Different treatment brings different results

Published 10:23 am Monday, April 27, 2015

I have had my issues off and on with my children’s basketball, football and baseball coaches over the years. Most of my experiences were very positive. There were occasions I felt some coaches’ behaviors bordered on abuse and would discourage a young athlete whose skills and body were not fully developed to pursue these sports on an ongoing basis when they were older.

Now it is icing on the cake when I watch my grandchildren joining and exploring different avenues in the world of sports. Recently I watched my first-grade grandson’s basketball practice. To state that I love his basketball coach would be understating my admiration for the man who holds the inspiration for my grandson’s future choices in his hands.

I already knew the parents and kids were over themoon about this guy. I was skeptical.

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Mr. Coach was stern, but kind. He was funny, but serious. He taught the game of basketball in a clever manner. I learned some new things. He treated each child with respect no matter how good, or bad, they were. Because of this, these first-graders treated Mr. Coach with respect and listened to his instructions. He was always encouraging. It wasn’t an easy practice, remember these are first-graders, and first-graders can be a challenge. We maybe wonder what first-graders can comprehend and understand, so we dumb down and simplify. Not this coach. This was definitely preparation for the future and not a frivolous practice.

One boy didn’t seem to have the strength to reach the basket with his throws. He wasn’t very big. The coach came over to talk to the parents. Rather than pointing out this child’s flaws in front of all the kids, the coach asked his parents to bring their son early the next practice. He would work with this child one-on-one. He used these words, “Your son doesn’t think he has enough strength to get to the basket. He does, it’s all in the way he holds the ball. We’ll fix it. Don’t worry. It’ll be OK.” He left those parents beaming. I left the practice beaming too.

I am a big fan of teachers. They have a hard job. Teachers spend more time during the school year with our children than parents do. They are another influential person in a child’s life.

Fast forward a few days later. A child of a friend of mine came home from school. I was there when the child relayed their experience that day in school.

The child is a good student and so are the classmates. The class did some standardized testing recently. The teacher informed the entire class, without letting them see their results, that none of them did very well on the tests. They didn’t meet her expectations. She proceeded to tell them their results didn’t reflect very well on her. She was disappointed in them.

This child has anxiety about school work. She refuses to do anything else after school until her schoolwork is done and then still worries about it. Even though she never misses her school work and very seldom gets bad grades, this child agonizes things are not going to be done right, and it won’t be good enough. Her parents always try and reassure her. I had asked the parent in an earlier conversation, when my friend was relaying to me the problems they were having with anxiety and homework, if it might be coming from the teacher. The parent didn’t think so until this story came forward.

We have two different stories, two different scenarios, two different teaching methods, two different results. Basketball practice, even for first-graders, is not always a good experience, especially if one might not be a good player. In this case, it was a great experience for all of the 28 kids there. In the other case, the teacher’s anxiety about the test was passed down to the students.

The purpose of today’s column is not to bash teachers or coaches. Every teacher, coach and parent has a different way of achieving their goal. My purpose today is to remind all of us that children are different and live in a world where high anxiety and stress go hand-in-hand, in and out of school.

I am sure the teacher that was anxious has no idea she is passing her anxiety to the students. She wants her students to excel but doesn’t realize her method might be causing the opposite reaction. I am sure the coach has no idea that the way he is treating the first-graders will have a big impact on their life in the future. The respect and method he uses will encourage young athletes to continue in the program. Many kids quit because of discouragement in their younger years because they were told they weren’t good enough.

The coach didn’t tell the kids they were doing everything right. He encouraged them even as mistakes were made and corrected. He knew the right balance between toughness, respect and teachable moments.

We as parents, teachers, coaches or anyone that interacts with kids should ask ourselves if the way we are teaching, and what we are modeling to these children, will make the children’s path going forward into the world, easier to navigate. Do we know how to encourage as we are correcting moments and behaviors that need to be corrected, making a small child grow and flourish without trampling their spirit?

It is a fine line we walk.

“There’s a fine line between character building and soul destroying.” — Colin Hay


Wells resident Julie Seedorf’s column appears every Monday. Send email to her at hermionyvidaliabooks@gmail.com. Her Facebook page is http://www.facebook.com/julie.seedorf.author.