Friday, August 24, 2012

Teach Your Children Well

“Teach your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success” by Madeline Levine

I recommend reading it.  I found that it had many good insights about the developing teenager.  One thing that is clear is that we coaches can play a vital role as trusted advisers at a time when children need to achieve independence from their parents, but are still not ready (are we ever?) to be completely autonomous.

One of my big goals for our program is that we produce young adults with excellent RESILIENCE.  Many kids arrive at college in what college administrators call a “failure-deprived state”.  They have been so coddled and supported that they have never experienced failure and learned good coping skills.  Ski racing is wonderfully complicated and gives our kids plenty of chances for “successful failures”. 

Resilience is not a character trait but a learned skill.  It’s what we teach.   Ms. Levine suggests seven important coping skills that teens need to learn over the four or five years of adolescence when we are coaching them.  I’ve listed them below with some ideas about how we can help develop these skills.  As always, I’ll be interested in your ideas and suggestions.

1)      Resourcefulness
2)      Enthusiasm
3)      Creativity
4)      Work-ethic
5)      Self-control
6)      Self-esteem
7)      Self-efficacy


Can the teen solve problems in an ethical (no cheating) and healthy way without his or her parents?  Can the teen self-soothe, calm down, and stay focused when things go wrong?
We can develop this by having kids be responsible for their own equipment and training.  The J2s do not have the ability to plan their own training and need to be told exactly what to do.  But, by the time they are second year J1s they can think about their training, and figure out how to get their workouts done despite obstacles like school work, family parties, and transportation.  We can teach psychological skills like visualization and meditation.


Junior cross-country skiers tend to be an enthusiastic group. That’s good because zest is the internal driver of accomplishment.  However, it’s important for us to always remember the joy of skiing, to have fun, and to demonstrate and encourage love of the sport.


Most people think of creativity as only meaning the arts, but in fact it is the ability to come up with original and useful ideas.  Business leaders value it more than any other quality.  And creativity is the opposite of boredom.  Ski training requires a structured program, but it can have  much room for creative work.  How can a teen arrange his or her schedule to get in workouts?  What training can he or she do to address a weakness?  How do we ski a piece of terrain for optimal speed?  I think all of us coaches enjoy coaching because it gives us the chance to be so creative, but we need to not solve all the juicy problems ourselves, but give our athletes the chance to solve problems,  and enjoy and develop their creativity.


We coach only two kinds of kids: crazy or lazy.  The lazy ones are easier to deal with.  Just keep nudging them to do the work.   The crazy ones are sometimes more of a challenge. They want to work too hard and we need to rein them in and show the difference between hard-work and obsessive-compulsive disorder.  The team is especially important for both types of athletes as they will gravitate to the group norm and do what the other kids are doing.


We all know that it takes many years to develop self-control.  How do we help?  First, we must demonstrate it ourselves.  Second, we make the rules clear.  We suggest how to follow them.  In the famous Marshmallow Test four year-olds could resist eating a marshmallow (to get a delayed but bigger reward) if they didn’t think about it and focused on other things.  We can teach how to focus on long-term rewards (e.g. trip to Alaska in March!) and remind kids how today’s decision to work will pay off later.  After a really bad race we can say “Go for a ski. You have ten minutes to mourn this bad day.  Then, you need to come back and be ready to move forward” (credit to Donna Smyth for this idea).


We want our kids to feel good about themselves.  How?  Self-esteem comes from the combination of competence and confidence.  Our kids are driven to be competent.  We can help them gain confidence by being honest with them about what they are good at and what they are bad at. We push them out of their comfort zones to try new things when we know they can handle it, and praise them when they really do achieve something.  One of our most important jobs is helping them break big goals down into very small, short-term goals so that they get constant feedback that they are acquiring new competence that will build their confidence for additional effort.


Kids need to feel “What I do makes a difference”.  We can show them that if they work harder, eat better, sleep well, and are organized then they will ski faster.  They need to be actively involved in their own development so they grow their sense of personal power.  We coaches can make clear the consequences of decisions, let them try, let them fail, and help them learn from their failures.  We can also help them develop efficacy in relationships by emphasizing the importance of supporting their teammates.