Not making a team can be devastating to a kid. I say this because the memory of not making a team is still fresh in my mind – more than forty years after it happened. As a freshman in high school, I tried out for the cheerleading squad. When I didn’t make the cut, I was crushed. At the age of fourteen, I felt like it was the end of the world and my heart was broken.
While it may be a stretch to say that my most profound life lessons have come from cheerleading, it isn’t altogether inaccurate, either. By being a cheerleader – or, more specifically, by first not being a cheerleader – I made fundamental discoveries about perseverance, determination, goal-setting and diligence.
I was very fortunate because I had parents who really supported me. They acknowledged my disappointment and assured me that this experience presented an opportunity for me to build character and learn valuable life lessons. Initially, their perspective didn’t make me feel any better. In the moment,still reeling from the disappointment of not making the cheerleading squad, the idea of building character had no appeal whatsoever, nor did it give me any comfort.
But my parents had planted a seed.To my surprise, the next morning, I woke with a newfound sense of determination. I would embark upon a very focused training program, beginning that very same day as soon as I got home from school. My parents gave me unwavering encouragement and I trained every single day for the next year!
My daily practice routine started out by mustering up a lot of discipline, and I often had to push myself much harder than I wanted to. An entire year of daily practice seemed like an eternity, and I wondered at first if it would even be worth the struggle. However, as each day passed, I became more and more energized by my vision of becoming a cheerleader.I grew to believe I would see it through. My vision was so compelling that I actually looked forward to my daily training.And it paid off. The next year, I was awarded a spot on the cheerleadingsquad.
Today, I still draw on that experience when I run into obstacles. I recall how vision, commitment and determination were the key ingredients in reaching my goal. But I remember another critical factor as well: the contributions of my parents. My mother helped me stick to a training schedule. My father provided encouragement and assurance that I was doing the right thing by putting everything I had into achieving my goal.
Unfortunately, it is all too clear that many children growing up today do not have a family like mine: two present parents to make them feel good about who they are and what they are doing. And that’s why it’s so important for other adults in their lives to step in and take on this role from time to time. Kids have the potential to learn from success and failure alike, but only if someone older and wiser is there to guide them through the disappointment of not getting what they want. When coaches encourage the underdogs or follow up with the kids who don’t quite make the team, it can make all the difference in the world as far as who tries out again – and succeeds – next time around.
Perseverance works – but so does a helping hand. I encourage coaches and all adults who work with children and youth to remember just how important their influence is, and to remember that kids who fail at one attempt are often just a step or two away from success – if someone reaches out to help them get there.
Here are some tips that might help your student athletes and children reach their goals:
1. Have a clear and compelling vision (goal)
Kids often have a vision or goal of something they really want but may dismiss it as unreachable. All our most important goals first show up as illogical and force us to stretch beyond our comfort zone. We need to encourage our kids to trust their vision. Get them to talk about it. Engage with them so they know you care about them
2. Have enormous desire to realize your vision (goal)
We want to help kids develop the wisdom to understand how crucial it is to make their desire to reach their goal much bigger than the obstacles they will face. Empower them by asking questions such as: Why is this important to you? What about this goal interests you? When you reach this goal, how will you feel about yourself? How will this make you grow? Who will you become when you reach this goal? Guide them, encourage them, challenge them, and most of all believe in them more than they believe in themselves.
3. Be committed to your vision (goal)
Help kids set up the will to succeed. Acknowledge their commitment. If they lose steam, hold their vision up to them as a motivator. Encourage, encourage and encourage some more!
4. Call in support
One of the biggest mistakes we make as adults is thinking we can do it all alone. No one can have success alone. It is impossible. Help kids grasp this at a young age. It will have a huge and very positive impact on their entire life. Teach them how to ask for help. Teach them how to enroll others in reaching their goals.
The common thread that runs through the most successful people in humankind is that they all had a fabulous support team.
5. Develop a plan and be open to tweak it if necessary
Teach kids the importance of structure by creating a plan. It is natural for kids (and adults) to resist structure because they fear they will lose freedom. Show them evidence that structure will give them more freedom and will help them soar. The plan will guide them like a road map and make it easier to reach their desired destination.
As Richard Bach said, “You are never given a dream without also being given the power to make it true. You may have to work at it, however.”