I recently spoke to a hitting coach for a professional baseball team. He told me how he’d tried to help a 19-year-old minor leaguer change his swing. After trying his suggestion three times, the player tossed down the bat saying, “It doesn’t work.”

The hitting coach replied, “But you gave it just three swings.”

“I know, and it doesn’t work,” retorted the frustrated player.

“But it’s gonna take you three thousand swings to get it right!” the coach exclaimed.

Such is the new dialogue coaches are having with today’s new breed of athlete. These players are not stupid or slow or untalented — they’ve just grown up in a world where they often get what they want with a quick click. A Google search. A single step.

Baseball

In this world, it’s challenging to get young athletes to love the process. You know what I mean, don’t you? Excelling in any sport means you commit to a grueling process of preparation and habit. It’s not glitzy or glamorous, and few fans are likely watching. This is difficult for a generation of gifted athletes, where so much has come quickly and easily. To make matters worse, the media conditions them with constant pings on their smart phone, causing dopamine spikes in their systems. Consider today’s media:

  • We live in a day of one-minute highlight reels on SportsCenter. We watch Lebron James or Peyton Manning dunk shots and pass for touchdowns but never watch them put in the hours that enabled them to achieve such feats.
  • We live in a day of Instagram, Snapchat, microwave ovens, fast food, ATMs and high-speed Internet access. We don’t have to wait on too much or get too bored.
  • We live in a day of “before” and “after” photos — where people have lost weight or gotten toned or won prizes — but we only see the half-minute commercials. No details.

In 2000, adolescent attention spans were 12 seconds. Today, they are 6-8 seconds. They have dropped almost in half. While it’s not hard to capture your athlete’s attention, it is very hard to keep their attention. Is it any wonder why coaches or trainers must work so tenaciously to get them to stay in the conditioning process between games?

The Generation iY SCENE

Let me summarize the challenge in two columns below. The left side captures the world (the SCENE) we’ve created thanks to technology and parenting styles. The right side, however, reminds us of the unintended consequences of that scene:

Their World is Full of: Consequently, They Can Assume:
S – Speed Slow is bad.
C – Convenience Hard is bad.
E – Entertainment Boring is bad.
N – Nurture Risk is bad.
E – Entitlement Labor is bad.

How Do We Help Them Embrace the Process?

Consider this analogy. In many ways, the slow, boring and challenging process athletes must experience can be compared to the Bonsai Tree. Do you remember how it grows? Bonsai trees are beautiful to look at, but they require lots of care and shaping in order to attain that beauty. In the year 970, the Japanese book The Tale of the Hollow Tree included this passage: “A tree that’s left growing in its natural state is a crude thing. It is only when it is kept close to human beings who fashion it with loving care that its shape and style acquire the ability to move onward and grow well.”

What’s most intriguing to me is that many types of Bonsai trees grow roots as deeply as possible before showing any visible signs of growth. In other words, at first the growth is below the surface, so that the tree can establish its foundation before shooting up and out with beautiful branches and leaves. The growth is invisible for months, but then this incredible tree shoots up and outward visibly. Roots come first, then come branches.

This is a picture of the process. It’s often invisible at first — you have to learn to trust the process, or you’ll give up. It’s hard to engage in a process when we don’t see results, as we want a payoff. Below are six steps athletes can take to begin to embrace the process.

Six Steps to Engage in the Process:

  1. Set Micro Goals.

These are simply a set of smaller goals that are reachable each day or each week. They allow athletes to put “wins” under their belt quickly and spur them on to larger goals.

  1. Do something slightly different every 6 seconds.

During practice, re-arrange segments where athletes literally do something different every six seconds—about their attention span. Once these speed drills are complete, lengthen them.

  1. Focus on mini decisions and mini steps.

This is a second cousin to step one. Instruct athletes to make mini-decisions that lead to a maxi-decision. This helps them take small but incremental steps toward a larger goal.

  1. Simulate the “event” in practice regularly.

Because the “event” (the competition) is why most athletes join the team, take time to simulate (or create) game moments and debrief them. Both experience and reflection are key.

  1. Celebrate any and all visible progress.

One reason the process is hard is that we only celebrate the “game,” not the practice. Try celebrating any measurable progress, with tangible rewards and affirmation.

  1. Lose the “lottery mindset” and see discipline as a bridge. 

If needed, constantly re-calibrate their minds. Help them to ditch the “lottery” mindset that believes they’ll “fall into greatness overnight.” Discipline is like a bridge, taking them from where they are to where they want to be. No matter where they want to go, they’ll likely have to cross the bridge called “discipline.” (This is one of our Habitudes®.)

