During our Regional Championship tournament, I had a conversation with a student who said the most honest thing I’ve heard in a long while. I initiated the conversation because I work Communications at the tournaments and I could see the student was tense, frustrated, distressed even. When I asked about it, I got the usual response, “My speeches have gone so badly. I really wanted to do well so I could get to Nationals.” There is not a good response for this. I know all the correct things to say: Nationals isn’t the goal. You’ve grown so much. The trophies will fade. None of that matters in the moment of disappointment, so I said nothing and gave the student a hug. That was when it got real. Coming off that hug, the student said this:
“I want to be part of the friend group that goes to Nationals, and I’m not going to be… again.”
The raw honesty of that statement stunned me. And I realized that for many students, it isn’t about achievement or their speeches, or even winning a trophy. It’s about being seen and known and appreciated and included by those who do.
I haven’t been able to shake off the impact of the longing I saw in that student, and the more I ponder it, the more I am certain that there are many others out there who feel exactly the same way. There’s nothing a coach can do to fix this because as I said above, all the right things to say about winning and achievement and trophies don’t apply to this longing. This longing is for inclusion. Ultimately, club leaders and coaches cannot grant the recognition this student and others desire because the longing is for the recognition of successful peers. So, I guess I’m throwing down a challenge to all of you students who ARE in the friend group, who DID go to Nationals. How can you come back to your club and extend the friend group?
- Don’t emphasize the inside stories. We’ve all been around that conversation that is about something we weren’t a part of – a concert, a camp, a movie we haven’t seen yet. It’s uncomfortable to stand by and not really know what others are talking about. Be SENSITIVE to this feeling in your club!! That doesn’t mean you can’t discuss nationals, but make every effort to do so in a manner that shares the experience, that passes it on to those who weren’t there instead of reveling in your own experience. Save the insider stuff for times when you aren’t around those who aren’t part of your experience and ask others if they’d like to try this or that that you did at Nationals: Scavenger Hunt? Soft Serve Ice-Cream outing? Club worship? You’ll have your own list. But let others in on it.
- Pass on your experience. Use your trip to Nationals to become a mentor. Tell about your journey getting to Nationals. Encourage another student to keep at it. I’d challenge you to identify one person in your club you can specifically mentor and build up. Think of something you saw at Nationals that reminds you of their style. Or challenge them to try something you saw there that you think they’d be good at. See them. Get to really know and understand one other person in your club you haven’t yet.
- Model learning yourself. Talk openly about what you saw at Nationals that humbled you, impressed you, or challenged you in a way you hadn’t considered. In other words, communicate loudly that you are also still growing, still aiming to improve your skills. Most students who have not broken or received a chance to attend Nationals already see you as a champion. They think you’ve “arrived,” and they look up to you. Don’t just bask in that! You were there. You know what the competition is like there. Share that! Your honesty here goes a long way in building relationships that have real impact. **Caveat: It will be easy for others to see through your dishonesty here too. Don’t make it up. Be real.
- Resist the urge to talk trash. This might be the most important thing. It’s so easy to bring home a lot of blah, blah, blah about judges and times and what should have won but didn’t. Don’t go there! There is absolutely NOTHING productive in that talk, and it doesn’t glorify God’s providence at all! Don’t make excuses! Focus on the good things. Talk about the good things. Be a light!
This will be another one of those coachy-type statements that seem cheesy, but I promise that your impact on your club – positive or negative – will last longer than your status on the national scene. Invest here. Come home from Nationals ready to give back.