All students will achieve their maximum potential by becoming responsible, productive citizens and life-long learners.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Cost of Playing Up

How many times...

  • have we underachieved because we didn’t take advantage of an opportunity?
  • was it because we were afraid of failing?
  • was it because we thought we couldn’t?  
How many times...have we kept our children from succeeding because we were trying to protect (make it easier) them so that they could?

The cost of reaching higher than we thought we could reach is small compared to the cost of staying safe which results in more painful assurances of staying put in long term mediocrity.

While I am always considering how to push my sons to take chances and explore in an attempt to be better than if they had not, the thoughts for this post came to me as I sat contemplating two recent events with them.

First, we were happy that he had fun on the ropes course and surprised at how easily he moved through the second of three levels.  Then he came and asked to go on the third course.  My youngest son is 7 years old and fancies himself somewhat of a spider man clone.  I informed him the rule was that the third level was restricted to kids 13 and older.  He asked again so I told him I would ask.  The guide hesitated and after asking how he did (very well was my answer) on the second level, informed me that he would let him.  The only restriction was that the guide would stay right near him in the event he fell...which he did...twice...as many of us looked on from about 40 feet below!

Second, the decision came quickly.  Yes, we had thought and spoke about it for over a month, but when the time came it seemed as if we still rushed in.  The only somewhat saving grace was that he had made the final decision himself; just like we had been teaching him.  My 9yr. old son was now playing football a level up with the older (by two grades), bigger kids. His other choice was to take it easy for a year and play later. We were concerned about the contact with more developed kids, but stood by as he got knocked down and struggled to keep up in the drills.

Often, as parents we do our best to help our children succeed and excel at what they do.  That is only natural.  The part we miss is that often greater success lies just behind greater risk and fear.  This is easy to verbalize, but a whole lot harder to watch.  Especially with our own children.  

In this day and age when we have changed the label of helicopter to snowplow (or lawnmower) parents it is easy to say that resilience (or lack thereof) comes from parents protecting their students too much. I believe it may be linked to something deeper. How many of us teach children mental toughness and character by explaining to them that life is not about drifting to the end, but purposefully moving from accomplishment to accomplishment? How many of us teach our kids to play up?

Playing up means playing above your perceived skill level and taking chances that you are better than you believe. Everything in life comes with a cost. Especially playing up. We are consistently (or should be) telling our students and children that every action has a consequence (or costs something). The issue is that we may not be explaining it effectively. Its really as simple as every action gets a reaction. Sometimes the actions we take have good consequences. Sometimes they don't. Either way...there is a cost.

Unfortunately for those who struggle with delayed gratification, good decisions are not as appealing as the bad ones and while they do not seem to cost a lot in the present; the cost is huge in the future. These individuals need to identify a purpose that will drive them to push through setbacks and obstacles until they accomplish what they are striving for.

An acronym to think about:

You're going to run into failures. You're going to make mistakes. You're going to fall down.  The idea or path to success lies in the getting up.  You build your character in difficult times when you struggle.  There can be no learning without  the Ideas to build your character and get right backup
By playing up you create opportunities you never realized you would have. Remember the phrase “luck is when preparation meets opportunity.  The willingness to work through difficult times leads to easier moments we used to think impossible.
No matter how a person measures success there is one thing that hold true; true success breeds success.  Once a person leaves their comfort zone, struggles, and succeeds, they realize that they never knew how far they could get until they got there.  If we teach students to be purposeful and persevere there is no limit to the amount of success they may achieve.
Acting purposefully and building character are two very difficult things to accomplish for many people; much less children.  But there is nothing that is a better teacher than experience.  The issue is lasting through that experience.  Once a person has met and pushed through hardship, there is a moment that they realize that they are more capable, tougher, stronger, braver, and deserving of whatever they wish to become.  That is character saying yes when other say no.

By the way...my youngest son finished that third level and continued to talk about how proud he was because he didn't think he could do it. He just kept going and repeating; “Don't look down, you can do this.” until he made it a reality.  My oldest? He kept getting up until he began keeping up in drills and knocking 6th graders down. His answer when asked by former teammates and friends which level be liked better? “I like playing up because I have to work harder or I won't do good. I feel like I'm getting better” was his reply though a pride filled grin.

Easy for a parent? No
Needed for the kid? At times
More beneficial to learn resilience, be purposeful, and build character than being safe? ABSOLUTELY!

Step back a little.  Let them play up. They may just surprise you...

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