Thursday, February 26, 2015

Letter to a Coach

I am writing to you tonight as a parent and an educator.  It has come to my attention that there is an opportunity for boys to participate in Spring Basketball but that a decision has yet to be made as to whom is invited.  One decision would be that only boys already on the team are allowed to play and the other is that it is open to everyone. Everyone is included.

I would like to state my argument for the latter.  My son was heart-broken this fall when he did not "make the team". While he may not be the caliber player that others his age are, he should have the chance to be on the team.   Being on the team is a lot more than playing basketball.  Being on the team is building skills in a whole array of human development.  Being on the team is being included among his peers and developing socially.  Being on the team is learning from role models about coaching and listening and thinking as a team.  Being on the team is hard work.  Being on the team is representing his school with pride and confidence.  Being on the team is learning from experts how to become a better player.  Just saying "I'm on the team" is a spiritual mantra.  

I wonder as I fall asleep at night what we are doing to our kids.  Besides making them very sad, we are breaking them.  I know we are doing our best in so many ways to create the next generation of Great, but we should not be about 'survival of the fittest' in elementary school.  If we are cutting, we are about breaking down the weak to see if they are strong enough. Sorry, but 10-year-olds are not in that game, or should not be in that game.  They are still trying to figure out so much.  We have no right as parents and coaches and educators to start "breaking" them. Shame on us if we do. Telling a 10, 11, 12, 13-year-old, "you're not good enough" is abusive.  The depression rates of teens are rising.  Not just among those who are broken by being cut from the team, but even those who are broken by being pushed to excel by coaches and parents who yell and scream and force their children to conform to their expectation and standard of who they should be.  We are responsible.   

While some argue that people are leveled in all areas of life, grammar school is not the place to start.  First of all, we do not have college recruiters in the stands banking on the next Hall of Famer.  We do not only teach math to those who are experts, we teach math to everyone because we recognize that there are developmental skills to math and some just learn them earlier.  While we have accelerated math programs, imagine not teaching math to first graders who "just don't show the potential".  We don't say, let them take music because they don't get math.  We teach everyone at his or her developmental level and we provide opportunities to support both ends of the spectrum.  

Same with the soloist in the orchestra.  The child who plays the solo or who is the lead in the play has great natural talent, or has had countless hours of tutoring and coaching.  I take nothing away from that child for excelling. Awesome for you.  But there is a whole group of kids who are doing their best to play the triangle and their music has to be heard too.  I can take nothing away from that child for trying.  There is a whole stage crew responsible for the make up and costume changes that allow the lead to perform in her magical way.  Without the whole team present, the lead fails.  

One of my great mentors in teaching once told the story that he did not actually read a book until he was in college. The only reason he got to college was his passion for running.  Once there, he was given a book on running by a friend.  It changed his life.  After that he wanted to read everything he got his hands on.  He got it because he saw that reading could help him with his passion.  Imagine if he never made it to college because he just wasn't good enough.  He went on to get his doctorate in education and has countless accolades in his career.  He is the greatest teacher I ever had and I was already 35 when I met him.  Everyone develops at his or her own pace.  

A good coach, like a good teacher, can teach something to everyone.  A good coach realizes that each kid who goes out for the team has a drive and a motivation to do his or her best.  A good coach accepts that they cannot only focus on the 'elite' player, but must also bring out the best in each and every player in front of him.  And that in doing so he is setting the bar high for all, as well as setting a good example for how we treat others.  We are a school, a place to learn, a place that believes in the potential of all to learn, not just those who already get it.  

Friday, February 13, 2015

Dancing Eating Goldfish

Well, there should be a comma in there to show that I don't mean the goldfish are dancing.  Or something like that.  I am referring to a first grader of mine who, with utter abandon, was dancing to a video with a mouthful of goldfish that he was trying to eat while singing Apples and Bananas by Raffi.
For a split second I just wished I could have been him.  The pure expression of joy on his face, the complete surrender to the music, the total engagement with the sounds and the rhythms did nothing to distract him from what he also needed to accomplish, which was eating his snack.  Others sat and passively watched the video and then watched the Dancer with a bit of confusion.  "How do you do that?" they seemed to think, while they hurriedly tried to finish their snacks so that then they would be able to get up and dance.  He was the Dancer, the Singer, the Eater, and the Participator all in complete flow.
Most of my days are spent Dancing Eating Goldfish.  I am trying to be mom, be teacher, be employee, be wife, be daughter, be sister, be friend, not to mention be cook, be housekeeper, be decorator, be washer, be picker upper, be banker, be, be, be.  Just like I thought about the Dancer, sometimes I think I might choke.  Just spit this out and let me do one thing at a time.  But it doesn't work that way.  Life comes at you with all things at once.  You can't put one thing down before another is flying at you.  It's not juggling.  That would be easy.  No, it's Dancing Eating Goldfish.  Try it.  It's not easy.  And I mean keep your feet moving, grab a few more goldfish, get those hands in the air, now sing along with the words.  Then grab a few more goldfish.  But the Dancer was having SO MUCH FUN!
So there is the secret.  He was loving it.  Utter Abandon.  Don't worry about the untied shoelace, the pencil on the floor that you might trip over.  Just dance and keep singing.  And keep eating.  Just don't choke.

How do we not choke?

I've been looking forward to today for several weeks now.  I am home alone.  No kids.  No obligations, except that I should be reading but I'm writing.  The kids have a half day.  I have 4 hours to myself.  It is a mini-retreat.  I will not be Dancing Eating Goldfish today.  At least not until 12:30.  I am sitting in my family room trying to keep the fire lit.  (Literally.  I'm just really bad at lighting fires.)  I have a pile of books to read.  But this is my stuff.   I have my tea, my oatmeal, my blanket and my Netflix if I get bored.  I won't.  It is peaceful.  I just need these moments once in a while.  Once every few weeks.  Then I can go back to Dancing Eating Goldfish.