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This past thursday night Clark and I had the opportunity to attend a Question and Answer Discussion with a panel of successful sports coaches. Did I say “successful”? Amendment. Geno Auriemma is the women’s basketball coach for UConn Huskies. His record? He has won 36 Big East titles, held a 90 game winning streak (2008 – 2010)….you get the idea. I do not need to be a women’s basketball fan to appreciate his work. As if that were not enough, the panel also included Paul Assainte, the squash coach for Trinity College with a record of 303 and 8. That’s not a miss-print. (Thirteen consecutive national championships). Paul has the longest winning streak in the history of U.S collegiate varsity sports. Ever.

We thought it might be worth hearing what they had to say.

For quite a while we have been struggling because we do not agree with the way school and sports handles certain issues. Kids don’t “lose” anymore; they do not keep accurate score at Holly’s basketball games. She leaves each week thinking they “tied”. Every week, it’s “Yay, we tied!”

In elementary school, students are not made aware of their progress. “Grades” have been done away with. A, B or C ? No. Try deciphering “Child is meeting or exceeding possible potential.” A recent math “assessment” (NOT a “test”) came home with no grade, and no distinguishable marks, no check marks. A mass of circles, “X” ‘s and “C”s and other symbols, but we had to actually do each problem to figure out which were correct. Holly (3rd grade) is no longer given a spelling list. Third graders are “allowed to pick words they feel they need to work on”. She has yet to “pick” a word her first grade sister can’t already spell. Yes, the first grader who came home the other day and asked me “Why are you so jocular today?”. What would be the lesser of the two evils : push Holly and insist she try harder or let her face being surpassed by her jocular younger sister?

We do not see the merit in coddling kids through life, but were starting to feel we were alone. Then last week I ran across a post by Daily Rumblings on Tough Love, which made me feel abit better.

 We came away with some great lessons from the Panel Discussion which I am excited to pass on. I will do my best to relay their wisdom, but I regret I cannot accurately quote their comments. I did not have the foresight to record the discussion; Clark and I were just so thrilled to get out of the house….

Character: Coach Paul Assainte sites winning and losing as a basic block of character building; one that is starting to disappear. He maintains that losing will hopefully inspire an athlete to practice more; or perhaps even realize “this may not be my sport” – and that’s O.K.! Instead of spending summer after summer in pursuit of perpetual “tying” in soccer; has anyone considered the child’s time might be better spent trying different things, finding maybe they excel at (or are happier with) swimming or skating? And winning – is it so bad to give young athletes a taste of completing a task successfully, knowing their hard work can pay off, and inspiring them to continue to practice?

Accountability: Putting forth your best effort, a superior opponent out maneuvers and wins – you’ve been beat. “Losing” happens when you basically defeat yourself…lazy practices, less than 100% effort. Kids are not taught the difference and are not held accountable for their “losing”. Accountability is also disappearing. We have been dissolutioned into believing that lowering the bar is the answer. When a child can’t easily  reach a goal, we back off instead of demanding more effort. Little Suzy’s future boss is not going to lower expectations. Little Suzy will be fired.

Parents: Both discussed in length the damage “helicopter parents” can do to a child. Geno had the audience in stitches as he relayed the account of parents basically bubble-wrapping a child to do a simple thing like ride a bike. “Let them fall off, get scraped up and come home crying!” Kids who are not allowed to fail in small tasks early in life have no way to learn to cope, and have that much more trouble as they get older when a boss or a coach dares to tell them “that’s not good enough”.

The coaches expressed concern when asked about Motivation in players. It seems ony afew years ago athletes were coming on board with an entirely different attitude. Players are being taught, just like the cell phone they were given at age 8, they are entitled to more playing time. Not because they put forth the most effort at practice, or have shown improvement, but because they have been told for the last decade how great they were. Both men expressed they felt their success will come to an end in the near future because they cannot motivate a generation that will not only curl up in a ball when faced with adversity; but will be supported by a nasty e-mail from the parents that bubble-wrapped them.

I am the first to protect the kids. “Yes” to seatbelts, “No” to playing with electric outlets. I think back at all the toys we had, now too dangerous for tots. And Bugs Bunny? Completely wiped from the young collective consciousness. But I understand, with today’s internet, youth of America may indeed be capable of ordering a “Build your own atomic bomb” kit from Acme….

But I say, bring back the anvil !

It's a great lesson in Physics !

Photo: ovguide.com/tv