Sunday, May 16, 2010

First, Do No Harm

As a young coach I made a mistake that taught me a lesson I remember to this day.  I had been coaching a young boy in a recreational gymnastics class for a number of weeks.  He was working hard, I was working hard, but he just wasn't picking up any new skills.  One day in a moment of frustration I made a comment under my breath about his inability to learn.  My stupidity immediately hit me like a ton of bricks.  I spun around, and was thankful to see that no one had heard what I said.  My feeling of relief was tremendous and equalled the disappointment in myself.  What if he had heard me?  I would have never forgotten the harm I caused that child (I haven't forgotten the incident even though there was no harm done).  What if any of the other boys had heard me?  After all, I was a role model for the group. 

I didn't sleep well for a few days.  I began to realize that success is relative to the individual and that past performance and current goals play a large role in determining success.  While success for my class 3 boys team was learning double backs off high bar, success for this boy was learning how to stand up from a forward roll without putting his hands on the floor.  I began looking forward to next weeks class.  That student deserved more from me and I wanted very badly to give him more.  When he made that roll we celebrated, just like we did for the double backs.  From that point on, he experienced success more often.  He didn't stay with gymnastics long.  It was hard for him.  But, I hope he learned something good from his time in the sport.  I know I did.

A hundred successes won't make up for one incident that does harm to a child.  I was lucky.  My mistake was only noticed by myself.  I hope others learn from my mistake and understand the first mandate of a good coach will be to do no harm.  All other goals should follow.


wordsmith said...

Outstanding post!

I remember one experience I had shortly after I began teaching kids. After one rec class, I told this girl that she did really well today. I was sincere about that, but said it flippantly without thinking twice about it.

The next week the mom asks me if I am the coach who told Molly she did really well. She said her daughter came home very excited and told her how she listened well, paid attention, and stood in line and that the new coach said she did well, and added that "..and I think he really likes me."

The mom was very grateful. I was a little shaken up, however, realizing that you can never take things lightly. That everything you do and just never know how profound of an effect or impression they might leave on a person.

I was listening to "Into the Woods" around this time, and these lines in the musical stuck:

"You move just a finger
say the slightest word
something's bound to linger...
be heard."

As a coach, as a teacher, as a human being, you just never know the extent of influence and ripple effects you are leaving upon the world.

Mark Folger said...

So true! Never underestimate the influence you have on the children you teach. And, remember it goes both ways, good and bad. Choose to do good!