“She’s on our team?!” A Lesson from the Last Pick
As a child, I was always the last one picked for team sports. I hated the days in gym class when we had to corral up against the chain link fence like criminals in a police ID line awaiting one of the peer captains to call our name and form teams.
It didn’t matter if we played kickball, whiffle ball, Red Rover, or dodge ball – my name was always the last one called. I couldn’t hit the ball, never made it through the human chain of people, and I wasn’t fast enough to make it to the base without being tagged. Someone from the team who got stuck with me invariably would whine, “She’s on our team?” Each time it was a bit more demoralizing than the time before. Add to my lack of natural aptitude was the fact that I never played an organized team sport outside school, so my opportunities to improve upon my lack of natural ability were non-existent.
Eventually, I came to accept that I was not athletic and resigned myself to the fact that I would always be a last pick. That acceptance and resignation led to a marked lack of effort.
I was given the distinct message early on that I was not an athlete although I don’t recall ever being told that explicitly. When the PE teacher sent me to the outfield and let me pick dandelions instead of making me participate, it reinforced my ineptitude. My lack of effort, skill, and motivation, combined with the fact that I was not pushed or encouraged meant that I was an official “non-athlete” by the time I was about seven. Instead, I had a penchant for academics, so that was fostered and developed. Academic expectations were set high; consequently I achieved and exceeded expectations. Eventually, the humiliating lineups were a thing of the past as I was reading leisurely on the swings while my classmates played volleyball and capture the flag.
I hold a core belief about teaching and learning: students will live up or down to the expectations you set for them. If we set high standards in all things for our students, they will live up to them. In my experiences as a teacher, student, and a parent, this is true in academics, athletics, and all areas of life. If we enter each teaching relationship with the belief that every student can succeed – they will. Every student will not be the whiffle ball champion of the second grade, but with enough practice and guidance, every child will reach a personal best.
Although I ran a marathon a few years ago to prove to myself that I was not completely incapable, I still did not consider myself athletic. If I were subjected to the lineup of shame today, I’d probably be close to the last pick for just about any sport. In spite of that, I know enough about brain science and motivation to know that I can become the athlete I never allowed myself to be in elementary school. As we enter a new school year, remember that we each have our own gifts and talents and encouraging the development of those is a wonderful thing. Every day we teach kids who have been told they aren’t good enough, remedial, below standard; they are the anecdotal “last pick.” Your belief, support, and encouragement may be the thing that keeps them from resigning themselves to a life of believing they are incapable of that which does not come naturally.