Our Youth Must Learn The Power of Kindness

Today’s youth expect things to be given to them.   Their mindset in most cases is that “if I do someone a favor, it will help me gain an advantage or that person will be expected to do something for me down the road.”   Our youth are not being taught the power of unconditional generosity – and more specifically, “random acts of kindness.”   I had this happen to me yesterday.

I was on a business trip out of town and spent several hours with a company there.  You’d think that the first thing I would remember about the trip was the interesting people I met and the exciting outcomes that resulted from the interaction.   And you couldn’t be more wrong.

What I remember most emphatically was what happened BEFORE the meetings.   I arrived early, and stopped at a nearby coffee shop to get a drink and prepare for the day.   Unfortunately, there was not a free parking lot and you had to park on a city street with a parking meter.   I was not prepared for that and didn’t have any coins laying around to put in the meter.   A driver pulls up and I told him I was going to give him the spot because I was from out of town and didn’t have any change for the meter.   Without even hesitating , this guy rips out some coins and offers to give them to me – no questions asked.   I thanked him repeatedly for his kind gesture.  

When I went into the coffee shop, he comes in behind me, also wanting to get some coffee.   I asked him his name (which was “Jerry”) and I offered to buy him coffee and told him that I am not used to folks going out of their way to offer a small gesture of kindness.   He said he didn’t even think twice about it, and was happy to help out someone from out of town.  

This is what our kids need to learn – being kind disarms others and makes them more willing to listen, to befriend, and to love.   In the words of Charlie Chaplin:

“We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery, we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness.”

Jerry, I know you don’t want anything in return, but when you visit Atlanta, look me up.

Sports Continues To Damage Our Youth

I spoke about the problems with youth supports at the end of 2014.   But sadly, no one is sounding the alarm bells.   And yet, the damage continues to proliferate.

  • A girls high school basketball coach runs up a 161-2 score and gets suspended, although the school has not been sanctioned in any way whatsoever.  Why not suspend the game via mercy rule in order to prevent the opposing players from suffering such an embarrassment?
  • The New England Patriots are being investigated for deflating footballs which gives quarterbacks, running backs, and other players a competitive advantage.  This is analogous to a pitcher doctoring a baseball or a hitter corking a bat.
  • We continue to see a “winning at all costs” mentality in amateur and professional sports.  It’s all about “the ends justifying the means” a la Machiavelli.
  • While I am not a fan of Ohio State Quarterback Cardele Jones, some in the media criticize his decision to remain at Ohio State and not enter the NFL Draft.  The player had a total of 3 college starts but everyone is quick to push this kid into the pros.

What is going on here?

We see a moral hazard in sports – that is, people are trying to game the system.   College athletes forget they are students first, yet the big business of sports has shifted priorities.    We see young people looking at these athletes and coaches who engage in criminal and unethical behavior, both on the field and off the field, and believe “if they can act that way and not be punished, then I guess it’s acceptable.”   

It’s time we all look at ourselves in the mirror.  What lessons are we teaching our kids?   How do we instill positive coaching philosophies when those in the national spotlight who have the bully pulpit do not believe this to be a major social issue?

I worry about my kids and your kids.   I want them to grow up and be responsible, caring, compassionate, ethically-minded adults.   But in a world where gaining an edge at all costs and rewarding criminal behavior is the norm, this job gets harder and harder.

Happy New Year From ReinventED Solutions

Thanks to everyone for reading my blog.   The great thing about the Internet is that everyone has a voice.   My view may not be your view, but freedom of expression is one of the foundations of a democracy.   Civil discourse is another, and I hope that civility continues to rule the day as together, we try and shape ideas to reinvent our public education system.

In the words of the late Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Happy New Year, and wishing everyone a happy, healthy, and successful 2015.

Sports One Factor In The Degradation of Youth, But It Can Be Fixed

Again I wanted to explore the role of sports in youth development, and society as a whole.   I am a former athlete.  I know firsthand how important sports can be in molding a person’s character.  In my playing days, I was fortunate to be a part of several championship teams.   Sports can be a unifying agent.   It can unify schools, communities, and, most importantly, people.   Regardless of whether we were winners or losers, our teams always represented our communities and schools to the highest standard.  And finally, I have friends for life.  Regardless of geography, we are connected by what we accomplished collectively on the field.   Sports was not about winning or losing – it was about learning non-cognitive skills such as commitment, teamwork, respect, leadership and sportsmanship.   

