Saturday, January 22, 2011

Leading Young People a.k.a. You Get What You Emphasize

There was a time in my teaching career when I coached football and directed the school play during the same year.  That would also be the same time that a lot of dads would be introduced to me with a cocked head.  The handshake said, "Pleased to meet you."  The mouth said, "Pleased to meet you."  The head tilt said, "What the hell?"

I see the similarities.  I hear the similarities. 

I hear coaches pound their fists and state that sports will teach you discipline.  It will make you a better person.  You will learn life lessons playing this game.  We have to work together as a team to achieve a common goal.

It is all true.

What gets lost in the translation in the arts is that it is the same.  Someone wrote that artists are athletes of the heart.  It fits.

When I worked with the middle school play, I had those kids sit and talk about themselves and I had them listen to each other.  They complained, bragged, celebrated, shared, encouraged, and eventually warmed to sharing everything.  They shared when I wasn't around.  When I wasn't looking or listening.  When I took that time away from their rehearsals they hated it!  They pleaded for that time where they could continue the work. It was a part of the training.  The training to become a better person.  That was our common goal.  We were working to become better people and when I took that moment away, they missed it drastically (dramatically?).

It didn't matter if we could act or couldn't act.  It didn't matter if someone was going to pay one of us in New York City to run once more into the breach, dear friends.  What did matter, was that we believed in what we were doing.  Everyday.  Practice (rehearsal) mattered.  We became accountable to each other.

But they aren't going to become accountable because you tell them to be accountable.  This is the craft of your job: you have to guide them while you stand further and further back.

It is the same thing football coaches try to etch into the skin of their players by slamming them into each other each day.  We run over bags, through bags, into bags, across fields, fall into the field, and basically bruise, beat, scrape, and bleed our way through each week just so we can play one game.  It is part of what makes football such a great game for high school and college students.  You beat the hell out of yourself and each other every day just so you can play a game on one day.  That takes some perseverance.  Young men have to summon a hell of a lot of discipline to continue to submit to that day after day.

Some kids can run really fast with a football, and make incredibly irresponsible decisions off the field.  Some kids couldn't play dead in a cowboy movie, yet you'd want him on your team.  You need good examples.  You need kids who give everything they have even if they don't "get to carry the ball."  Why?  Because when you sign on to be the coach, to be the director of a school play, or do anything where you lead a group of kids, young men, however you want to frame it, it is your job to make them better.  In every way. And it isn't always going to be able to come from your mouth.

It didn't matter to the middle school actors if it was 45th Street or if it was the middle school auditorium.  What we created was in a sense better than 45th Street because they believed in what they were doing and they believed in who they were doing it with.

That same feeling can happen on an athletic practice field.  It won't matter who lines up against you at the end of the week because we just practiced so well every day for weeks and weeks and weeks that you already won--maybe not on the scoreboard yet at the end of the week, true.

But we have to teach our kids, actors, players to win everyday.  Win translated means be a little bit better (in some way) every day.

The journey is better than the inn.  The show, the play, the game is just a playing out of what you already emphasized at practice.  What YOU as the coach, director, teacher emphasized.  What YOU put them in a position to do.

If kids skip practice to play in the game, or skip rehearsal and get to perform, you have relinquished all control.  You go from coach/director to spectator...and yet, that is what you want, but on your terms and in a much different way.

I read that Coach Lou Holtz used to take his Notre Dame football players to see a ballet during the pre-season so that they could gain an appreciation of and another perspective of discipline.  Coach Jim Tressel has his players fill out a detailed goal sheet which includes room for spiritual, personal, family, friendship, academic, team, and life goals -"Show me you meant what you wrote."

When it is going well, and your players, actors, cast, musicians love practice, they love it...they love the work, they love pressing their teammates everyday, when you get that, then you can step back a little at a time.  It runs itself.  Your troops are trained.  They love the work on Monday.  They'll love the work on Saturday night.

It is up to you, in your own way, in your classroom to pull them together.  The athletic fields and every stage and concert room around the world is an extension of the classroom.

I hope no one would dream of telling a teacher, "you're only a teacher."

So, don't worry when people tell you that it is only high school football, or it is only a school play, or concert, or whatever it is you are leading.  If you are doing your job right, the sport or the art is everything to those kids.  They almost run to practice.  Maybe they do.  I've seen some do it in every venue I've been in.

And not just the stars...whoever they are.  It will be everything to everybody involved.  Easier said then done.  And it isn't done every year no matter how hard you try.

One final thought: are the stars the kids who ran fast who cried well on cue, or are the stars the kids who believed in everybody at practice and played their role, and embraced their role, and made the group better?  Which kid are you more likely to win with?

You get what you emphasize.

No comments:

Post a Comment