One of my favorite all-time movie moments comes at the end of Field of Dreams when James Earl Jones’ character, delivers his famous speech that “People will come.” Near the end of that speech, he makes a statement about change that resonates with me to this day, “…America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It's been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again…”
Arguably this is never truer for our country than during a presidential election cycle, especially like the one which we’ve all just experienced that has been accompanied by so much debate and change. But armies of steamrollers don’t just plow over the political and social landscapes that influence our government. They are poised and ready to strike at any moment – within the context of our own individual lives – and the lives of the people around us.
We all have been, and will continue to be, steamrolled at some point in our lives: by injury, illness, an unexpected change in employment, the loss of loved ones. We constantly live with the knowledge that in one brief and unexpected moment our lives can be transformed forever. Despite that knowledge, in the hustle and noise of everyday life, it can sometimes be easy to forget that those moments and transformations don’t just happen to us – they happen to everyone.
That’s why the roles of parents, teachers, and coaches are so important. As adults who have had our share of our lives being erased, rebuilt, and erased again, one of the most valuable things we can offer the kids in our lives is the gift of perspective. The gift of helping kids to see the forest through the trees – and to find the light at the end of their tunnels that will keep them moving forward. Here are a few thoughts on how.
In order to help kids learn how to be more resilient, it’s important to actually recognize when they are distracted, down, or demotivated. We have to know our kids and we have to pay attention: to what they say and to what they don’t; to their language and their body language; to how they interact with us and with their teammates.
Whether it’s helping a young athlete acknowledge a mistake that occurred on the field or to acknowledge the issue from school that has them down or distracted, it’s important to identify the source of the problem – and admit that there is a problem.
This is where our knowledge and experience is so important. While a mistake from earlier in the game, a bad grade on a pop quiz, or whether or not so-and-so sat with me at lunch may seem like the end of the world to a young athlete who is struggling, we as adults know those probably aren’t life altering events in the grand scheme of things. At the same time, if a young person is experiencing something far more substantial, our understanding can help bring that athlete closer to resources within a school or community that can help.
Sports offer an opportunity for kids to learn how to compete – and one of the hallmarks of competition is learning how to work around and through distractions, negativity, and adversity. If we’re fortunate, in most cases, the types of issues that are causing our young athletes to feel overwhelmed and down are “little picture” problems: of the pop quiz and lunchroom drama variety. In those cases, one of the best things we can do is provide tools and advice to help them refocus and stay in the moment. We can help them put their issues into the context of the big picture and learn that what seems like the end of the world today is probably just a little speed bump.
The most effective methods aren’t always the same from one player to another. It could be a pat on the back, arm around a shoulder, or a metaphorical “kick in the butt”. As long as we consistently keep their best interests in mind, communicate effectively and appropriately, and as long as we are committed to helping them stay focused on the things that they can control that will help them to develop and perform, we’ll be giving them knowledge and experiences that will help them more effectively rebuild their personal landscapes after their battles with the armies of steamrollers that will accompany them throughout their lives.