The other day I was approached by my son’s track and field coach and she, in the kindest way possible, asked my son to leave the team. As she put it: “His heart doesn’t appear to be in it”. This was odd to me, because he had previously been enthusiastic, engaged and energized by his practices which are all signs of a congruent lifestyle alignment.
I put myself in the coach’s shoes to understand her experience with him. She explained to me that he use to come to practice and would try really hard but that in the last month he was coming up with excuse after excuse as to why he couldn’t participate. She said she tried everything to get him engaged (and I’m sure she did), but that he was bringing bad energy to the team and she couldn’t have that around the other athletes any longer. Fair enough. I could see how from her vantage point it would appear that his heart wasn’t in it.
But I know my kid.
On the drive home I couldn’t help but think about how this was a massive turning point for him. This could go one way or another and his love for track was on the line based on one coach’s decision. How many times have we seen children disengage from something and assume they just don’t like it and that their hearts aren’t in it? SOMETIMES this is in fact the case—the sport or the activity isn’t in alignment for them—but it’s not ALWAYS the case.
When you step outside of any situation and further away from its face value, you’ll often find a broader perspective and it’s there that bigger questions await you.
The questions in this case were:
Why does it appear that his heart wasn’t in it?
And what could have happened that made him change on a dime from engaged to disengaged?
When we (his dad and I) dug deep with him, the answers were actually quite simple. He had moved up to a new level and he didn’t think he was able to keep up. He was running with a kid who was ranked 4th in the province and my boy was gaining on him, but just couldn’t get there. He didn’t understand why he couldn’t catch him (this kid has been training longer), so as he was running he’d be telling himself that it hurt or that it was hard. In his words, he kept piling on the excuses as to why he couldn’t catch him until it weighed him down enough to stop.
These excuses may sound absolutely elementary to a coach or an older athlete, but he’s a kid who didn’t fully understand exactly what “try” meant. He thought it meant winning. Then his coach didn’t meet him where he was at and perceived it as a lack of heart because that was the only lens she could see through (understandably—that’s what was in her tool kit). She would then make negative comments to him about not trying which only fueled his negative self-talk and the coach-kid relationship degraded from there. And none of that had anything to do with his love for running.
But there was a good lesson that awaited him in all of this. What my son learned from this experience is that full effort is full victory and that you can have excuses or results, but not both. And that was the gift of the situation. He got that. Fully. He went to track the next day and put in the full effort.
A lot of coaches have the opportunity to coach kids and one thing to keep in mind is that ALL behavior is a strategy or in response to something, and we will all view it according to our filters. The tool to keep in your tool kit is the ability to take a step back and look for the bigger questions. When you do this, you not only see through your own filters, but you can start to see through others filters as well.