What I see now, even as a sports parent, is a most troubling development in youth/amateur sports that has manifested itself over decades.   With the growth of television broadcasting and other forms of distribution, players can now get national, perhaps global exposure that they never had before.   Even if they have not yet built the maturity to deal with such attention, they are forced to deal with it now.  If they fail, it’s not a local failure.  It could be a global one.   Sports rights deals at the college level are at unprecedented levels.    College sports is a big business now.   We see football coaches in particular being fired for not winning championships, even if they have a stellar won-loss record.   Bo Pelini at Nebraska won 9 games this year, yet he was fired.   The only exception I can fathom to this distorted criteria is if a coach is fired “for cause.”  It could also be inept coaching on the field, as we have seen countless times at schools such as Georgia.

I only bring up these two examples not to single out these schools, but rather to demonstrate that something has gone awry in amateur sports.   Let me give you another example.  At Ohio State, they are on their third quarterback this season due to injuries.   This student-athlete, Cardale Jones, is being asked to start his first game in perhaps the most important game of the year for the Buckeyes:  the Big 10 Championship.    And what does he say on Twitter? 

“Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come to play SCHOOL, classes are POINTLESS”.

Notwithstanding his horrific sentence structure and use of grammar, doesn’t this student have his priorities backwards?   Cardale, you go to college to get an education FIRST.   You’re offered an opportunity to get a free education and play football at an elite program while getting your college degree.   Yes, you’re getting an audition to hopefully make it to the NFL, but you’re a student-athlete, not the other way around.

We have created a culture where you are forced to specialize in one sport at a young age, and that “winning is everything.”  So what happens when you lose?  How do you deal with not winning?   Have our sports programs trained its coaches well and created support systems to ensure that our kids are developing character and learn how to deal with missteps?   What do the deluge of criminal acts taking place our high school sports programs, our college programs and our professional franchises tell us about the direction our society is heading?   Am I the only one who is saddened by the fact that we seem to live our lives around the sports event, and forget about life in general?

I believe we can fix this at the youth/amateur level very quickly.   We must reset our expectations at what the purpose of youth sports is and what it is NOT.   My kids’ school is a member of the Positive Coaching Alliance (“PCA”).  Positive Coaching Alliance is a national non-profit developing “Better Athletes, Better People” by working to provide all youth and high school athletes a positive, character-building youth sports experience.  I recently heard one of their representatives speak and received a complimentary copy of one of their books, titled, “Positive Sports Parenting:  How Second-Goal Parents Raise Winners In Life Through Sports.” It’s a brief read, and it may seem obvious.  However, it is extremely important for EVERY parent to read it cover to cover.   It reminds us as parents to focus on life lessons and let the players focus on competing and let the coaches focus on instruction.  It reminds us that winning is not the primary purpose of youth sports.  It reminds us that many of these coaches and referees are either volunteers or doing this NOT for the money.    Finally, it reminds us that we as parents have a responsibility to ensure our youth athletes focus on what’s really important about youth sports:  not winning, but on self confidence, physical fitness, grace in both victory and defeat.

All of us – parents, coaches, educators, and children can refocus efforts to instill the true values that are derived from sports.   It’s time we stop this “winning at all costs” mindset and start teaching our kids the true meaning of sport.  Sports is not about “ends justifying the means.”   Sports is a tool, just like the arts, that build character.   And strong character makes you successful not only on the fields of sport, but also the fields of life.

It’s time to reset our priorities and start building successful student-athletes.   I want my kids to grow up in a society where our athletes do not regularly dominate the news cycle for off the field conduct.   I hope you do as well.


The Unintended Societal Effects of Ineffective Social & Emotional Learning Programs

Frankly, I didn’t really know how to title this post, which I’ve been contemplated for quite some time.   Lets look at a few very serious issues that have happened in our country over the past several months, and while they do not appear to have any common threads, perhaps they do?

