Youth Sports Contract

From the end of my last post on Andrew Luck retiring, one could conclude that youth sports is a utilitarian endeavor. Get a college scholarship, turn pro, make millions of dollars. The exact problem with too many parents’ thinking.

I hate to break it to you, but your child is very unlikely to get a Division I college scholarship. They’re even less likely to turn pro and make mad money ala Andrew Luck or Rory McIlroy.

I propose youth sport parents be required to sign the following contract at the time they sign their children up for any organized sport.

  • I do not expect my son/daughter to make up for my own athletic failings.
  • Therefore, I commit to not yelling at my child from the sidelines. Ever.
  • I do not expect my son/daughter to earn a college athletic scholarship, turn pro in any sport, or make millions of dollars.
  • I will not complain to the coaches about my child’s playing time.
  • I will cheer for my child’s team and also for whichever team they are competing against.
  • I expect my son/daughter to develop stronger social connections during the season. In that spirit, I expect them to cheer their teammates and show respect to their opponents whether they win or lose.
  • I expect my son/daughter to become more resilient in light of probable difficulties during the season, whether physical, interpersonal, or otherwise. And unless it’s a grievous situation and I am asked by my child to intervene on his/her behalf, I commit to letting him/her resolve his/her own problems this season.
  • Learning to compete hard should never supersede having fun. Consequently, I expect my son/daughter to develop even more positive attitudes towards physical activity in the hope that they enjoy a lifetime of good health.

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(Parent signature)

 

Of Speeding Basketballs and the Tyranny of the Urgent

In my second story home office, I look out a window at a basketball hoop, the Black Hills, and our suburban street winding downhill to the west. Today, I was watching a neighbor shoot hoops with his five year old son when the ball careened down the long semi-steep hill. It was comical when the boy gave chase because he was gradually losing ground on the ball as it gained speed skimming along the curb.

Saturday I began teaching a class on leadership for school program directors and principals-to-be. One thing I will impress upon them is they are the five year old boy because school administrators struggle mightily to get ahead of their daily “To do” lists. If they don’t learn to manage their time in ways that allow for creative thinking about the larger purposes of schooling they’ll never be inspiring or transformational leaders.

I know this because my “To do” list garners way too much of my attention. I fool myself into feeling productive when I shrink my list which ebbs and flows with the same predictability as the tides. Here’s today’s, Monday, February 8th:

• org 583 readings/desk

• finalize 563B syllabus—Lenny, 90m

• 563B sllyabus to Diana

• 2/9, Monday, Dept mtg, 9-10:30a, Search, 12:30-1p, interviews 1-2:30p and 4:30-6p

• prep 563B sessions 1 & 2

One wonders, can I get my swim workout in and get to work in time to “org 583 readings/desk” before the 9a department meeting? What a model I am for transformational leadership, my overarching goal for the day is to check off as many of the five items as possible. Instead of asking, “Did you leave the department, the teaching credential program, and/or the U in a better place?” or “Did you touch anyone’s life today?” My dinner companion tonight might ask, “How many bullet points did you manage to delete today?” Your “To do” list any shorter?

In my position, I regularly hand teary-eyed student teachers tissues and help them make peace with my faculty colleagues, their cooperating teachers, their supervisors, and their students. While helping resolve their problems I often think, “If we don’t find the time to fix the underlying flaws in our program’s design that repeatedly give rise to these crises, we’re going to be distracted in perpetuity by time consuming cases like these.”

If he made it a priority, the five year old’s father could take two or three shooting sessions with his son off to build some sort of barricade or contraption that would prevent errant balls from rocketing all the way down the street again. With more quiet, uninterrupted, big picture/program design time, I could greatly reduce the total number of student crises needing my immediate attention. Of course though, program design is a collaborative process, so I’m dependent upon all of my colleagues getting in front of the speeding basketball too

And in this era of information and sensory overload, it’s every plugged in man, woman, and child for themselves. I could be much more disciplined about regularly unplugging from the internet to be more reflective and thoughtful about what’s most important at work and in life. Maybe, as a first Bill Murray-like baby step, my leadership students and I need to follow this advice.

Lighting Candles

Sometimes, when the early morning running conversation turns too negative too long, one member of the posse reminds everyone else it’s “Better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”

People tilt towards pessimism, which spreads upon contact. Pessimism is a special challenge in the Pacific Northwest in late October because daylight, and Vitamin D, dwindles.

Ancient Stoics knew gratitude didn’t come naturally, so they practiced negative visualization and voluntary deprivation. Negative visualization is taking time to imagine worse case scenarios—no longer having enough healthy food, having one’s bicycle or car stolen, losing one’s home to a natural disaster, losing one’s job or savings, or the unexpected death of a loved one—to better appreciate the impermanence of everything and everyone.

