Raising the Bar without Expecting Recognition

March 8, 2010

I can’t help but think that the world’s number one psychological issue these days is recognition and it is hard to not fall victim to its persistent nagging.     I listened to an interview with the Olympic Skiing Star at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver who said, after he came in third place just .09s off of first, if he was upset about not getting the gold medal.  He stated that it didn’t matter to him because he felt like he had skied so well that the place didn’t matter.    When have you heard something as incredible as that said by an athlete?

My students and the athletes on our school teams have this huge tendency to get really down and upset when they lose a match despite playing extremely well.   They don’t seem to understand the difference between playing well and winning.  In their minds playing well means that you win.   Losing means you are a loser which means you aren’t very good.

It is much better, in my mind, for young athletes to get beaten really badly at the beginning of a season or lose when they are playing poorly.   If they play below their level and still win,  they have this tendency to feel like they played well.   If they get clobbered, then we have their attention and they become teachable.

But the culture seems to be wild about results and recognition which probably why we have the proliferation of such demeaning behavior as is shown on programs like American Idol.    The object of sport is to get into your bodies.   My daughter recently said that we can get inside the equation rather than staying on the outside hoping for a win so you can feel good.

Working hard allows people to get inside their bodies.  Throw away the scoreboard and the heart rate monitor.  Feel what is like to have really sore muscles after a really hard run.  If you don’t get equal joy out of playing hard with your friends as you do by scoring a goalin front of a crowd, then something is really wrong.  You are out of the equation and out of your body.


Top 10 List of What Makes an Athlete Better

November 23, 2009

1.  Shows up to practice and then practices a lot on his/her own.

2. Usually says “I am in” when asked about an opportunity.

3.  Loves to win, but loves to play more.

4.  Always trying to learn new things, perfect old ones.

5.  Encourages team mates.

6.  Practices even when he/she is really tired.

7.  Loves competition.

8.  Does a lot of fitness work.

9.  Lets actions speak for him/her.

10.  Knows what it is like to be in last place and/or the worst player on the field.

“What was the score?” “Did you win?” “What place were you?”

November 17, 2009

“What was the score?”  “Did you win?”   “What place were you?”

These are the typical set of questions that almost every coach and player get after they have participated in a match or tournament.   It is a mirror of what a student often faces from his parents with his report card or test scores.   It takes a huge amount of self-discipline and understanding of human development to ask anything but the above questions.  Everyone loves to win and everyone seems to get high on having a really great finish, but the pervasiveness of the culture of only focusing on results has some negative consequences that can be detrimental in the long term.   What is the negative side and what can be done about it?

The number one difficulty with “the only focusing on the results” mentality is that young people do not focus enough on the beginning skills and abilities that make one a good player.  We have developed a kind of cultural arrogance especially among boys that makes them believe that they are much better players than they are so they don’t believe they need to work hard.   Kobe Bryant, who is regarded as one of the best basketball players ever, arrives at the gym at 5:00 am in the morning so that he can work on his basics skills.   Wayne Gretsky, who may have been the greatest hockey player of all time, was the same way.  He was recognized at the player who always worked the hardest.

Last year, when I was coaching the U-11 boys soccer team, they lost the first game they played pretty badly.    So when the game was over, they just thought that they were a really bad team.   I told them that they weren’t a bad team, but a very good one that they just needed to learn how to play defense, the one thing they never practice at recess.  So we worked a lot on it.   The next time we played the same team, we tied 0-0 and the third time, we won.    The boys kept begging me to be able to run forward and score, but I made them play defense.

When my wife, Debby, talks to her swimmers on the first practice after a swim meet,  she always focuses on how much they have improved.  She reads their times and tells them what improvement they made.   It doesn’t matter what place a student comes in in a particular meet because you cannot control the competition.   There were over 100 runners in the ISAKL U-11 boys cross country race this year.  There was only one winner.   Did you win is a losing a question?

