Giving Kids the Skills to Succeed - at Life and Sports
The following is an analysis of what makes a good coach and a good parent through the comparison of the 2014-2015 National Champion Ohio State Buckeye football team to the 2015-2016 team by James Allen.
James Allen taught four decades at universities and private and public schools. He has authored many articles on teaching and learning and during his professional career accumulated numerous teaching excellence awards. He has been featured in newspaper and magazine articles both locally and nationally. He received his bachelor's degree from Otterbein University and his M.A. and Ph.D. from The Ohio State University. He is a lifelong resident of the Columbus, Ohio suburb of Upper Arlington where he currently resides.
How to be a Good Coach…and a Good Parent
Good parents are good coaches. Good coaches are good parents. And both groups must be good teachers. And always stay together in victory or defeat. For the teachers, coaches and parents, they become good by not imposing experience on their kids who deserve to shape their own-share and mitigate their lives together, but not alone. Urban Meyer and his football team illustrated how this process works--and doesn't. How raw talent can win football games, but not championships if the team organism is jolted when the key actors go their own way.
I realized early on that another championship season would not occur. The culture had shifted too much for a repeat. But why? During the 2014-2015 season, misfortune became a team unifier. The individual could not construct a personal goal without embedding it within the group. The death of a teammate or a stinging early defeat could only be overcome and used as performance motivation if each person thought not of himself but the other guy in the same "battle" to overcome nasty life experiences.
And overcome they did in a remarkable run to the 2014-2015 national championship. The culture had won. The chase was complete. The devastation of previous experience had been substituted by the exhilaration of individual performance that was always linked and made possible by collaboration. A championship team was born. The teacher-coach had molded talented individual effort by showing parents that the NFL was more possible, and individual talent highlighted, when all parts of the organism functioned for the success of the entire group.
But what were those parents feeling and thinking early in the process? Was their trust in the coach and his teaching vulnerable? Probably. What the coach was telling his players was most likely not unlike what they'd heard at home. And here is where the parents own experience comes in. How were they able to diffuse, even eliminate, paralyzing disappointment in their histories? Were they now able to learn new strategies for embracing adversity to provoke and motivate their child's pursuit of excellence? They did that year and the final results were historical.
But then the shift began. Individuals were heralded, microphones thrust to their mouths. Magazine covers proliferated with faces of single contributors who had expertly performed on a national stage and were now glorified not for playing hard to make someone else look better but for their isolated contribution to the success. And then those individuals became the focus of the real "grind" to recapture the lost war culture that had succeeded at a high level in the past. Could the same "soldiers" from previous battles once again think first of the others in or would individual participation isolate itself without integrating the talent for the benefit of the whole? The answers began to emerge.
The miracle of the previous year was made possible when coaches, players, and parents viewed the group as the collective impetus for personal development and individual success. Rebounding from loss had propelled a renaissance that had made the whole much greater than its parts. Yet the focus had realigned to the parts. Who would be the quarterback or win the Heisman or be picked high in the NFL draft? The scrutiny had shifted from a collaborative triumph orchestrated by the coach to the decisions that he made which would influence a player's ultimate worth.
This new trajectory became apparent prior to the first game of the succeeding season. A star player had been suspended and other transgressions would follow as players who once thought first about the group were now assaulted by their own personal fame. And that fame had been originally established by overcoming adversity, not causing it to the detriment of the team. What followed was uneven performance, less unity, and a broken collaboration which culminated in November when a repeat championship was lost in the rain.
After four decades as a teacher, the winning "seasons" were always the same. They provided the exhilaration. When parents and their kids trusted the teacher, the triad had been formed. When the class coalesced as a team, the learning magic was palpable. Everyone--parents, kids, and the teacher--left feeling good about themselves because they had won this championship trusting in the coach at the head of the class. They were all on the same page. When they were not, victories were sometimes summoned but transformation was elusive, usually impossible.
The triad model is shattered when individuals, players or parents narrowly redefine winning as an individual pursuit and losing as the final score on the board. In the 2014-2015 season, an ugly score appeared to preempt ultimate success until a collaboration was formed and a team emerged where the group could only succeed together, not as individuals seeking fame and fortune for their highlighted, sports center moment.
And then the new model of the post-championship season climaxed in a devastating loss in November. The star running back then famously complained that he could have run the ball more. He revealed explicitly that his stardom could have made a difference. The difference had already been made. The blaming was exposed. The only remedy this late in the season would be a return, with nothing to lose, to a collaboration where all stake holders learned that failure can and should be a powerful learning tool.
Players, coaches, parents returned to each other to commiserate on "what could have been." They had each other once again when the adversity reappeared when they were more separate and apart. They reconvened, reconnected and surely learned never to lose sight of each other in victory or defeat. The reconnection looked and felt like the joy of the previous season. The battles had returned as a collective effort, a collaboration where the parents were on the team. It was too late for a repeat but vivid and instructive with what went wrong.
- James Allen