Voluntary deprivation is practicing living without those things we tend to take for granted for the purpose of appreciating them more. Examples include fasting, bike commuting for a month, or traveling solo. Absence always makes the Good Wife and me even fonder of one another.

Since others’ attitudes influence our own, another strategy is to purposely seek out hopeful, creative, funny, positive people, while simultaneously steering clear of permanent pessimists.

Staying active throughout the winter helps keep the candle light burning bright. Invest in the necessary clothing and lighting to stay comfortable and safe. Spend more time outdoors than in the gym. Saturday morning’s run was incredible. It didn’t matter that everything was soaking wet because of dense overnight and early morning fog. The streets, sidewalks, and trails were lined with colorful leaves. God’s carpeting.

The photographer I’m currently shacking up with captured one especially beautiful thread of that carpeting.

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Can Grit Be Taught?

Angela Lee Duckworth, a University of Pennsylvania psychology prof, studies “grit” which she defines as  “perseverance and passion for long-term goals“. In this 18 minute-long TED talk titled, “True Grit: Can perseverance be taught?” she summarizes her research without really answering the question.

Her premise, I assume, jives with most everyone’s life experience—achievement involves far more than natural intelligence. An impassioned, focused, single-minded person who perseveres in the face of obstacles almost always accomplishes more than the really smart person who switches from project to project and quits when things don’t go smoothly.

From wikipedia: Individuals high in grit are able to maintain their determination and motivation over long periods of time despite experiences with failure and adversity. Their passion and commitment towards the long-term objective is the overriding factor that provides the stamina required to “stay the course” amid challenges and set-backs. Essentially, the grittier person is focused on winning the marathon, not the sprint.

I think “resilience” is synonymous with “grit”. So can resilience or grit be taught? If not, why not? If so, how?

A lot of especially resilient or gritty people seem to have tough childhoods in common. Yet, there are a lot of people who had tough childhoods who aren’t particularly resilient or gritty. So does genetics or “nature” play a part? Probably, but that doesn’t mean one’s environment is irrelevant. I suspect one’s environment is more influential than one’s DNA.

So what kind of environments cultivate resilience or grit? This recent essay titled “Even Happiness Has a Downside” provides insight into family settings that are unlikely to cultivate resilience or grit—most contemporary ones where the parenting default is to remove obstacles from children’s lives. An excerpt: “. . . being happy, being satisfied, saps the will to strive, to create. It’s why we don’t usually expect trust-fund babies to be cracker-jack entrepreneurs. For all our happiness talk, we actually cultivate dissatisfaction. We don’t want to hog-wallow in the useless sort of contentment that H.L. Mencken derided as “the dull, idiotic happiness of the barnyard.” 

Of the cuff, in her TED talk, Duckworth uses a  related phrase that may be the ultimate target for those interested in cultivating resilience or grit—”intestinal fortitude”. Related question. If a young person is to learn “intestinal fortitude” are they more likely to learn it in school, through a curriculum designed to cultivate it or at home or in their community by observing adults who model it? I would enjoy the opportunity to design a resilience, grit, or intestinal fortitude curriculum, but when it comes to cultivating those things in young people, outside of school modeling probably holds far more promise.

Young people are unlikely to develop resilience, grit, or intestinal fortitude given the extreme child-centeredness that characterizes contemporary parenting. That doesn’t mean families should intentionally accentuate dysfunction, but they shouldn’t shield their children from the inevitable headwinds every family faces either.

I’ve enjoyed coaching girls high school swimming from time-to-time the last few years. The swimmers are wonderful young people, but few of them show much resilience or grittiness. When practice is most difficult they suddenly have to go to the bathroom or stretch their shoulders. They’re unaccustomed to being truly fatigued and they’re mentally unable to push through temporary physical pain. They have a lot of great personal attributes, but for most of them, intestinal fortitude is not among them.

At dinner tonight (Sunday the 15th), the Good Wife suggested we watch Mad Men tonight after it airs (to avoid commercials) instead of Monday or Tuesday night as has been our recent habit. Why? So that Sixteen can watch her show uninterrupted Monday night. Some context. Sixteen is a great kid, works exceptionally hard at school, and looks forward to chilling in front of the t.v. for an hour at the end of several hours of homework (with some Facebook mixed in for good measure). The Good Wife’s intentions are understandable, it’s a well deserved dessert, but I ask you Dear Reader, how gritty is our next generation likely to be if they’re not even expected to share a television from time to time?

[Postscript—Thanks Kris for the Duckworth link.]

Parenting Styles and Self Esteem at Age 33

At first glance Tina Fey’s autobio Bossypants is a quick, light, summer beach-type read that some may assume she wrote to capitalize on her growing fame. In actuality, it contains lots of important insights about class, sexual orientation, parenting practices, sexism, and the creative process. I dig her humor, her writing, her politics, her toughness.

