How did you approach competition as a teenager?
Prior to retiring and having stopped coaching sport as a result of my schedule as an Assistant Head of a large School, every Saturday I would head off to watch as many sports matches as I could – even if I watched a match for five minutes that was okay, as the students could see I was interested.
I tried to watch matches of students I taught or informally mentored. A two minute conversation about a match, while a class was settling down for a lesson, could positively affirm or impact at least one life – I know this did happen!
However, a memorable moment was watching Caitlyn (not her real name) playing a Netball match.The day before her match I had been having an informal chat with Caitlyn as we were passing one another on the school campus. I had noticed she had been wearing a brace on her hand the previous week and wondered if she was injured. As we parted company she asked me if I was going to be watching the match the next day. I assured her I would be cheering on the sidelines!
Caitlyn’s team came close to winning. I know nothing about the rules of Netball, but I can see that it must be such a frustrating game to play when the shooters just can’t get the ball through the hoop consistently. While other mistakes inevitably occur for a variety of reasons, Caitlyn’s team lost the match in the final minutes.
I decided simply to focus on watching Caitlyn for a period of time and saw a talented young woman with a great attitude, an ability to read the game, above average skills and, even though her team lost, there was a genuine smile of thanks and congratulations when she shook hands with her opponents at the end of the match.
After the match I sent Caitlyn an email congratulating her on her efforts and mentioning some of the positive qualities highlighted above and affirming her efforts as worthy of being a great ambassador for the school.
Caitlyn responded later that day: “I’m glad you enjoyed the game! It was a tough one, but I enjoy playing no matter the score. Thank you for those kind words! Netball allows me to be a different person almost; it allows me to really think on my feet and I’m challenged in every situation. I’ve been playing since I was in grade 4 but over the last 2 years I’ve really developed a love for the sport. I think it’s so important to always stay positive even when the score isn’t in our favour. Teamwork and good sportsmanship is extremely important in every sport, so I make sure I always have a smile on my face no matter if I win or lose. To me, it isn’t really about the score, it’s about enjoying the game and doing your best.”
What a wonderful attitude which I encouraged Caitlyn to share with younger students during casual conversations, as these younger students need positive role models to look up to, especially when many parents (and some coaches) pressurise their children to ‘win at all costs’.
Interactions, such as I had with Caitlyn, are important for building respect with young people. A couple of weeks from finishing school I came across Caitlyn sitting alone at a table in the grounds in floods of tears. I asked her if I could join her. She nodded and then told me she was feeling so distraught as she had just completed an English Oral and had not achieved the result she had hoped for.
We talked about her career interests and her fear that she would not now obtain the results she needed for a Course she wanted to study. As we talked and shared thoughts, feelings and options, she relaxed and smiled again, aware that she would be okay.
Later in the day another teaching colleague told me that Caitlyn had chatted to her as well about the English Oral and mentioned that she felt reassured after the conversation with me.
There was a positive outcome, thankfully, as Caitlyn did obtain the results that allowed her to follow the career path that really interested her.
The spirit of mentoring involves sowing messages of HOPE, encouraging, empathising, showing authentic compassion and care, showing up at the appointed time and affirming efforts. It’s also about having fun, identifying strengths and building resiliency.
The years have rolled on, though still I hold such respect and admiration for Caitlyn and the mature attitude she displayed on and off the Netball Court that day.
About the author: Robin Cox has been a School Principal, sports coach to National Under 19 Level, Youth Symposium Organizer, developer of Youth Mentoring Programs in New Zealand and Australia, Churchill Fellow and author of books linked to youth mentoring, Peer Mentoring and the development of adolescents to become the best they can be. He has trained over 1,000 volunteer adult mentors, run workshops for teachers promoting the Spirit of Mentoring and personally mentored over 1,000 adolescents. Still an idealist, a cancer survivor of 50+ years, married with two adult children, Robin lives in Australia and shares a passion with anyone wanting to make a positive difference in the global community. You can see his short daily mentoring tips on Twitter @million2016coxy or on Facebook (where you are able to join a closed mentoring group) or contact him through his Mentoring Matters website Robin’s free Mentoring Matters daily podcasts (each podcast between 1.5 and 3 minutes), containing hundreds of tips for anyone working with young people, are available here.