When athletes love the process, they carry no illusions about life, glitz or fanfare. In his book, Empire of Illusion, Chris Hedges writes, “Wounded marines booed and hissed John Wayne when he visited them in a hospital ward in Hawaii during the Second World War. Wayne, who never served in the military and, for the visit, wore a fancy cowboy outfit that included spurs and pistols, would later star in the 1949 gung-ho war movie The Sands of Iwo Jima. The marines, some of whom had fought in Iwo Jima, grasped the manipulation and deceit of the celebrity culture. They understood that mass culture contributes to self-delusion…”

These marines understood what life is really about versus what’s merely a façade. They understood what true grit is. Great people—great athletes—learn to LOVE the process, to embrace and enjoy it. They trust the process will take them where they want to go.


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Yesterday, I posed a question about the skills we must build in today’s students, particularly as more apps are introduced into the market that eliminate our need to add, subtract, communicate verbally, or remember basic information. I blogged about PhotoMath, a new app that allows you to simply point your smart phone at a math problem and solve it. It’s nice, neat and instant. My question was: Is this a good thing? Do we want our kids to simply learn to point and shoot, or to actually understand geometry? Is it any different than a calculator? There’s no easy answer to that question.

Now I want you to consider another challenge we face as parents.

Any adult who has raised teenagers knows how scary it is the first time their teen is given a set of car keys. As much as we may trust them, handing over that level of freedom can be terrifying. General Motors is aware of this fear, and in response, they’ve developed a system in their 2016 Chevrolet Malibu called Teen Driver. It motivates young drivers to be safer behind the wheel, as the vehicle communicates back to mom or dad how far they have traveled, as well as how often they broke the speed limit. It’s a little like having a babysitter or chaperone in the car with them at all times. (You might even call it an accountability partner).

teen-driver

According to Gizmodo, “The Teen Driver system actually generates a driving report based on several metrics including top speed, distance traveled, how many times the driver went over a preset speed limit, and how often the vehicle’s own autonomous safety features had to be activated. And to prevent a teenager from deactivating it once they pull out of the driveway, the Teen Driver mode is PIN-protected by the car’s owner, and is automatically activated when a teen’s fob is used to start the vehicle.” It’s almost foolproof.

Pros and Cons

I’m sure lots of parents would say this is exactly what their son or daughter needs right now. That sixteen year old has a “lead foot,” and this feature will help him stay within the law. Thanks to new technology, we’re worry free. Problem solved… at least, for now.

On the other hand, I wonder if it fosters an even bigger problem. Does it sabotage our requirement for old-fashioned trust and conversation? Does it diminish the need for parents and teens to sit down and really discuss boundaries, values, and responsibility? In one sense, is this car feature another version of the proverbial “video game” that becomes the one-eyed baby-sitter, liberating mom from the need to teach her children to think for themselves, occupy themselves and interact with others? I realize these words may sound like hyperbole, but I always encourage parents, faculty, coaches and administrators to consider the outcomes of all new technology. While it achieves a good goal, we must not allow it to replace human leadership in the home or at school.

It is a bonus, not a game changer, which takes the place of human connection. Starting 50 years ago with the television, then videocassettes and video games, each new iteration of technology has made life easier, but if we’re not careful, it can also remove the need for fundamental connection points during the day. I believe social trends reveal we’ve spent less time actually leading our kids. How often do we stop and debrief what’s happening with a friend? How often do we have time to actually converse? How often do we have dinner together?

Good Questions to Ask Ourselves

It seems to be trust is the biggest issue, since parents and teens must work to cultivate it, especially in adolescence. So here are some questions to ask yourself as new technology and opportunities to make life efficient are introduced to us:

  1. Does it promote trust, or must we work harder at building trust between adult and child? Quite frankly, does it remove the need to trust?
  1. Does it foster open and honest conversation, or will it eventually remove our need to converse about certain topics interpersonally?
  1. How will it help us provide a balance of autonomy and responsibility to kids? Does it encourage responsible behavior in proportion to their independence?
  1. If we adopted this new technology, how will we need to adjust our lifestyles to insure we continue interpersonal communication?
  1. How could it actually be a mentoring tool to cultivate life skills?

Bottom line? If you buy a smart car… just make sure you still develop a smart kid.


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OK. I have a topic I’d like you to weigh in on, as a reader and a leader. It’s a conversation we need to have among teachers, coaches, and parents about the kind of skill sets we need to cultivate in our students that will enable them to be ready for life and leadership.

A New App That Solves Math Problems?