It takes a huge amount of self discipline to keep the focus on improvement and off of results because culturally we are wired to results.  If Lee Chong Wei, Malaysia’s #1 badminton player, loses to Lin Dan of China, it doesn’t matter that he made it to the final and beat a whole string of players to get there.  It only matters that he lost.  Sooner or later everyone loses.  The higher up you go, the greater the competition.   When there is a lot of self-discipline on the part of parents, young people learn how to see what they are doing well,  also see where to improve, and feel motivated to play hard with a great deal of joy.

The scientific research says that the optimum ratio of positive comments to negative feedback ones is five to one.  It is the same for an elementary school child as it is to married couples.  So you might ask yourself, “What is your ratio with your child?”   If you are below, as most of us are, think about what your ratio is from your supervisors or what you remember from your parents?     If the ratio of positive to negatives is high like 5 to 1, then marriages last longer and young people stay in sport for much longer.   When it is low, we all avoid our bosses or teachers or coaches because we feel discouraged and down on ourselves.    People are motivated by improvement much more than they are by winning or good test results.   The actualization of potential is the lure that drives people to want to do more.

So if we can recognize where people do well and where they are growing and improving, then they will continue to be extremely motivated and be able to play for life.     What did you differently today?  What can you today that you couldn’t do yesterday?   These are some questions we may want to start asking.

Tigers In Action

October 4, 2009

Here are some photos in recent weeks of the MKIS tigers in action.













MKIS U-11 Baseball Tournament : Tigers Strike Gold

June 2, 2009

The MKIS U-11 boys baseball team had a terrific inaugural baseball season this year thanks to our  3 great coaches, Brenda Sena, Ivory Smith, and David Hawkins.   We practiced every Tuesday and Thursday and played against Alice Smith and ISKL with one game at Garden cancelled because of rain.     On Saturday the girls played a really close game with ISKL and lost 10-8 in the last inning.     Our boys team played some spectacular defense on the way to winning all of their games against ISKL, Mutiara, and MKIS 2.  The deciding game was 7-2 v. ISKL.    The MKIS 2 came in third place when they played a fantastic game v. Mutiara.  Enjoy the photos.



The Virtue of Breaking Rules: How Do You Teach It?

March 18, 2009

As a young high jumper in the early 1960s, Dick Fosbury had trouble mastering the standard technique, called the straddle. Instead he began doing the high jump by approaching the bar with his back to it, doing a modified scissor-kick and going over the bar backwards and horizontal to the ground. As goofy as it looked, it worked. Dubbed the “Fosbury Flop” by a Medford, Oregon reporter, Fosbury caused a sensation when he won the gold medal in the 1968 Olympics, jumping a height of 2.24 meters. The Fosbury Flop has since become a standard technique for high jumpers.


I mean let’s face it most of us are really trying to get our students to conform and do what we say so that they learn, but I can remember watching Dick Fosbury jump in the LA Coliseum in the 1960s and being completely amazed. “How did he do that?” we all thought. My students have a great deal of fun in my classes and on my teams, but I am also very strict with them so that they don’t get into avoidance patterns and sloppiness. I teach a lot of technique, but sometimes I just feel like I really want break some rules. Something inside of me seems to be like the fosbury factor. I think I say to myself, “This is not working!!!!! Do something else.” But what is not working is the established pattern that everyone else is doing which seems to work on some levels. At first I try to copy it, but then when the copying doesn’t take me far enough or like Mr. Fosbury doesn’t work at all, I start feeling like I need to break a rule.

So I think that, at some point, when things are not working and you have exhausted the traditional methodology, that it is time to break a rule. Dick Fosbury broke the rule of how to high jump successfully and then became the world’s best and changed the way people do the sport. I have the feeling that because we all are not very encouraged to break rules that we only rely on the same patterns and methods that others do. The answer for someone having difficulties is usually to do more of the same, i.e., conformity and repetition of established patterns.


