Don't Let Your Mentorship Sink

TAGS: classroom teacher, success in the weight room, mediocrity, football players, classroom, future, average, Kevin Loadman, adversity, training athletes

"The same satisfaction with average that we see in the classroom, we also see in athletics and related training."

A football coach who is well regarded by many once said, "It’s so easy to be average. It takes a little something to be special. It takes a little something special to be a great player…we don’t want to coach average!” With a career record of 128-25 (0.837), including a 7-2 record in major bowl appearances, I would say that earns coach Urban Meyer some credit.

The problem in both education and with training/athletics is that too many people are happy with being average. They're also happy with letting that status quo continue because that is where their comfort level happens to be. We can't allow this to continue. How often do we hear or say that “our kids are our future?” Unfortunately, many people are doing very little to ensure the strength of the future.

I'm sure there are veteran lifters, trainers, and coaches who see this same dynamic and are often left shaking their heads. They see clients who have no desire to push themselves or they see athletes and/or fellow competitors who are happy doing just enough. Examining the high school training dynamic should quickly eliminate some of the mystery as to why this is happening. Any number of trite phrases and descriptions can be applied, but when broken down into the simplest of terms, you end up with a small group of athletes who will push themselves without being asked, a large group of athletes who will do just what is asked of them and nothing more and, last but not least, a small but noticeable group of athletes who shows up but can claim very little beyond that.

Teachers see this happening all the time, and in the classroom, the satisfaction with average is often verbalized and far more dangerous. Not only does this general sense of apathy transfer directly to their athletic endeavors, but it means that if nothing is done, we're responsible for sending an entire generation of young adults to both college and the workforce ill prepared for the expectations that employers and others will place on them.

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In order to best identify the issues and acceptable solutions, it helps to begin by exploring some examples, much like trainers, doctors and scientists look at case studies when considering various training methodologies. Although problems like this take place anywhere, there is little doubt in my mind that the habits are developed at the high school level and are allowed to grow. It is an issue that we always want to make an attempt to eradicate, but one can't help but think that if we begin to attack it early on, we stand a much better chance of making a difference.

I feel confident that anyone who reads this article will quickly identify with at least one of these examples and the frustrations that come with them:

  • Students in the classroom who laugh off failure or are happy with just passing
  • Students who spend time at the end of a term or semester figuring out the mark they need to earn on their exam to maintain their current grade (which often times isn't an A or B)
  • Players who show up in the weight room and do nothing to push themselves, even though they're prompted to do so by coaches and peers
  • Players who either show up and work only when they think a coach is watching or make an appearance and sign in but disappear when the coach walks out, thinking that no one will notice that they did nothing that day
  • Players who routinely avoid certain drill work and/or difficult situations but are always front and center when game day comes around
  • Players who run in the middle of the pack or, even worse, during conditioning but win the last sprint by a wide margin

If you're a coach or a teacher who has true passion for what you do, I imagine that you find none of these examples surprising or can at least understand why each of them is frustrating. Regardless, I'm sure just about everyone will agree that the strong correlations between the two domains suggests that if we fix a problem in the classroom, it will have carry over to the athletic side and vice versa. As a wise man once stated, "Those who have the ability to do something have the duty to see that it is done."

Now what?

In my mind, we have to believe in the idea that this satisfaction with mediocrity isn't acceptable. Borrowing another idea from Coach Meyer, we have to do a better job seeking out complacency and blowing it up when we find it. If we continue to allow average to happen, the end result will be a frightening amount of what we have now—young men and women who are ill prepared to handle real life situations because we accepted average from them for too long. They will lack the basic coping skills needed to deal with adversity and, in some cases, will even avoid trying things so that they don't have to entertain the possibility of failure.

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I acknowledge that some of what we're seeing in the classroom and in athletics is a result of people employing some means of a defense mechanism. Students laugh off poor grades so they don't lose face with their peers. Some athletes avoid challenges for fear of falling short or looking bad in front of their teammates. There are even some lifters who avoid taking an attempt at that next weight because they're afraid that people will think less of them if they fall short. In some cases, a sudden injury or cramp pops up, which doesn't allow them to complete the assigned task. In education as well as in athletics, we must find a way to eliminate these defense mechanisms while also providing those we're working with a chance to develop the confidence needed to be successful.

Anyone who has put in significant weight room time knows that it isn't realistic to think that you'll crush every max effort repetition you attempt. Gym records and PRs are earned through hard work, and no matter how hard you try, some days you'll be the nail and not the hammer. Through continued hard work, eventually that record will fall and the next goal will be in sight. We need to find ways to develop more high school athletes with such a strong desire to improve that strength coaches will have to continue to find new ways to challenge them. Get them in the weight room and show them how to do things right and then work alongside them to help them continue to develop and push themselves to higher levels.

We need to instill this same expectation in the classroom, knowing that the discipline that comes with it will carry over to the weight room and out on to the fields of play. Our students must be provided with opportunities to be successful, and along with those opportunities, we must help them develop an understanding that everyone falls short at one time or another. It's OK to fall short, but it will never be OK to be satisfied with that. Teachers need to make even stronger efforts to develop positive relationships with the students and then use those connections to help students work beyond their previous levels of achievement. We need to help students make strong connections to the skills that they're learning and the real world value of those skills. What good does it do the students if we help them master a particular skill but provide them with no concept of how valuable that will be to them when they enter their chosen career?

Educators and especially parents have to do their part while also working together to make this happen. I have heard it stated so many times that it's permanently ingrained in my brain—there is no such thing as an irrational parent when it comes to their child. It doesn't matter if it's the classroom or the athletic fields. Parents will go to bat for their children without always considering the situation objectively.

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As a teacher, I would much rather have a parent who is deeply involved as opposed to one who is never around. The problem is we spend so much time trying to protect these kids from the evils of the world that they lack the skills needed to excel when the barriers are removed. If a student or athlete knows that he can fall short of expectations or do just enough and his parents will fight his battle from that point forward, what motivation does he have to change? There aren't enough students or athletes who will approach their teachers or coaches in the appropriate manner and ask to have the situation explained, including what it will take to master a skill (in the classroom) or see more time on the field. We need to find ways to get them there as opposed to continuing to fight on their behalf and wondering why they are virtually non-functional in society without someone holding their hand.

Despite the front that so many young adults put up, none of them really want to be seen as average. A student who is average in the classroom will likely end up working in a job she hates, having spent years leading up to it talking about how much she didn't want to do it. Transfer that to training and athletics and years after they last put on a uniform, athletes will lack many of the basic skills needed to live even a reasonably healthy lifestyle.

It is time to lower some of the barriers and expose these young adults to real life situations, which in the long run will prepare them to be successful and take on leadership roles in society. Bring in speakers to the classroom, some of whom have been down a similar path so the students can identify with them. Put them in situations to be successful while also helping them make real world connections like someone who can express to them how important of a skill it is to be able to speak intelligently and clearly in front of a group. Although the beauty of the triple option is limited to the football field, how valuable of a lesson would it be if a coach can truly impress upon his kids the connection between the attention to detail it takes to run the play and how that same level of detail will help them down the road? What a major victory it would be for strength training if athletes (and even non-athletes) graduated with good ideas about how to take care of themselves and where they could find valuable resources to continue to get better.

I am excited for the new school year along with the new athletic seasons. What a great opportunity to work to make things better!

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