Friday, November 23, 2012

Is leadership the new bullying?

Earlier in the year, a few of my sophomore volleyball players were asking some of their team mates why they weren’t with them in the weight room during the off season.  As a head coach, I was proud that my underclassmen were making their team mates accountable.  I was even prouder that I didn’t have to initiate that conversation – they did it all on their own.  And because they were individually asking their team mates why, more and more girls began to attend the weight room.
Well, as you know, there are always 2 sides to each story.

One of the players mother’s claimed that the sophomore group was “bullying” her daughter.

I really didn’t know where to go with that.  I didn’t want to discredit what the one player was feeling, that her perspective wasn’t “real”.  But in the same breath, I thought to myself, “How is this now considered bullying?”

I worry for the youth that we have been carefully raising, by telling them that they are smart enough to become whatever it is they wish to become.  That if they want something bad enough, they can accomplish it JUST BECAUSE they think they can.  Our kids are not permitted to struggle, they are not allowed to lose and therefore they do not gain valuable experience with dusting themselves off and trying again.  This generation has been raised on beefed up self-esteems, to the extent that they have unrealistic perspectives of their abilities.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard my students in Biology class say, “I’ve never had to study before.”  

I do not doubt that bullying occurs in schools.  I am not saying that there are not kids that are targeted because they are different.  What I am saying is that being held accountable is being misinterpreted as bullying now.  If you can’t take constructive criticism, it’s bullying.  If your boss informs you that you are not doing your job well/right/fast enough, it’s bullying. 

One of the aspects of high school sports that I absolutely love is that the parallels from athletics mirror real life.  In life, there are winners and losers.  And when your team loses, it stings and you have 2 choices – you can give up or you can get up and work harder.  Losing is good for kids; everyone shouldn’t be awarded a trophy JUST BECAUSE they participated.  Kids need to learn that just because they lost, doesn’t mean they give up.  It means you learn how to dig deep.  It means you need to work harder.  My students are no different – when they encounter a tough problem or they get “stuck” in a lab/activity, their first instinct is to quit.  Because struggling is uncomfortable for them.  And God forbid they feel uncomfortable – they “think” they can accomplish anything JUST BECAUSE.  And when they get stuck, it doesn’t fit their paradigm.

In life, there are going to be people who don’t like you.  In life, you are going to encounter people who try to keep you down.  Because we do not teach our kids how to deal with these sorts of experiences, I feel that we are inadequately preparing them for life in general.  Yes, we do spend some time while in school on how to be “nice” to one another and not to pick on others who are different, but we do not teach kids who are the victims of bullying how to adequately deal with real bullying situations.

Lordy, if I recount how many times my college coach screamed his head off at me, by today’s standards, I would have been harassed.  If I look at how many times I was evaluated by athletic directors/parents/principals and read through the constructive criticism I had received, it’s amazing how I didn’t end up depressed, rocking myself in the corner of my bedroom.  

Maybe it’s because my parents made me fight my own battles.  Maybe it’s because my parents were teachers and coaches, and they refused to let me grow up thinking I was better than everyone else just because.  Or maybe it’s because I grew up in a time period where we weren’t all told that we could become anything we wanted.  Whatever the reason(s), I fear that I am doing the youth of today a disservice by not being honest and up front with them.  And I try to purposefully put my athletes and students into situations where they might feel uncomfortable because they need to learn how to problem solve.  They need to see that there is learning in the struggle.