Breaking rules is not about creating chaos. It is about finding another way to achieve the same goal. The other day I was watching a teacher break one of my rules in a very successful way. My rule is to first have my students work on skills and then save the fun game stuff to the end. This teacher just did the opposite. The students played a really exciting game where they all participated and ran like crazy all over the field giving them a great fitness workout. After that he started working on skills. Everyone worked hard on the skills. My cultural inner rule is work first, play later, but he did the opposite and it worked.

I think maybe the rule that he was breaking was the rule that says that people really don’t like working hard; that you have to keep them motivated by putting the play at the end. He broke the cultural norm.  He believes that people love to work hard so he put  the play first. The next class I started putting more play earlier, but I am still a little reluctant to break the rule.

So now I am thinking that when I have a track team or swim team that the racing should come in a lot earlier and then the athletes will practice and train more. I just broke a rule !!!

The Identity Mistake: Don’t Make It

March 7, 2009

What is the difference of saying I am not a soccer player versus I don’t play soccer very well?   Oftentimes I hear young people especially preadolescents and teens say the former. “I am not a drama person.”  “I am not a runner, I am  not a swimmer.”        What does it mean?  Why is it so deadly?    

When you use the verb to be, such as when you say I am  a … or she is not a …,  you are talking about the person’s identity. who the person is.  Preadolescents and adolescents struggle to find out who they are on a daily basis,  but when they use the verb to be,  what they really should be using is the verb to do.    Soccer or running or swimming are things you do. They do not define who you are.      

Identity questions are better defined in non-material forms because they are always capable of change.     He is courageous, friendly, hard working, joyful, gentle, strong,  and perceptive.   She is determined, enthusiastic, positive, optimistic, and discerning.   These are aspects that we want to have as part of our identity, our defining characteristics.      

By defining myself as a NOT behavior, what actually happens is that I shut the door on using an environment to help me grow.    For instance,  soccer is a great environment to learn team play which is the ability to develop your own skills while being together with a group of others to accomplish a goal.   It teaches you how to see where others are on your team, and  how to interact with them, while at the same time developing your own abilities so that you can be a good team member.    A 10 year old who says I am not a soccer player essentially shuts the door on developing abilities to be a member of a team.    

So really the goal is take a game like soccer and move it out of the realm of identity (to be) and put it in the realm of behavior (to do).    It is not difficult to improve your skills in soccer  or in mathematics or in drama.    You just need to put in the time and effort and learn, but as soon as you place them in the realm of identity, the door becomes shut and then the real damage to identity occurs because the qualities that the activity may foster are then avoided.  

A lot of  pre-adolescents give up on themselves in certain areas because most schools and homes spend far too much time comparing, judging, criticizing, and overemphasizing winning, and far too little time encouraging,  finding positives, accepting, and emphasizing participation and effort.    While most people will agree that being able to work hard is an admirable quality,  children see from a very young age that their adult mentors are far more interested in winning and being #1 than in effort.     At some point children give into criticism and comparison and just use the identity of NOT to protect themselves.   

Kindergarten children do not make the mistake of identity.   They will say they are not very good at a game like basketball or say that they can’t do it,  but they won’t say that they are not basketball players.    So it is somewhere after a child enters schools that they learn to protect themselves by using identity in the wrong way.     

When we coach track and field and swimming, what we have found is that if we put children into heats where they compete against similar levels and then emphasize growth and improvement over place and results,  then children continue to participate in activities for a long time.    If you have 10 boys on a team of swimmers, one of them is going to be the fastest.   What the culture teaches us to do is to give a lot of praise to the fastest and then criticize all the rest.    So it should not be surprising that the fastest one or two swimmers continue for a long time in the sport while everyone else drops out.    

How to change pre-adolescents so that they don’t make the identity mistake is actually fairly simple.   All that really needs to be done is to use a lot of encouragement so that they will get out there and play and also to emphasize the importance of making efforts to improve over just looking at  winning or losing.    

