Saturday, September 10, 2011

Settling old sores.

My son's football team lost this afternoon.

To be honest, they were whipped, pasted, buried, truly humbled 6-0, 6-0, 4-0, 3-0...

It was a dash to their young egos. Unfortunately, the expected transfers to Barcelona might not be on the cards this season, certainly not before the next mercato..

If the kids were taught a lesson today, so was I, by their young team coach.

He sat them down, as their heads dropped in disappointment and complimented them on their willingness to run and to play. "Don't worry," he said, "this is your first year, we'll work on it in training." "Your goal-keeping showed bravery," he said to my son. "Today, I just want to show you one thing," "Look.." and he picked them up and showed them just one new technique to work on. "There's no point me telling you everything you did wrong because you won't remember it and you won't go out and enjoy yourselves," he concluded.

They brushed themselves off, got up and lost their last match 2-0.

I am often struck by the parallels between learning a language and learning to play a sport. It takes years of practice to develop the skills required to compete. If you don't enjoy a sport, you will never have the motivation to put in the hours of training. If you don't have intrinsic motivation to listen and to read and to speak and to write you won't get very far in your acquisition of a language. Failure and mistakes are an inevitable part of learning and are essential to success. Michael Jordan's failure went on to become part of his Nike enhanced myth.

Failure, here in France, is unfashionnable; competence, quality, control is projected everywhere. 'Competent' teachers feel it a quasi duty to underline in red ink everything which is incorrect. The kids are often battered and bruised into silence and shame at their incompetence. Work, homework, is serious stuff, exercises unquestionnably given and children driven to unquestion.

Rewards, marks, averages and scores are settled in the educational psyche. Would it not be time to wonder if our time might be better spent?

I would recommend reading Daniel Pink's Drive! to teachers wishing to reflect on their motivations. Listening to or reading JK Rowlings 2008 Harvard Commencement speech entitled The fringe benefits of failure might accompany their leisurely read of Harry Potter.

While I am dwelling on my son's goal-keeping career, I can't help thinking that we need to celebrate heroic failures who came good despite their early disappointments. We all have so much to learn, we are all sensitive to the remarks of our fellow players.

When I was the age of my son I dreamt of playing rugby for England. I sorely failed in this ambition. My rugby teacher, however, left me with a few words of encouragement which have helped me deal with my repeated failures over the years. "This boy has a big heart," he wrote in my school report. "Give me 14 more players like him, and we would never lose." It doesn't take much red ink to build up self-esteem, perhaps much more to destroy it.

Samuel Beckett sums it all up for me,
"Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter! Try again. Fail again. Fail better."

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  1. brillant!!! thank you Simon for your acute analysis and comparison.

  2. Thank you Laurence for your acute encouragement :-)