  • Despite the increased awareness of cyber-bullying, bullying and other hazing activities in sports, we have seen troubling incidents in high school (Sayreville High School Football, Central Bucks West Football)
  • We have also seen hazing incidents in professional football, with last year’s troubling Miami Dolphins locker room culture causing irreparable harm to rookie Jonathan Martin.
  • Several high profile criminal investigations in college football, which include 2013 Heisman winner Jameis Winston leading the list of college athletes who have either been suspended or removed from their universities.
  • An alarmingly high number of NFL athletes who have been charged and/or indicted on criminal charges.   These include domestic violence (i.e., Ray Rice), physical harm to a child (i.e., Adrian Peterson), and many, many others that have exposed the alternate reality that professional athletes face versus the general population.

What is going on here?

I have a few theories, and I believe it is important that our communities and our schools take a good, hard look in the mirror and see what we can do to address them.

  1.  We have forgotten what the role of sports is in our society.   Sports has become big business, and the lines have blurred significantly between amateurism and professionalism.  As such, our sports programs, even as early as high school, are being built with the false notion that “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”  That’s a real quote, and although it was wrongly attributed to Vince Lombardi, it was really from the words of former UCLA football coach Red Sanders.  Sports is supposed to be about building many non-cognitive skills, such as character, leadership, sportsmanship, teamwork, persistence, and many others.   It’s about doing your best, and sometimes you win, but sometimes you lose.   It seems we are all guilty of taking our eye off the ball and drilling into these young, impressionable minds, that if you don’t win, you’re a failure.   This mentality may be one factor in why hazing and other activities are still alive and well in many sports programs.  We need to do a better job training our coaches because they are supposed to be important role models in our children’s lives, just like a classroom teacher.   John Wooden wasn’t just a great coach of basketball, he was also a life coach.
  2. The lack of social and emotional learning in the home and the classroom.  I believe that we are not doing enough to expose our youth to sensitivity training around how you interact with others.   Poverty can only be blamed for so much.   As parents, we still have a fundamental responsibility to teach our kids right and wrong.  Many of them take out their lack of values in the home on the world around them, and ultimately, this emerges in our schools.  So while parents do share some of the blame, our schools do as well.   Don’t just put up signs saying you don’t tolerate hate.   The mindset has to permeate through your entire school culture in everything you do.   We need to remember to treat others the way we want to be treated.   Why should we expect our children to listen to and respect their teammates and coaches if they don’t mimic these same behaviors in the classroom and in their homes?
  3. Who are good role models for our children?  This one speaks for itself.   If we allow our youth to idolize these professional athletes and then we do not punish them for moral and/or criminal transgressions, then they will believe it’s ok to do wrong.   We should absolutely give second chances, but we need to take a hard look at how we discipline wrongdoers.   Many scholar-athletes feel the “rules don’t apply to them.”  Do you want your child to idolize Jameis Winston, or do you want them to idolize Nelson Mandela or Oprah Winfrey? 

The media plays a major role in this ecosystem as well.   Don’t just gloss over the off-field transgressions and focus on the winning.   It’s time that we all work together to try and address what I believe is a growing problem in our societal fabric.   Sports are supposed to be fun.  They are supposed to build character.   They are supposed to build the skills you will need to succeed not only on the field of competition, but also the field of life.  

Lets not assume that all of these issues are not related.   I hope that our society takes a good hard look in the mirror and starts identifying a practical approach to addressing them.   The long-term health of our society depends on it.

New Innovation Tool For Schools Shows Promise

Yesterday, a new publication published by 2Revolutions and The Learning Accelerator was released to the public.  It’s worth reading, and it’s titled, “So You Think You Want to Innovate: Emerging Lessons and a New Tool for State and District Leaders Working to Build a Culture of Innovation.”   It’s 55 pages long, but it contains a robust planning tool that can help schools to not only assess but also to strengthen their infrastructures to ensure it is one that embraces innovation.    I hope that school districts take the time to review the material and consider completing the scorecard to take an honest assessment of their school environment.  They might find that it helps them identify the barriers to change and uncover strategies to alleviate them.