Thursday, December 20, 2012


Poor Ebenezer Scrooge, he’ll always be labeled the bad guy.  “Don’t be a Scrooge.”  We’ve all heard it.  Maybe it’s been said to us.  But have we ever been told to “Be a Scrooge?” probably not.  Sure, there are many characteristics in the pre-Christmas Ebenezer that we should not emulate, but what about the lesson he learned from his visitors?  Don’t we all benefit from learning the same lesson?  Shouldn’t we all look at the world as Scrooge did beginning that Christmas day?

Go ahead, be a Scrooge.  Use your strengths, your assets to benefit others who are lacking in those areas.

Be a Scrooge.  Learn from those you thought were less fortunate than you. 

Be a Scrooge.  Take advantage of your opportunities to do some good.

Be a Scrooge.  Learn that fortune doesn’t always lie in wealth, skills or intelligence, but sometimes resides in the heart.

Be a Scrooge.  Disperse kind greetings to your friends, neighbors and acquaintances.

Be a Scrooge.  Do kind deeds anonymously.

Be a Scrooge.  Show that you care.

Be a Scrooge.  Let your emotions be seen.

What were Charles Dickens’ intentions when developing the character of Ebenezer Scrooge?  Was his intent to create the image of a bad man or was his hope that we’d come away remembering the changed Scrooge, the new and improved Scrooge?  I believe it was the latter because doing so will help guide our own lives, making his lesson complete.  And, for that reason, I say

Go ahead
Be a Scrooge

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


                There are many variables that have an effect on an athlete’s motivation.  Many of those can be influenced by a coach.  This influence should be applied with the intention of improving the athlete’s sports skills and life skills.  In no particular order, here are several factors that influence our athlete’s motivation and some thoughts on how coaches can make the sports experience more rewarding by understanding the effect they have on an athlete’s emotional state.
                SUCCESS – I know I said “in no particular order”, but this one has to be at the top.  In the big picture, there is no greater motivator than success.  But, we must also understand the opposite of this statement.  There is no greater frustrater than failure.  Multiple successes will lead to progressive motivation.  Multiple failures will lead to progressive frustration.  It is critical that coaches help their athletes define success in a broad way (continual improvement) and in ways specific to a task (goals).  Success should be based on accomplishing things that are largely under the control of the athlete and should involve a comparison to past performance and current goals.  This makes goal setting critical to repetitive success and continued motivation.
                COMPETENCE – Coaches must understand the differences between actual competence and perceived competence.  Actual competence is an athlete’s real ability to succeed.  Perceived competence is the athlete’s belief in their ability to succeed.  In the world of motivation, perceived competence has the greater effect on an athlete.  The ideal situation would be for these to be the same.  We’ve all evaluated athletes as lacking confidence or being over-confident.  These terms refer to the difference, positively or negatively, between actual competence and perceived competence.  We all want confident athletes.  I will argue that we should try to keep our athletes’ perception of their abilities close to reality but that the most confident athletes are those who perceive their abilities as being slightly better than their actual ability (perceived competence is higher than actual competence).
                FEEDBACK – Many times athletes, particularly young athletes, look at the reaction of others to help them interpret results of their performance.  In sports, feedback comes from many directions (coaches, teammates, parents, officials, spectators and the performance itself).  As athletes mature a larger percentage of their feedback will come from self-evaluation.  But with children it’s critical that coaches provide positive feedback that guides the young athlete’s evaluation of their performance.  They will be looking for it and the coach is the best place to find it.  99.9% of performances have some good in them.  Find it and comment on it first, then make corrections.  Tie the corrections to the good points in an effort to help create a complete picture for the athlete.  In that rare occasion when nothing goes right I suggest laughing it off with an “oops” or “let’s pretend you didn’t take that turn.” 
                GOAL SETTING – Setting good goals is a skill that improves with practice and education.  Either formally or informally coaches should be teaching the goal setting process to their athletes.  Good goals lead to repetitive success.  Repetitive success increases motivation.  Goals should be progressive, creating many small steps to help an athlete reach a larger goal.  Each step is an opportunity to experience success and celebrate.  Goals that are too hard or too easy are not motivating.  If you have an athlete that consistently chooses very easy or extremely hard goals, you have an athlete with a confidence (perceived competence) and/or motivation problem.  As coaches, it is our job to help this athlete get back on a goal-track that is nearer to reality so they can experience meaningful success.
                These are four key factors that affect an athlete’s motivation.  As you can see, a coach can and should influence these factors in large ways.  A master-motivator will monitor each athlete’s emotional state, consider these factors and many others and take steps to increase the athlete’s motivation and to teach life skills that will lead to continual motivation.
                I can’t finish this post without a warning.  A coach who uses motivation as a tool to produce results simply to inflate his ego (or bank account) is a great manipulator not a great motivator.  If our own motivation isn’t anchored in doing what’s best for our athletes we should choose to do something other than coach.

