Monday, April 12, 2010

Never Give Up on a Child

Coaches, teachers, parents, administrators, and counselors should never give up on a child. Children need and want guidance. They may not act like it, but they do. They may not overtly accept the bits of wisdom given to them by the adults in their lives and they may not act like the role models in their lives, but they are learning from both.

Many times after practice I have thought there is nothing more I can do for a child because (any of these reasons):

She doesn’t want to be here.
She doesn’t listen.
She can’t make corrections.
She doesn’t understand what we’re trying to accomplish.
She’s lazy.
She’s easily distracted (and, therefore, becomes a distraction).
She’s afraid of her skills.
She’s given up on herself.

I’ll admit. There have been times when I thought some of my gymnasts should give up the sport and do something else. Then I came to my senses and asked myself WHY some of the things on this list may be true. Why doesn’t she want to be at practice? Why is she easily distracted? Why is she not progressing?

There are a lot of variables that play a role in an athlete’s success/failure and persistence/dropout. I like to visualize these variables on a bar graph, each variable with its own level of competence. If an athlete is frustrated, unmotivated, and just not having fun, the cause is likely rooted in one of the areas represented by a low bar on the graph.

I’ve heard these thousands of times (and I’ve said them myself), “she just doesn’t listen” or “she just isn’t flexible” or “she’s lazy” or the one that inspired this blog post “I just don’t know what to do for her until she fixes (insert weak area here).” Whoa, stop the presses, rewind. “until SHE fixes”? Do we really want to tell our athletes “when you’ve fixed your problems, come to me and I’ll coach you.” Of course we don’t. It’s our job to look at the bar graph and help our athletes be competent in all areas. An extra amount of time and effort should be given to the lowest bars on the graph. After all, those are the variables which will most likely cause frustration, practices that aren’t fun, and dropout. The greatest gains will be made in the areas of least competence. A gymnast who improves her flexibility from 90% competency to 95% will benefit from that, but not near as much as the gymnast who improves listening skills from 20% to 40%.

As coaches, we get frustrated with our athletes. At that point, we can give support or give up. If you’ve found this blog, I’m sure you’re the “give support” kind of coach. Look at your mental bar graph for the athlete in question and find solutions to make those lower bars grow. A coach who pulls a kid back from a near dropout to watch her succeed over and over in the future is a well rewarded coach. It’s okay to ask yourself “what if I’d given up?” I hope none of us ever have to ask ourselves “what if I’d tried a little harder?”

(as a level 5, this gymnast was the slowest runner on my team.  Give up?  I don't think so.)

One more note. If we applied the bar graph idea to ourselves as coaches, what would it look like? What variables would be on my list and how competent am I in each? I’m not sure I want to look that hard at my coaching abilities (and lack thereof). But, I’m going to do that right now and see what I learn.

Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear your comments and please visit again.

Photo courtesy of Mark Baldwin, 2010 Folger's New Year Invitational