During one of our 40-minute life skills lessons, we attempted to teach the kids the importance of resilience and bouncing back. We started with a Wayne Gretzky quote: “You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.” Building upon this principle, we encouraged the kids to put themselves out there and try their best regardless of what the outcome may be. We had a group discussion about how failure provides opportunities for growth, and that the more they fail the closer they get to success. We teach life skills four days a week, but they learn more about reality on Fridays when the week’s lessons are put to the test.
Each week ends with competition day on Friday. The kids are divided into four teams – pink, green, orange, and yellow – and on Friday they participate in games for the four sports they are taught and take tests for their academic and life skills classes. Competition day can be intense at times, and the kids get very emotionally invested. We coach the “Pink Team,” a group of competitive, rowdy, yet sweet 8th graders. After this week’s competition day Pink Team met for our daily team bonding to wrap up the afternoon.
“Even though they did well the first week, they learned so much more from the failure in Week Two. Regardless of how we finished we are still a team, and we finished with our team cheer ‘Hồng (pink), hồng, hồng… hổ báo!’ to lift their spirits.”
As we rounded the corner into our classroom we were shocked by how upset kids were. Most of the kids were crying with their heads down on their desk. The week before we had won first overall. This week when they placed 3rd in sports, they were crushed. They felt doing poorly was tied to their identity. We tried to remind them of the bigger picture; sports counted for only one third of the total team points with academic and life skills tests making up the rest. Our star academic student, who is also probably the most un-athletic on the team said, “I have let you guys down, we all have. You have come all this way, and we feel like we did not give you our best. Now, we only have one more week with you.” It was upsetting to see how distraught these kids were over such a small loss. Seeing their reactions was eye-opening because it revealed what their happiness was rooted in: success.
As coaches we saw this as an opportunity to tie the loss back to our life skills lessons. As Stanford and Duke student-athletes, we understand the importance “game.” While we are both striving to be national champions, that is not why we play the “game.” We play the “game” for the love of sport, community, and lessons we learn that transcend the boundaries of the playing field. Success and failure are inevitable, but what matters is how we respond as a team. We reminded our team “hồng” (pink) about last weeks’ success and that we still have a week together to work hard and improve. Even though they did well the first week, they learned so much more from the failure in Week Two. Regardless of how we finished we are still a team, and we finished with our team cheer “Hồng (pink), hồng, hồng… hổ báo!” to lift their spirits. Although the wrap-up session and seeing our kids like this was upsetting, we are hopeful that the lesson they learned this Friday will stay with them longer than the results of a silly competition.