Culture, sport and teaching

To see the world in a grain of sand, and to see heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hands, and eternity in an hour.

I saw Chris King, little Will Denton’s coach, at practice Wednesday. He was passing by, looking for a ball after his session had finished. I told him I used to do that, but now I ask the boys to find a ball we’ve lost. I tell them that the number one indicator of a good season is if we end up with the same amount of equipment we started with.

This started when I was watched a Bay Oaks girls’ practice many years ago. The class 1 players would train in a grid on Piedmont High’s turf field.  After every error, the ball would roll away and they’d get a new one from a supply close by. What happened to the errant balls, and how did the supply of fresh ones get replenished? The coaches and parents were shagging and returning them.  In this way, the players got to train uninterruptedly without experiencing the consequence of a poor play – until game day.

Once I got to go to St. Andrews, Scotland and one of the memorable things I did was take a golf lesson. What sticks with me the most is that it took place in a practice area – no fancy driving ranges to be found in Scotland. (If you’re not a golfer, a driving range is a place you go to hit balls. You buy a bucket of balls for $8 or so and hit them off a turf mat usually. The employees of the range collect them, clean them and rent them out again.) My instructor had me aiming at a target in the landing area. After I hit all the balls we had we went out there and picked them up ourselves. Do you think I paid more attention and hit more purposefully, knowing that wherever I hit the ball, I’d have to go find it? This is why I make it a practice not to pick up everything and carry it from the field back to my car. It is not because it’s too heavy; I usually bring it out to the field myself. It is because I want the boys to actively participate in the process.

I mention this because I have heard a few times now comments around our proposed trip to Brazil, saying that it seems like only soccer, and suggesting something more cultural and educational to be included. I am completely open to this. And I thought I should take some time to share that I am constantly trying to teach non-soccer, cultural lessons to the boys all the time. And this would only expand in a trip to Brazil, where the opportunities are very fertile. So, for everyone’s awareness I am passing along some of the topics I have touched on, or have prepared, with the Hammer over the past year and a half:

Cultural Lessons from the SFV Hammer:

Keep track of the equipment. Don’t let it get lost, find it, pick it up and reuse it instead. Lesson:

conserving finite resource and avoiding consumer mentality of “just buy some more.”

Clean up after ourselves. “We were never here.” After practices and games, clean up after ourselves, especially water bottles and other trash. Yesterday I picked up apple cores from some team that had been there earlier. Apple cores on turf. Lesson: responsibility and respect for shared space.

Captaincy and role-model behavior. Byron was captain vs. Celtic. Before the game he looked across the field at them and talked about how big and scary they looked. I almost took the armband from him and asked him, “As captain, what is the purpose of your comments to your teammates? In voicing your fear of their size, how are you making your teammates ready for this game?” Lesson: the nature of leadership, the actions and words of a leader, leadership is in everything you say and do.

Spirit of the collective. Watch your words for inclusion and exclusion of teammates. When your words criticize or belittle a teammate, you reduce his confidence and ability to play creatively. In essence (as coach Toby says) you are now “playing for the enemy” by performing work your opponent wishes it could do. Lesson: words are powerful and we all have a role in creating and maintaining team spirit, especially when we are under duress.

The psychology of bullying and its effect on others. As seen in media reports on suicide among children subject to bullying, including Tyler Clementi of Rutgers college, what are the sources of bullying behaviour and what are the effects on the bullied. Lesson: a team can only perform when a diverse collection of individuals is allowed to come together in shared mission and mutual respect. Those who passively observe bullying and take no action because they do not possess the attributes of the bullied (being or seeming gay, of a different race, physical attribute) help create an environment where they may become the next target. By working together we can eradicate this behaviour and make a high-performance space that is safe for all.

Suicidal ideation and “It Gets Better”. Publicize the “It Gets Better” campaign where adults famous and not-so-famous have recorded videos that share their experience with adolescent despair, being bullied, and feeling painfully different and outcast. Lesson: middle school and high school can be very painful periods of growth and individuation, with children in pain acting cruelly to other children in pain. While the struggle of personal growth, to realize who you are and who you are not, can be painful and isolating, you are not the first or only one to feel this. And no matter how anguishing it may be, there is support at your fingertips, others have gone through similar pain, and it does in fact get better.

The needs  of the many outweigh the needs of the few. (yeah, I’m a Trekkie) Not everyone can play center-forward all the time. Yesterday I moved Byron to center defender, a spot I know he isn’t crazy about. I watched him play it superbly and without a single complaint. In doing so he garnered praise from Pierce, who I hope learned something as well. Lesson: to perform in a group you have to be prepared to subjugate your desires in service to the team.

The Grief Cycle. When our tournament in Sonoma was canceled abruptly, we discussed the work of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and the five stages of grief (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance). I mentioned how the irate emails I saw from other coaches and managers fit the model quite well. When I wrote down the initials DABDA and asked the boys to guess what they meant, Will Nagle was the winner, even though he had never heard of it before. Lesson: accept grief as a natural feeling and recognize that the stages are not sequential. Strive to find acceptance and move on from there, which is what I had to do in order to get the idea for the Lemonade Cup. I saw Scott Donohue recover faster than I did, and that gave me the inspiration to make something positive instead of ruminating in my own juices.

I love coaching these guys because they are open to talking about these ideas, in addition to all the football work we do. This is one reason I prefer Upper House to Travel Teams, because in my mind I can make openings for these dialogues and let football teach life, instead of football for its own sake.

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2 Responses to Culture, sport and teaching

  1. Joanna says:

    I love this post! I should try to write something similar about the lessons I’m trying to teach my students beyond the “subject matter” when I’m feeling discouraged.

  2. jimsakeeper1 says:

    thank you! I think you are my most loyal reader. =) You should do it, it made me feel better.

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