Last spring, when my older son was 6, I wrote a couple of posts describing what I learned about parenting, people and myself as I attempted to guide him through excelling at something he’d never done before. You can seem them here:
That second post – about teaching the boys on my son’s team how to focus in spite of themselves, is one of the more popular posts I’ve ever written, if you judge by how frequently it has been re-tweeted. As we move into spring time here in northern New England, the baseball gloves are re-emerging from hibernation, and there are already opportunities to learn more about guiding people.
My son had a friend over on what turned out to be a record-setting day for warm weather (which has been freakish in these parts for the past 6 months or so). In 75-degree weather, which is about 3 months ahead of schedule, I played a little catch & hit with the boys on our front lawn.
My son and I have spent a lot of time over the past year or so on the mechanics of fielding and hitting. While he’s not exactly the second coming of Derek Jeter, he has a decent understanding of how to throw, how to hold a bat and swing level, and how to move his feet to get in front of a ground ball and squat down to field it. His friend, who has not played on a team yet, proclaimed he was awesome at baseball – and then proceeded to hold the bat incorrectly, throw with no mechanics, and every ball that rolled on the ground went through his crooked knees.
Now, this has nothing to do with me bragging about my son (okay, so maybe just a little). It has to do with understanding how people learn, the importance of subjective experience and interpretation, and the role of coaching. The other boy honestly and genuinely believed he was “wicked awesome” – based on his own experience and what people had, or had not, told him about the way he did things. My son believed much the same, until a lightly tossed ball went off the heal of his glove and hit him in the lip, or he swung so hard at a ball that he completely missed it and the bat went all the way around until it bonked him in the head.
Each of the boys had a different interpretation of what “good” meant – and acted in line with that. By their own definition, they were, indeed, “Awesome.” So, it struck me, that when we interview candidates or assign people to tasks based on what they tell us about themselves, we are really only going on that person’s interpretation – which may be very different from our own. Different professions have attempted to make the understanding of the job standardized by instituting certifications and licenses, however, there is still a great deal of variation in the ability to understand and implement those standards. There is still one universal truth – the definition of what constitutes “good” is often developed after the fact and is done so according to subjective interpretations by someone with a need to save face.
In my mind, this episode with the boys on the front lawn emphasized the need to establish the criteria for success up front and to work towards it constantly. There has to be some wizened expert in the mix, able to see the gap between what is known now, and what the ideal is supposed to be, in order to guide and coach those with little experience.
Without that, when simple games turn into genuine winner-take-all competition, the uncoached will be left to flounder and lose…..even though they were “totally awesome” in their own minds.