We Can All Learn From Children

When he finished speaking I stood there in front of the very group that I was facilitating – emotionless. I did not know what to say next. Matter of fact I felt if I were to speak next then I would not be able to hold back my tears. His comments were simple, but the fact that it came from an 11-year-old, gave the very words he spoke a sense of ageless maturity that I will never forget.

Sport, similar to life can teach us wonderful lessons. The Burlington Eagles hockey association has embarked on a mission to help develop the mental attributes of athletes and more importantly skills that young developing athletes can use for the rest of their lives.

The Burlington Eagles have implemented a program called PX 2 from the Pacific Institute. It is a program that teaches youth the fundamentals of how their brain works and the skills required to achieve excellence in their lives. I believe it is a first for organized youth sport. The program methodologically moves youth through twelve steps to teach them how and why their brain works the way it does, why they think and perform the way they do and most importantly what they can do to move beyond these perceived barriers, in order to achieve excellence in any aspect of their lives.

As a new facilitator to the program, there is not a moment that passes that I am amazed at the insight young kids display. I have always believed that if you want thinking athletes you have to let and teach them how too think. PX 2 provides a wonderful program in a setting that peers may share what and how they are thinking. It also gives kid’s an understand of why they act and perform the way they do.

In this one particular session, in one of our youngest group of players, an 11-year-old made a profound observation that everyone can learn from. During this module our exercise was to help kids understand that they are conditioned to perceive the world around them. How they were taught and conditioned throughout their lives mould their personal beliefs and the decisions they make. The exercise puts kids in groups of 2-3. The hypothetical exercise involves the difficult task of deciding who they must try to save from a variety of different people left in the water after a sinking ship at sea. There is only room for four more survivors, yet they must choose from over 16 different people, from all different backgrounds, that remain stranded in the water. After some minor squabbling, each group must validate and share their choice with the larger group. The discussion often gets energized and animated. The simple fact that groups realize that others have such radically different opinions of who they choose, is a learning moment for all. All of us formulate our perceptions upon past conditioning. Learning to be aware of or ‘auto programming’ helps us understand that our brain could be ‘hard wired’ to make us act in accordance to the truth of what was taught to us. This creates our belief systems and ultimately influences our decisions that shape our lives.

During the exercise a short scenario is read followed by the list of people, from which they will have to save. Each group begins to discuss their views and comes to a conclusion of whom to choose for survivals. Over many of the sessions there has been many interesting answers. Some of the more notable include; “it’s not for me to decide so the first 4 people I pass in the water will decide who I try to save”, ” we will try to save everyone by taking turns clinging to the boat”, “it’s not my place to play God” and ” if they couldn’t make it into a life raft maybe they are not worthy of saving.”

But, this morning the answer that continues to resonate with me belongs to an 11-year-old. Of all the people he chose to save he was the first to include the – drug dependent teenager and the prostitute. Well you can imagine the response he got from his peers. There was a rumbling and nervous banter filling the room. I asked him ” if he feels comfortable to share his choice with the group. He paused for a moment and said in the most innocent and truthfulness of a young boy;
“if those people have lived their life up to this point in the manner they have, then by me giving them a second chance they would do everything in their power to survive and make a better life for themselves.” I stood motionless, unable to speak. How could a kid have so much insight into human existence and not be that aware of it? Did he understand how his words echoed in the PX2 program itself? Did the other adults, kids and coaches hear the powerful words he just spoke? While I struggled with what to say next, there was a silence in the room. I think everyone took a moment to process what was just said. I looked toward the Pacific Institute representatives, they were there that day to evaluate me, and asked them ” in all the times you have run this program have you ever heard that answer before. Jay, the PX2 facilitator, asked the boy if he was ever given a second chance. the boy replied, “yes” when he was younger – that innocence of his joke went unnoticed – he had a teacher give him a second chance and now that he thinks of it “probably a third and fourth as well” – we all laughed at his candour. But, it was what he said next that has stayed with me from that day. ” Ever since I have been given a second chance I have become a great student and kid”.

We all need second chances, for coaches remember no one wants to make a mistake, correct the error save the integrity and self-esteem of your player, believe in them and give them a second chance. I am uncertain how you will be rewarded but I am certain how your player will evolve.

As for us, we all need second chances in life. Sometimes the hardest place to start is yourself.

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