I just read about PhotoMath, a new app that solves math problems by simply pointing your phone camera at the equation. Amazing! Where was this when I was in school, right?

The PhotoMath website claims all this and more: it actually teaches math in the process. The app reads and solves mathematical problems by using the camera of your mobile device in real time. It makes math easy and simple by walking users through the steps to solve their math problems.

PhotoMath claims to be “The world’s smartest camera calculator! Just point your camera to a math problem, and PhotoMath will instantly display the answer. You can join millions of users worldwide and make your learning progress faster and more enjoyable. You can use it to get help when you’re stuck with a problem. Hit the steps button, and see a full step-by-step solution!” Students can use it as a tool to learn math, while parents can use it to quickly check their kid’s homework. The claim is: with PhotoMath, it’s like having a math teacher in your pocket!

The app supports basic arithmetic, fractions, decimal numbers, linear equations and several functions like logarithms. Support for updated math theory or lessons are constantly added in new releases. Handwritten text is not supported — only printed problems from Math textbooks.

photomath

The Big Question

With this new technology, students can instantly receive accurate answers. My question is, will students actually learn the steps to solving math problems with this app, or will it cause their math skills to atrophy? Will we get lazier when it comes to solving problems because we have a smart phone in our hands?

Or… will it even matter?

Think back to the time when calculators first came out. Many math teachers would tell their students they could not bring a calculator to class, as they wanted the students to demonstrate they could solve the problem without any electronics in hand. Over time, however, we began to see that calculators saved us time and effort, so we all began using them. My guess is, you have one on your smart phone right now. It’s commonplace. But is that good? Should we continue to develop our math skills to keep our minds sharp, or do we agree that our 21st century culture no longer requires that of us, freeing our minds to focus on more relevant problems?

Personally, I’ve been one to solve multiplication and division problems mentally, just to stay sharp. However, I can see both sides of this issue. It’s likely PhotoMath will be commonplace someday, and when it does, we all may wonder how we got by without it.

So here’s the larger question: are math skills timeless skills we should continue to build in our kids, regardless of what technology is introduced into the market? What’s more, are there other skills we should consider timeless and continue to help them cultivate, such as:

  • Empathy
  • Discipline
  • Listening
  • Work ethic

What do you think? What do we allow technology to do for us, and what do we regard as timeless life skills we should always develop in every generation?


Looking to develop timeless leadership skills in students? 

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Last week, America mourned yet another senseless tragedy—the hateful shooting and killing of nine individuals by a 21-year-old gunman at the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Six women and three men died; four of them were pastors.

I have to admit, I was shocked, then I grieved, and then I became angry… much like millions of other Americans were around our nation. How could this happen again? Who was this young killer, and what could motivate him to do such a thing? Was it purely racism? Was it revenge? Was it in reaction to something that had happened to him?

photo credit: Charleston via photopin

photo credit: Charleston via CNN

I’ve already heard about the shooter’s mental health issues, and I have no doubt we will all hear more. The mental health of our teens and twenty-somethings is a deep concern to me—and I am convinced we’ll have to take more and better steps to address this problem among young adults.

But what about now? How should we respond to this calamity? I believe three answers to this question lie in how the people of Charleston have already responded to this tragedy. Below are some leadership lessons they teach us.

Build a Bridge, Not a Wall

Did you see the 15,000 people march across the major bridge in Charleston? It was called the “bridge to peace” march across the Ravenel Bridge—people of different races joining hands and singing “This Little Light of Mine” as they walked together. This was an intentional step of unity.

AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton

AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton

According to research done by Rebecca Biglar at the University of Texas, people tend to connect with those who are like them… even as early as pre-school. Children with blue shirts sided with other kids with blue shirts to oppose the red shirted kids in their class. Biglar’s research team concluded group bias was not a race issue—just that we naturally associate with those who look like we do. This means we must make an effort to build a “bridge” in our relationships to others who look and act different from us, instead of naturally building a “wall.”

On the Ravenel Bridge, people were high-fiving, hugging and singing as they walked up the bridge to create a unity chain. The energy only ceased during a nine-minute gap of silence for the victims. All this might have never happened had it not been for the mass murder that took place. They’ve made a beautiful thing from an awful thing.

Practice the Law of Reciprocals

You remember what a reciprocal number is, don’t you? In math class, a fraction like 3/8 has a reciprocal of 8/3. It’s upside down and opposite. This is a picture of what the people of Charleston have done in response to the murders. You might say they practiced the Law of Reciprocals by doing precisely the opposite of what this killer did. It was about responding, not reacting. Several of the families of the victims sat down with the captured felon… and uttered words of forgiveness. Looking him right in the eye, they said things like, “I am sad that I will never hold my daughter again, but I forgive you.” It was the reciprocal of what the shooter had done.

