Lighting Flames: Challenges in HS Athletics: "I Win, or You Cheated"

         One of the things that is great about my position at our school is I get the opportunity to work with a really wide range of students in a variety of different arenas.  We have four sections of sport psychology, I work with a group of academic classes and performance groups, and I also get to help with quite a few of our athletic teams.  In working with so many themes tend to emerge.  That got me thinking about some of the common challenges I see with student-athletes.  The term choice of challenge is purposeful.  Our perspective is everything.  "Problem" = negative, "Challenge" = opportunity.  You see, I try to subscribe to the message behind a quote from Harvey Dorfman, "Instead of cursing the darkness, light a flame."  In other words, instead of just complaining figure out a solution.  If it's something you aren't able to have any influence over, let it go instead of allowing it to consume you.  Something I have to continuously work on for sure.  With that, this is going to be the first in a series of shorter posts encouraging us to "light flames" with some of the challenges faced.

*I win or you cheated.
Amazingly, we have rewritten the possible outcomes of competition.  I first noticed this one in class.  We were playing around with some Concentration Grids online, and one student got a really low time.  Instead of congratulating the student, immediately 5-6 students blurted, "You cheated!"  It was like they'd been programmed to do so automatically when losing.  I started to think back and realized it'd happened just about every time we competed in class.  Not only that, so many times athletes would have stories of "being cheated by the refs" if they lost.  Really this attitude carries over to many situations.  Either I play, or my coach hates me.  I get a good grade, or the teacher can't teach.  "I win, or you cheated."  What's consistent is a lack of responsibility for performance.

So what can we do about it?  Remember, we're about "lighting flames."  One solution is found in a matter of perspective.  Many students think they're supposed to be perfect.  A loss is taken as reflective of a lack of ability or an attack on their self-worth.  We can help them to see this doesn't have to be the case.  Everybody loses.  Everyone.  There is no exception.  Nobody drifts through life succeeding at everything.  Losses can be opportunities to learn so we can improve if we allow them to be.  Taking responsibility can be incredibly powerful.  When things go poorly, it allows us to understand what role we played and seek opportunities for improvement.  When things go well, it allows us to rightfully take credit for hard work and execution of skills.  Parents and coaches, don't rob the your children/athletes of this opportunity by feeding into the norm of blaming others.  Part of what makes competition great is learning how to both win and lose with grace- knowing you did what you could to compete within the rules.

I know it's easy to look at the "why" for people having the attitude of "I win, or you cheated," and get stuck (cough cough... politics), but let's do something about it instead.  Instead of taking a loss or failure as a personal attack, let's help set the tone that it is just an experience like any other.  There's a popular quote in sport psychology saying, "Either I win, or I learn."  I like it but would love to take a different perspective there too.  Instead, I prefer, "I learn regardless of the result."  Every single conversation, class, practice, game, etc. is an opportunity to learn.  Separate your worth from the result to allow yourself to learn as much as possible.  Until next time, go light some flames!

​- Ben


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