While preparing a talk for a team that I have invested in and worked with for the past 7 years, one word kept resonating within me...
It was not until after the experience was over that I understood why this word rang boldly within my spirit.
For many years I have held the belief that those who participate in youth athletics are missing a HUGE OPPORTUNITY! Yesterday it was confirmed in an UNPRECEDENTED way that my belief is indeed accurate.
The team gathered with the numbers reaching close to 100 athletes. They each grabbed their chair and formed a group in front of me while talking with their neighbors, as is normal for this group. Rather than use my voice to mark the time to start, I simply stood quietly, observing the interactions and noticing the energy of the group. Without uttering a word the group refocused their attention to the front with a curious aura about what we would doing.
I opened with a story from my teen years describing my first day of seventh grade when two seniors cornered me in a hallway, lifted me, and hung me by my belt loop on the back of a door leaving me there while people walked by and laughed. While I told my story their eyes were riveted with respect and empathy. I could see the impact of my words in the eyes of the group, as well as, feel it with the energy present in the room.
After my story, I sought to inspire the team to move from a group of individual participants to a powerful TEAM of courageous, bold, and connected teammates while offering a four-tiered understanding of this process which included emotional safety, bonding and belonging, courageous and creative expression, and lastly, bold leadership. In most cases, this is where the experience would end and practice would begin.
Best selling author, Brene Brown, said: “It is hard to hate from up close.” So, I thought it might be time to challenge these young people to get to know some of their teammates UP CLOSE.
To the coach's credit, she said: "Shaun, take the time you want to build this experience out. If you need all of our practice time, take it.” It was this permission that gave me the freedom to then ask this question to the TEAM:
“Do you want to do something UNPRECEDENTED TODAY?”
Even though there was some hesitancy the TEAM said yes. (They could have just wanted to get out of going to practice.) What followed will be remembered as one of the most powerful experiences I have been a part of in my 17+ years of coaching.
The next request I posed was, “I need some volunteers to come forward to PUT INTO PRACTICE what we just talked about. You will be interviewed in front of your peers (teammates) and the questions will not be easy.”
I thought I might stand alone up front without any volunteers.
What actually happened is about 35 courageous young people of different ages came up front to be interviewed in front of their teammates and peers. In spite of sweaty palms from anxiety, tears because of deep-seated unspoken fears and hurts, and uncertainty, these 35 courageous team members left their hearts out there to be cared for and understood in an UNPRECEDENTED way. The team members that were left in the crowd listened attentively for almost 2 hours without distraction or disrespect.
Some of the questions I asked:
The responses to these questions were far from what might be posted in a snapchat story or social media post. The outpouring of genuine love and support was powerful and UNPRECEDENTED! I stood there proud and honored to be in this space with these amazing young athletes wishing that others could see this.
Because I believe that our young people are starving for meaningful connection and authentic engagement. Their hearts are so starved that they would risk embarrassment in front of their peers to get a taste of this seemingly sparse resource. What we need to understand is that the resource is not lacking abundance. Many coaches and other adult leaders have disregarded and underestimated the capacity of young people to be GAME CHANGERS for those they play and compete with. Let's hope that this experience moves from being UNPRECEDENTED to the PRECEDENT.