One would have to credit her dad, Don Fey, with her toughness. In an early chapter she tells his story. She ends that chapter with this:

My dad has visited me at work over the years and I’ve noticed that powerful men react to him in a weird way. They “stand down”. The first time Lorne Michaels met my dad, he said afterward, “Your father is. . . impressive.” They meet Don Fey and it rearranges something in their brain about me. Alec Baldwin took a long look at him and have him a firm handshake. “This is your dad, huh?” What are they realizing? I wonder. That they’d better never mess with me, or Don Fey will yell at them? That I have high expectations for the men in my life because I have a strong father figure? Only Colin Quinn was direct about it. “Your father doesn’t fucking play games. You would never come home with a shamrock tattoo in that house.”

My dad, also named Don, would have liked Don Fey. My siblings and I, like the peeps who worked for him, had a healthy fear of my dad. He was tough-minded, but never even close to abusive. We were taught to answer the phone, “Byrnes residence, Ron speaking.” Of course he just answered it, “Don Byrnes”. We learned the planets didn’t revolve around us.

In the later stages of Bossypants TF writes:

I have once or twice been offered a “mother of the year” award by working-mom groups or a mommy magazine, and I always decline. How cold they possibly know if I’m a good mother? How can any of us know until the kid is about thirty-three and all the personality dust has really settled?

Amen to that. I have a good fifteen years to go before you can judge my parenting. I don’t pretend to have it all together.

In a chapter titled, “The Mother’s Prayer for Its Daughter,” Fey writes:

And when she one day turns on me and calls me a Bitch in front of Hollister, give me the strength, Lord, to yank her directly into a cab in front of her friends, for I will not have that Shit. I will not have it.

Fey, based upon her unparalleled genius for self-deprecation, has self-esteem to spare. Similarly, I would score well on a self-esteem eval. My guess is, Alice Fey, TF’s five year old, is going to have above average self-esteem. Why? In part because her mom will not have that Shit.

I suspect many of my peers with children would say the “old school” parents named Don from the 60’s and 70’s weren’t nearly affectionate enough. But sometimes modern day affection-based parenting crosses over into an “I’m going to be my child’s older more stable friend” approach to child-rearing that I’m guessing results in 33 year-olds with more self-esteem issues than the children of more strict, less therapeutic “old school” parents like the Dons.

I think the GalPal and I have done an admirable job splitting the difference. We’re affectionate with our daughters, but they also know we have clear limits and always expect to be respected. They’d probably say we’re one-part touchy-feely, one part, will not have that Shit.

[Postscript—thinking about this further, maybe strict but loving parenting contributes to children’s later resilience more than it does their self-esteem. I’ve theorized about where self esteem comes from before here.]

The Causes of Burnout

Teachers, nurses, and social workers start out with wonderful idealism and enthusiasm for making a positive difference in people’s lives.

Why do too many of them lose enthusiasm for their work over time? Why, in worst case scenarios, do some even grow to dislike their work? Why aren’t work environments more encouraging, humane places where employee’s idealism and energy is encouraged, nourished, harnessed, and sustained?

People succumb to burnout as a result of some combination of these variables:

1) They are poorly prepared for challenging work settings. For example, teachers who are unable to manage large groups of students experience tremendous stress day in and day out. Stress that translates into fatigue, which contributes to negativity, which unattended to, leads to burnout.

2) Pragmatic work problems predominate so larger philosophical questions of purpose go unasked. Absent meaningful discussions of mission and purpose, people gradually lose touch with their work’s importance. This leads to a “going through the motions”, and eventually, burnout.

3) In negative work environments, a tipping point occurs when a critical mass of employees succumb to deficit models of thinking. For example, deficit-minded teachers often complain, “These students will never achieve, their families don’t value education, their community is dysfunctional.” Cynicism trumps hopefulness. Co-worker’s negativity rubs off and some teachers begin eating lunch alone. Inevitably, idealism and energy wane.

4) Adversarial relations with superiors and ill-conceived top-down directives cripple many people’s sense of efficacy. Once they conclude, “I have limited control over my school, hospital department, or casework,” their idealism and enthusiasm plummet.

Point two relates to this blog’s updated purpose which reads as follows:

This blog is about slowing down and being more reflective. Pressing Pause is devoted to substantive discussion about education and contemporary life. It’s for people who find meaning in essential questions, ambiguity, conceptual thinking, and nuanced discussions. A virtual college seminar or digital retreat based upon open-ended questions upon which reasonable people disagree.

I have a hunch that lots of people are desperate to rekindle their idealism and enthusiasm not just for their work, but life more generally. My hope for this blog in 2011 is that I can connect with more of those people and that together we can rekindle our idealism and find greater enthusiasm for making a positive difference in our own and other people’s lives.