09 Mar Slice of Life: Primed for Failure #SOL19 #TWTBlog
Your kids are primed to deal with failure. Just think about it, they have been facing the possibility of failure three to five times per game, three to four games per week, two seasons per year, for at least ten years. Every time they get up to bat, it is just them and the risk of failure. And when they strike out, it is all eyes on them.
As I listened to this coach, I play this recurring scene of failure in my mind. I watch my son make his way back to the bench with dignity. I see his teammates nod in understanding or offer a tap on his shoulder as he walks by. I hear him cheering on the next batter before he even has his helmet and batting gloves off. I realize I have been watching this for more than a decade and never really thought about what it was teaching him as a person. In the moment I am so focused on his stance, timing and swing that I think I missed what this was doing for his character.
I am overwhelmed by the number of times per week my conversations with educators shift to the level anxiety they are seeing in their students. When I am planning my time in classrooms, at least once a day I am told there are students I should not call on or work with due to the student’s anxiety. I don’t recall this happening ten years ago or even five years ago to the same extent. So, what is happening? What is changing? I thought it was due to the pressure and pace kids and parents are feeling in life, but now I am thinking about baseball. The pressure of all eyes on you and the risk of failing. What gets these batters back up to face the same pressure again and again? How has this pressure morphed into passion? Why does this risk in baseball drive them to practice more rather than retreat?
I wonder if the difference is that in baseball, it is just part of the game. Failure is expected and normalized. There is a clear expectation of how you handle failure, including getting right back into the game. The player is also in control in baseball. The locus of control is on the batter – deciding when and how to swing. Even if they strike out, they were in control. Research suggests that situations that provide some internal locus of control may reduce anxiety. This could explain why errors drive a player to practice more – he believes he has the power to make change and is responsible for his behavior. If you believe you have control in the situation you will try harder and stay in the game.
I can’t help but think we have something to learn from baseball in our schools. How can we make errors, mistakes, and approximations just a part of how we do business? How can we engage our students in the learning process, so they are inspired by their errors? Can we find more opportunities to model taking risks and embracing the moments when it doesn’t work out? If we give our students more ownership in their learning process would this shift how they feel about making errors or not understanding something at first? It may have nothing to do with what I am observing in schools but given the level of anxiety kids are experiencing, it’s worth thinking about it.
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