He was about violence. They were about peace and forgiveness.

His goal was to display hatred. They responded with overwhelming love.

His goal was to kill. They were about protecting life.

His goal was to divide people. They united together in their sadness.

His focus was harm. Their focus was all about healing.

His aim was evil. Ours must be good, truth and justice. Like them.

Choose to Initiate and Act… Not Imitate and React

I love the fact that the Charleston AME Church was back in worship this past Sunday, just one day after the police turned the building back over to the congregation and four days after the murders. Instead of cowering in fear or waiting until the dust had settled on this issue, they met, they sang, they affirmed their beliefs, and they laid out a plan going forward to practice their faith in that city. They were proactive, not reactive, at a time when the easiest thing to do would be to react with angry emotion rather than peaceful logic. Leaders act, rather than react. Leaders initiate more than imitate.

In light of the frustration so many felt in Ferguson, MO; in New York, NY; in Baltimore, MD; and other locations of violence—we can learn from the response of the everyday leaders in Charleston, SC. May their tribe increase.

And may it accomplish their goal.

We’ve all seen it: Little League baseball players show up for their final game, and everyone gets a trophy. Students compete in an art show, and everyone gets a ribbon. It’s become commonplace. We are all winners. In fact, we’re all awesome.

The question on the minds of students is simple. In this kind of a world, what does an award even mean? I know a ten-year old baseball player who handed the trophy back to his dad, saying, “I don’t want this. It doesn’t mean anything.”

This year, three high schools in Dublin, Ohio, displayed their own version of this charade. But they claim to do it with good reason. Do you want to guess what they did?

They named 222 graduating seniors valedictorian. Yep. They sure did. That means two out of every ten graduates in Dublin’s three high schools received top honors this year. (One of the schools had 96 valedictorians.) If they’d all been allowed to speak, graduation ceremonies might still be going on now.

So why would they do this?

David Hawkins, executive director for educational content and policy with the National Association of College Admissions Counseling, said he’s aware of more schools offering the top award to multiple students. Experts say it’s more typical to see multiple valedictorians (or none at all) as educators try to eliminate the competition among students to be number one in their class. Additionally, some schools do this because of the scholarship money that may be available to high school grads with valedictorian status.

Is This a Good Idea?

I get it. This is all done to affirm the kids and give them an advantage in college. But is this really a good idea in the long run?

Let’s break down a few points of contention surrounding this issue:

Competition – I think anyone can agree that too much academic competition can be unhealthy. But who is the culprit? I think it’s parents more than kids. We speak in hyperbole, sadly tying their esteem to an award rather than their intrinsic value. When one college senior didn’t earn honors, her mom created homemade honors tassels for her to wear at graduation. Sounds embarrassing to me. If we back off, I bet our kids will be fine.

Differentiation – When loads of kids win awards, their differentiation suffers. It’s supply and demand. With a large supply of awards, it’s not rare, which causes it to lose value. (Similar to how the U.S. dollar’s value has declined because we’ve printed so much of it.) I think we should teach students their inherent value apart from the need for a trophy. Too much outward recognition actually creates unhealthy pressure on kids.

Preparation – Do all these awards teach our young grads about how life works? In one sense, award ceremonies like this can emulate a job — with hard work, perhaps many can win a sales contest or a trip to Hawaii. Usually, however, kids will enter careers with tough competition and one top producer. An HR executive told me her company recently hired “praise consultants” because so many young employees require so much feedback and affirmation. We must teach students how to esteem themselves apart from monetary or material rewards.

Satisfaction – Research demonstrates that when we’re presented with too many awards (or rewards) over time, our motivation shifts to the reward rather than the inherent satisfaction of the effort. Soon, a kid only wants to draw a picture if she gets a prize, not because she loves drawing pictures. I believe we must prepare our kids to be ambitious about doing meaningful and rewarding work, not about recognition or prizes.

Call me old-fashioned, but I believe an award should be handled like a compliment:

  1. Unique – It’s given to appreciate or recognize something distinctive to the recipient.
  2. Personal – It’s not generic but a special and individual honor directed at them.
  3. Meaningful – It’s of significant importance in what it affirms about the recipient.
  4. Authentic – It’s in recognition of one’s lifestyle, not outside compensation they strive to gain.

My parents raised me to find my self-esteem in using my talents to serve other people. I won a few trophies along the way, but my identity was never tied to them.

Let’s teach our students that real rewards are found on the inside.


 

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Check out Habitudes®: Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes

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