So when your 10 year olds begin to cut themselves out of activities, you can use it as a kind of internal alarm bell that means that he or she may need a lot more encouragement and a lot less comparing.  

I do a lot of running and enjoy it, but it doesn’t define who I am because if, one day, I lose the ability to run, then I will simply do something else.

The Great Joy of Effort

March 4, 2009

If I never learn anything else as an athletic director, I hope that I can just get my ego out of the way so that I can continue to be a part of great moments like last weekend   I hope you enjoy these photos.  I think they just about tell it all.   Thanks to Stantons for them.


Both of our athletes, Elias Hegner and Henrik Guldbrandsoy won their 1500 races, but it could have gone either way and all 4 runners ran with so much wonderful courage.


The next three photos are about guts.   Madelief in the first took her race out fast and then held it strong to the end.  Maxine waited to the last turn and then just poured it on.  And then Mathew, well what can you say, he was ill, but pushed every ounce of energy out of himself.




The Biegert boys thrilled us with races both short and long.

Three silvers two gold  and a bronze showed how their legs are so strong.



Have you ever been to a sporting event where the picture below did not happen?  I can’t remember the last time, that is, when the girl on podium isn’t in the medals for her team.  Kaitlyn Brodie wins first in the triple jump, 2nd in the high jump.


At almost every tiger event you will see lots of athlete’s losing sodium.

And the Stanton girls, Kate and Sammi, will often be on the podium.



Peter has only one gear, All out!!!!


For one brief moment we were in first place

And MPSJ track stadium was our space.


Our U-9s didn’t know that in year’s past we were quite far behind.

They just loved the podium. It wasn’t hard to find.





Some new faces in the middle school crowd



ISAKL Track and Field Info Sunday March 1st

February 22, 2009

Entry Rules

Maximum events per athlete 2 track events, 2 field events and 1 relay.

Maximum number of entries per school/per event

Relays 1 entry per school for U-9, U-11, U-13, U-15, and O-15.

Running events 3 entries per event per school (e.g. 3 entries for 100 meters).

Field Events 3 entries per event per school.

Medals to 1st, 2nd, 3rd Entries Form Entries to be submitted via Team Manager.

. Age categories are as of August 1st 2008.

Places will be determined by times if there is more than one heat in order to save time throughout the day. For instance, if there are 4 heats for the U-9 50 meters, the fastest 8 of all of the times will be counted, not the individual heats.

Entries Deadline Deadline for entries to the ISAKL track and field meet is MONDAY 22ND February.

Points for overall school winners

Place Individual Events

Relays 1st 8 points 16 points 2nd 7 points 14 points 3rd 6 points 12 points 4th 5 points 10 points 5th 4 points 8 points 6th 3 points 6 points 7th 2 points 4 points 8th 1 point 2 points

Responsibilities for meet (KLASS will organise the equipment. Schools to provide the personnel to run the particular field event.) ISKL – HIGH JUMP MKIS – LONG JUMP, TRIPLE JUMP GIS – SHOT PUT KLASS – JAVELIN AISM – DISCUS KLASS – TRACK EVENTS Note on Schedule:

There will be unavoidable overlap between running events and field events. Track events take priority over field events. Athletes should register with their respective field event and then compete in their track events. They should then return to their field event. Coaches please check and inform your athletes of any potential clashes.

