Perspective - "the capacity to view things in their true relation or relative importance."
As a Sports Director I see so many emotions every day, I witness incredible highs and many disappointments. Watching students face challenges is exciting and it is indeed challenging for me. Encouraging students, colleagues and families to face challenges is huge part of teaching and my role. Essentially I have to nudge students, coaches and parents away from their ‘comfort zone’ in order to promote growth.
I am extremely grateful that I get to do some very special things and enjoy some wonderful moments. The highlight of my week last week was a half hour conversation with an amazing dad whose son had just had a 6-hour operation to remove a brain tumour. Thankfully, the operation was a success, the conversation took place on the sideline of a sports match and was about a brilliant young man who passionately represents St Andrew’s so wholeheartedly and loves his Sport. That conversation has remained with me for the entire week and will continue to resonate with me for a long time. It was a moment at sport, about a sportsman, but it was much more than that.
Sport brings out very special moments and the very best in people. It brings love, respect, gratitude, joy and excitement. It also brings judgement, criticism and it brings harsh analysis. Sport forces us to challenge our behaviours, our reactions and our spoken words. It places us in changing environments, it puts us with new people and often with people who we perceive as "different" people.
New season, new sports, new teams, new challenges
Right now, new Sport seasons are starting and many students, players and families will be trying to predict what the season and subsequent experience will look like as they predict the future. They have hopes and fears for the season. A fixed mindset view will look at the team, their coach and make their mind up about what sort of season lies ahead. They will try and envisage and create that perfect outcome of the perfect season. Much of that experience will likely revolve around results, an outcome and trying to win as many matches as possible. Twenty five years as a Head of Sport has taught me that I will never predict anything. I have seen amazing teams implode when presented with a challenge. I have seen physically less capable teams go on and have the most memorable seasons.
The Unnecessary Illusions
We all have challenges, many of which are ‘imaginary’ challenges that we create. Many of our perceived challenges are both completely pointless and also very unnecessary. They are made up and are created through trying to predict an outcome to safeguard our ego. We have hopes and fears – How many of us have already decided how to spend the lottery win that will make life happier? We all have fears that provide worry and anxiety. We create worse case scenarios in our head to try and prepare for them. We spend our life planning the next day or next week as we try to predict an outcome to make life and coping comfortable. The reality is many of these fears will never actually eventuate. They are, in fact, illusions. They are our brain tricking us to believe we can cope with the future. Our temptation is to focus on the future, like trying to predict what the season will bring and not dealing with the ‘now’. How many people can truly say they live in the moment and are completely present rather than having unnecessary imaginary hopes and fears, worrying about something that may or may not happen?
Dealing with ‘The Now’
How many of us can admit we like our comfort zone? When we go to our favourite restaurant there is a good chance that we will have the same meal. Many people enjoy familiarity - it is safe. When we start a sport season, we want safety, which may mean the same players, same coach and same routine. Because it is what we know, we know we can cope; it is less challenging. Yet the reality of the sport environment is that it is always changing and an environment that requires resilience.
I would love to do a study on the role of emotion in decision making. The reality of life is that we can generally deal with any new situation we are put in. In a competition environment, be it a Football, Rugby, Tennis or Netball match, we really can deal with what is in front of us. Too many people blow their unnecessary hopes and fears way out of proportion, devoting precious mental energy to situations which do not carry "life or death" consequences. Virtually all of us will fall into this trap on occasion, but those who spend the least amount of time obsessing on trivial circumstances are likely to accomplish far more, and be happier in the process!
Children don’t yet have the many complex experiences to blow their hopes and fears out of proportion - they can generally deal with that moment in time much better than adults. They are fearless. For example, within two minutes of a sports match ending, students are focusing on something completely different. Parents will on the other hand analyse, reflect, predict and react. They may be understandably worried about children not being able to cope so they aim to create a safe experience that they think their child will be comfortable with, place them with players they know, with coaches they connect with and with an environment that is familiar. How many of us as adults, still now exist with the Year 2 friend or Year 7 mate we used to sit next to in class? That friend we relied on to be with? How many of us are guilty of trying to create an environment that we think will suit our children? Deciding who they think they should be with, what position they should play. I would be very wealthy if I received a dollar every time I heard ‘my child is so different at home than they are at school’. Suggesting that in reality so many children are highly resilient and capable at school in competitive environments, surrounded by challenges that school provides. Incidentally, I would also be very wealthy if I got the same for every time I heard ‘I just want my child to have fun’.
I often connect with Sport Psychologists who deal with high profile athletes and their focus on a growth mindset. I love the examples of players ‘loving the challenge’ and not dwelling on negatives, bad decisions, tactic errors by the coach, mistakes on the field. They focus on getting better and dealing with the 'now'. A mindset is a self-perception or “self-theory” that people hold about themselves. Believing that you are either “talented” or “not talented” is a simple example of a mindset. There is the distinction between “fixed” and “growth” mindsets. In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication, different challenges and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.
Students who embrace growth mindsets - the belief that they can learn more or become smarter if they work hard, step out of their comfort zone and persevere—may learn more, learn it faster, and view challenges and failures as opportunities to improve their learning and skills. This growth mindset needs to be reinforced by parents, teachers, mentors and coaches encouraging challenge and looking at challenge as a positive. They should also be positively and actively looking for more complex challenge. If we always do what we have always done, we will always get what we always got. When a challenge presents itself – let’s face the challenge and don’t try and avoid it. Let’s not try and change the challenge and opt for comfort. Let’s create experiences, resilience and opportunities for growth.
The surprising key factor of Sport Participation
The reality of Sport participation is that the key indicator of remaining with a sport is surprisingly not that they have fun. Nor is it about winning. The number 1 key factor is about growing and developing. Growth and development comes from engaging in activities that are challenging, different and unique. Environments that are not results-focused. They are with different coaches, different team mates, different styles, drills practices... In all honesty, I would actually prefer to have a dollar every time a student or parent said ‘please create a challenge, with different people, different goals in a different environment’. There are so many wonderful students and families who try new sports, new teams, and have a go at new opportunities. The reality of life is that we are going to have so many new and changing environments throughout our life and having the skills to deal with them is so important.
Let’s get some perspective about what is important and challenge ourselves to embrace new and different people, environments and activities. Let’s embrace disappointment and not try and change it, or far worse, avoid it. Let’s deal with it. We live in a stunning environment, surrounded by so many positive and supportive people who are here to assist. We have opportunities so remove the illusions, the hopes and fears and deal with the now. Know that there will be disappointment and failure. Recognise how important this is, encourage it and know it is a positive. Importantly, know that opting out is not an option because the reality is we can all generally deal with the now.
Mr Steve Robson
DIRECTOR OF SPORT