Monday, December 10, 2012


     The world of education could learn a thing or two from the gymnastics community.  While the system we use to progress our athletes in the sport may not be perfect, its structure is one that would be well suited for our education system.   I recently returned to graduate school for the second time, this time in pursuit of a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction.  The stories I’m hearing from teachers in the master’s program are puzzling and somewhat troubling.  But, they make me thankful for the evolution of our industry to what it’s become today.
     We all know that gymnastics is taught in a progressive manner.  That every skill has prerequisite skills and once a gymnast has learned a skill, there is always a more advanced skill to accomplish.  Progressions are at the core of what we do as gymnastics coaches.  Our national system is wisely set up based on progressions with few restrictions due to age.  It is a mastery teaching system.  Perform a skill with reasonable proficiency and move on to the next skill.  It’s such a simple and right concept.
     Contrast this to a typical student in the education system.  This student is most often moved up a grade level in every subject, every year with minimal concern given to whether they are over-prepared or under-prepared for the next grade.  Teachers face classrooms full of students with huge variance in knowledge and skills.  Many people in education are trying to fix the system with innovative curriculum, national standards, mandated teaching methods, scripted curriculum and the like.  There is a lot of great information available to help teachers teach our kids and there are many terrible ideas out there as well. 
     Is it futuristic dreaming to think that a system can be developed with subject paths that contain multiple levels of mastery appropriate for the subject, like we do in gymnastics?  For example, could there be forty eight levels of national norms for math?  If the schools offered five, nine week sessions a year, giving students the option of enrolling in 4 or 5 of those sessions, each student would have between 52 and 65 sessions in a thirteen year education career to complete forty eight levels of math and however many levels are deemed necessary in other subjects.  For example; 48 levels of math and science, 32 levels of social studies and English, 16 levels of composition, etc.  Progress through the levels would be based on mastery allowing faster progress in a student’s strong subjects and slower progress when needed.  Students would have the opportunity to pass a level in each session.  If mastery isn’t reached, the student would enroll in the same level for the next session.  Is there anything wrong with a student’s morning class schedule looking like this?

First period:                 Level 7 math
Second period:           Level 10 composition
Third period:               Level 9 Social Studies

Or, even this?

First period:                 Level 5 math
Second period:           Level 5 math
Third period:               Level 10 Composition

     How great would it be for a student who is weak in a subject to be able to take the same class two periods in a row?  What an advantage that would be over the current system where a student who falls behind quite often never catches up.  How great would it be for teachers to have every student in a class at or near the same ability level?  How great would it be for students to have the option of accelerating their education by attending five sessions a year instead of four?  When the required curriculum is mastered in each subject, the student would receive a high school diploma.  For some that may happen at the age of fourteen.  For others it may happen at the age of twenty.  But, whatever the age of completion, all diplomas would represent a mastery of the skills required, giving high school diplomas consistency and meaning that they don’t currently have.  How great would that be?
     While I listened to a teacher explaining how her math curriculum was scripted by a curriculum design company and that every teacher in town was expected to read the same script, ask the same questions and engage in the same activities as every other teacher in that grade level, I became very thankful that our industry is guided by a national curriculum, but allows coaches to coach, individualize our instruction, be creative and do what’s best for the individual child.  Progress is based on mastery and assessments are ongoing and meaningful as opposed to a single letter grade every 9 weeks.  These comparisons could go on and on, but I really just wanted to make two points.  First, we in the gymnastics world are getting it right (not perfect, but right).  And second, if mastery learning and progressive education is such a simple concept, why is our education system still clinging to an antiquated and ineffective structure?