Times for events represent the closest estimate. Should an event finish earlier than expected the next event will start as soon as possible. Schedule of Events 7:30am arrival Field Events Schedule

8:00am U-9 girls high jump U-9 boys high jump U-9 girls shot putt U-9 boys shot putt U-11 girls long jump U-11 boys long jump

9:00am U-9 girls long jump U-9 boys long jump U-11 girls high jump U-11 boys high jump U-11 girls shot putt U-11 boys shot putt

10:00am U-13 girls shot putt U-15 girls long jump O-15 girls high jump O-15 boys high jump U-13 girls discus U-13 boys discus

10:30am U-13 boys shot putt U-15 boys long jump O-15 boys discus O-15 girls discus

11:00am U-13 girls long jump U-15 girls high jump U-15 boys high jump O-15 girls shot putt U-15 girls discus U-15 boys discus

11:30am U-13 boys long jump O-15 boys shot putt 12:00pm U-13 girls high jump U-13 boys high jump U-15 girls shot putt O-15 boys long jump

12.30pm U-15 boys shot putt O-15 girls long jump

1:00pm U-13 girls triple jump O-15 boys javelin

1:30pm U-13 boys triple jump O-15 girls javelin

2:00pm U-13 boys javelin U-15 girls triple jump

2:30pm U-13 girls javelin U-15 boys triple jump

3:00pm U-15 girls javelin O-15 boys triple jump

3:30pm U-15boys javelin O-15 girls triple jump

Track Events

U-11, 800m girls/boys

U-9, U-11, 200m girls/boys

U-9, U-11, 400m girls/boys

U-9, U-11, 100m girls/boys

U-9, 50m girls/boys

U-9, U-11, 4x100m relay girls/boys

U-13, U-15, O-15, 100m girls/boys

U-13, U-15, O-15, 800m girls/boys

U-13, U-15, O-15, 200m girls/boys

U-13, U-15, O-15, 400m girls/boys

U-13, U-15, O-15, 1500m girls/boys

U -13, U-15, O-15, 4x100m relay girls/boys

Building Self Esteem in Sport

February 21, 2009


Last week we had an elementary school track and field meet at our school.  It was designed to be both participatory and competitive so that all 100 athletes could perform in many events against their own levels.   The coaches all noticed something terrific about our athletes.  On the last turn they all were able to surge through the final 50 meters of the races.     The kids all showed a lot of heart even when they were behind in a race.    It is the surest sign to me that there is a high level of self esteem being built in these young athletes.   When you feel good inside,  you work hard and then kick in another gear at the end of race even when there is pain.    

Now what I have noticed is that self esteem seems to be destroyed in children when the emphasis is placed almost entirely on winning.   When a team gets beat pretty badly or a child loses a race,   spectators and parents have a tendency to feel really embarrassed and then give up on their children.   I have also noticed that when the emphasis is placed on the effort and the learning, then there is a lot more joy and, not surprisingly, much better results.  It seems to me that embarrassment on the part of adults in their children’s performances is a huge factor in lowered self esteem.     There seems to be two responses from adults when they feel embarrassed that affect self esteem.   One of the responses is that they get angry at the coaches or the children and then other is pulling their children out of the experience so that they won’t experience embarrassment.   The goal of the responses is the same, to avoid humiliation.  

Self esteem seems to be built when children are placed in situations where they have to make a lot of effort to improve and learn.   There is nothing more rewarding than  working hard and seeing the improvement.   The role of adults is to keep children participating and encouraging hard work by focusing comments on the effort rather than the result and to not allow children to give up easily.    Contrary to where most people focus,  results do not help a person’s esteem because winning is only a temporary feeling.    What is permanent is learning how to make an effort and also the ability to learn from an experience.   


Here are a few suggestions for building self esteem.   

1.  Practice observing qualities rather than results.   Look for enthusiasm,  determination, courage,  humility,  openness to learning,  joy,  cooperation, support for self and others.  Acknowledge the qualities by naming them. 

2.  When a child talks about the results as in being sad about losing or showing off about winning,  think of ways where you can focus on qualities.  You can do it in such a way as to invalidate the win or loss talk.  It usually means that before another performance you can focus on qualities.   

3.  Realize that winning and losing are activity specific realities like you can win at soccer but lose badly in spelling.  Qualities such as determination and courage are generalizable.  This means that when you learn determination in sport it can be generalized to every other part of your life because the process is exactly the same.