron before; I got my first test and didn’t know what it was. My first quarter of high school was definitely my worst because I was having trouble getting homework done and doing all these other things. Eventually I got the hang of it and my grades were good, but it was a difficult transition. Even sports-wise, I didn’t know what to do; I originally did volleyball and track, and I finally got my groove and started doing tennis. I quit track because I’d go to school all day, go to track practice, drive two hours to Jamestown to practice basketball–because I played travel basketball there–drive two hours back. SAT’s were coming up so I was studying for those, and trying to do all this other homework was too much.

Maloney: Why did you go to Jamestown? Wasn’t there a club closer?

Chiacchia: At the time I’d done every AAU (Athletic Amateur Union) team around and I just couldn’t find a good team. It’s easy for AAU teams to get very. . .

Maloney: Political?

Chiacchia: Yes, very political. That’s why I went to Jamestown.

Maloney: Is Jamestown better?

Chiacchia: It was far away from all the political nonsense that goes on in Buffalo. Plus, Ken Ricker is the coach in Jamestown and he’s great. I love him. He did a lot for me basketball-wise. He cares so much about all of us; I look up to him so much. He’s even the one who encouraged me to come to Fredonia. Jenna (Einink) played for him as well, and that’s how I met Jenna originally. She came here and he said, “Jenna goes there too. You should go look at the school.” He really got me back on track for basketball, because I wasn’t playing like myself. I was miserable. I still wanted to do it but I couldn’t figure out why. Once I went to Jamestown I realized why again.

Maloney: What are your goals moving forward?

Chiacchia: I feel like my whole life I’ve been set and stuck on getting my schoolwork done, going to sports, practices, lifting, and games. I know I said I’ve branched out from that, but I still feel like I don’t know what to do outside of that. I know it will hit me eventually: In a year-and-a-half I’ll have to graduate and do something else.

Maloney: Do you know what that something else might be?

Chiacchia: I don’t know. Now that I’m majoring in computer science I know I can’t just do computers all the time. And I know I still love doing math, but then I can’t picture myself giving up sports entirely either. If I could somehow combine all that–I don’t know, maybe some sort of statistics analysis for sports. I feel like I can’t just go to no sports whatsoever after college.

Maloney: Didn’t you want to be an actuary?

Chiacchia: Yes, I looked at that.

Maloney: Is it not an option?

Chiacchia: No, it’s still an option. There’s a long list of things I could do with math. I just don’t know what to do.

Maloney: There’s so many things you could do.

Chiacchia: I know, there are so many things and I feel like I need to start figuring that out. Also I’m so overwhelmed with everything else that it’s hard to think about what’s beyond this.

Maloney: A more general question: If you had to put a billboard in front of Dods Hall that every athlete looks at as they walk by, what would go on your billboard?

Chiacchia: I think people just need to learn how to work hard. Everyone’s so lazy nowadays. That’s the thing that was huge for my parents: People are just lazy. That’s why people don’t succeed. It’s not because they lack the skills or lack the capabilities in general, it’s because they’re lazy. A lot of people don’t accomplish their goals because they are usually sitting around or wasting their time with distractions like video games or social media. My dad has always been a super hard worker, and that’s what he credits his success to. He’ll admit that he’s not the best lawyer or the smartest person in the room, but he always works hard at everything he does–same with my mom. That’s huge for them. My dad hates those days when I come home and do nothing.

Maloney: What does he have you do?

Chiacchia: He wants me to do anything: “Get up. Go to the gym. Do something. Anything.”

Maloney: You’re the only athlete I’ve had that willingly trains with me four-days-a-week, then asks for more workouts over the summer, and gets on my case if I don’t get them to you in time. That’s extraordinarily rare.

Chiacchia: Because I want to get better. I know what I need to do. I don’t want to get lazy, and I know for me, working out twice-a-week isn’t enough. No offense to other people or programs. . .

Maloney: Well, I agree with you. If you want to get better two-days-a-week isn’t enough.

Chiacchia: And I like how it feels. This summer I’d wake up at five in the morning, go do your workouts, then I’d go work for my dad from 9-5, or teach tennis lessons, and I felt good about everything. I see what my dad talks about. When I’m being lazy I know it, and I know I need to do something about it. Even when I do have a break, which doesn’t happen much, I have a hard time sitting and doing nothing. I like when I’m on that busy schedule. People just become too lazy and they become too accepting of it.

Maloney: Accepting that they are lazy?

Chiacchia: Yes, they’re like, “Oh, I’m lazy. Oh, I can’t do it. Oh, I’m failing, whatever.” You’ll hear that all the time, instead of working hard and trying to get better. That’s a lot of why people don’t do well in class, or don’t come to workouts, or turn in assignments late. They just accept their laziness. How are you okay with that?