Everything I Needed to Know (About Coaching) I Learned in 1st Grade


Yesterday we attended the elementary school’s 1st Grade Award Ceremony. During this hour long presentation, parents join the teachers and staff in celebrating our kids’ achievements. I spent most of my time vacillating between reflecting on the significance of what I witnessed and wishing the bench at that table was a little higher off the ground. When I wasn’t lamenting the pain in my back and knees, here’s what I noticed.

Celebration is important. It’s very easy to bemoan the fact that we seem to give awards away for everything these days. We hear complaints about “the entitlement generation” which seems to expect accolades and high pay the moment they grace a company with a job application – and we wonder if perhaps giving everyone a trophy just for showing up may have played a role in that.

HOWEVER, one of the greatest problems I encounter in coaching – whether in ministry contexts or business – is the frustration, discouragement and burnout that develops as a result of never pausing to celebrate progress and accomplishments. We rush from project to project and goal to goal with little or no awareness of what we’re actually doing.

Even knowing this to be true, about a year ago my own coach caught me saying, “I feel like I’ve just been spinning my wheels without any progress.” He immediately stopped the conversation and had me look back through the list of goals I’d set and completed throughout our coaching relationship (after several years, the list was pretty extensive).

We didn’t move forward to deal with the new set of obstacles until I acknowledged just how far I had come and how much progress I had made. When I stepped back and took a wider view, I found my perspective changing dramatically. At that point, I was much more equipped to deal with the new issues.

If we don’t celebrate; if we don’t appreciate the sense of accomplishment from a job well done or the wisdom gained from a glorious failure, the temptation to throw in the towel will become nearly unbearable. That’s just how it works.

So, hats off to the teachers who – despite constant pressure to prepare for the next ridiculous, government-mandated, standardized test – take time out to celebrate the individual progress and achievements of each student.

Adults…we need to take notice. What accomplishments can we celebrate today?

You might be thinking that sitting around patting yourself on the back is a great way to become complacent with your accomplishments. After all, don’t post-game interviews always include someone saying, “There’s no time to congratulate ourselves. This game is over and now it’s time to prepare for next week.”

There’s something to that. First of all, there’s the coolness factor…you know “act like you’ve been here before.” And it is well documented that cool guys don’t look at explosions.

“The more you ignore it, the cooler you look.”

Secondly, and a bit more legitimately, celebrating our accomplishments should not lead to a permanent encampment. Make no mistake, the cool guy jumps up and down and points at the flames as soon as he’s offscreen and the athlete leaves the stadium and goes to a party. But, the ones who want to keep winning or keep…er…blowing stuff up, have their party and then get back to work the next morning.

To return to my own example from coaching, after Anthony and I reflected on the goals I had achieved, we used that as a platform to begin figuring out how to address the current obstacles. He did not say, “Ah, don’t worry about these issues, you’ve already had some great success. Kick back and take it easy.”

Celebrating our successes helps remind us why we’re working on these goals in the first place, and this helps us maintain focus when difficulties arise.

I recently wrote about becoming more innovative by coaching others. I witnessed a similar principle at work today – one that brought me an incredible sense of pride along with a moment of insight.

As my first grade son stood in line waiting for his name to be called (sorry buddy, I passed on a “W” last name to you…you’ll be at the end of the line a lot), I watched as an uncommon thing took place. He was listening intently as each of his classmates were called up and honored for their achievements and then he would applaud enthusiastically each time.

Micah has always been considerably more reserved and less likely to show emotion than his two brothers, so this really stood out. I thought maybe he was just clapping loudly as a goof, but I soon realized that he was truly excited for each person.

Micah is one of those cool guys that doesn’t look at explosions. He puts a lot of effort into looking nonplussed when someone compliments him – it doesn’t really work, you can see it clearly…but he definitely tries. There wasn’t even an attempt as he climbed the stage yesterday. The sheer joy on his face was priceless.

His accomplishments were not in any way lessened by recognition of the accomplishments of others. In fact, I can’t help but be convinced that his practice of celebrating the successes of his peers significantly enhanced the experience of his own.

This too is an area where we adults need to take notice.

What accomplishments of your peers, friends, family or neighbors can we celebrate today?

Whether our goal is to raise well adjusted children, to lose 20 pounds, to start a new business or to reach a certain milestone in our career, there are going to be frustrations and set backs. We’re more likely to get there – and to appreciate the result when we do – if we acknowledge the significance of the small things we choose to do each day.

Perhaps celebrating those things in the lives of others will strengthen our ability to do the same, and make the process more palatable along the way.

It may not be EVERYTHING I needed to know about coaching…but I’m telling you, we can learn a lot from 1st graders if we’ll pay attention.

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Posted on May 30, 2013, in coaching and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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