I lined up at the start and stared at the 100m of hurdles ahead of me. I had never jumped over a hurdle in my life. I was an awkward 9th grader who was a bit chubby and very self conscious. And yet here I was at the City-wide track meet about to run and jump over something I had never done before- great.
The gun went off and I started running as fast as I could. I cleared the first hurdle, ok, this was doable. I heard people screaming my name. For this nerdy girl, it felt pretty good to be cheered on by my peers. I didn’t see anyone ahead of me so I looked behind me; everyone else was way behind me! I was in first! By a lot!
I tried to speed up even more. As I cleared hurdle after hurdle I thought to myself “I’m good at this! I’m like my mom! (A high school track star) I’m going to win!”
After the last hurdle, I stopped and threw my hands in the air yelling “I won! I won!’ I couldn’t believe how great it felt! I was going to get a first place ribbon – I was good at this – I was an athlete! Everyone in the stands was yelling “Go! Go!” and I was confused as to what they wanted.
And then, all the other girls ran past me to the finish line about 10m ahead of where I had stopped. I came in dead last.
This is a true story! Can you imagine the humiliation for a 14 year old high school freshman? I cried so hard after that race. I had never been more humiliated and this is still the most embarrassing moment of my life.
But it is also an amazing teachable moment and a chance to demonstrate resilience to the kids I coach and teach.
When I tell this story, the first thing people say is “I would never run track again after that.” I think it’s a natural tendency to avoid anything that makes us uncomfortable, but I didn’t. While I messed up, I knew that it was a small technicality and that I had potential.
The next year, at a new high school, I joined the track team and went on to run in high school and university. I didn’t run hurdles, I stuck to the sprints. But not because of this moment; my high school hurdlers were a super intense group who often fell and fractured wrists. I figured it was safer to stick to straight sprinting.
I tell this story to kids I coach and teach because it contains many great life lessons.
Don’t Let Setbacks Stop You
Kids often want to quit after not doing well at a task. They feel frustrated after working hard and not succeeding, and think they will “never get this” and “never win at anything.” I use this story as an example of how you have to stick with something no matter what happens along the way.
This is an important lesson to take in life! We all know as adults nothing goes exactly how we want it to. We just have to know that no matter what our goal there will be setbacks and we have to keep our eyes on the end goal. Quitting won’t help you accomplish your goal.
Don’t Worry About What People Say
My best friend from Fort McMurray (where the infamous race took place) told me that every year at the track meet people talked about the girl who stopped after the last hurdle. *face palm*
While it was easier to withstand because I moved to a new country as well as school, I’ve always been someone who worked hard not to let the opinion of others affect me and my path. Too many kids worry about looking foolish, or people making fun of them. We have to teach them to pretend they are ducks and let those words roll right off their backs.
Be Proud of What You Did Well
Instead of focusing on the loss, I thought about how I did really well up until I stopped. Up until I stopped, I had a considerable lead which meant I had a lot of speed. I focused on that aspect of the race when I returned to the track the following spring.
Kids will get laser focused on what they did wrong. It’s good to teach them to look at the good as well as the bad. To find one thing or moment they were proud of.
Figure Out How You Can Improve Next Time
This was easy for me, learn the rules of the race before running! Ha ha! Use setbacks and losses as a way to identify what can be improved on. Too often, kids (and parents) just want to focus on their child’s strengths and what they’re good at. But if you have a kid who is an amazing shooter but can’t dribble, they won’t be a good basketball player. Or if you have a kid who has amazing skills but bad at teamwork, they still aren’t a good player.
Using a loss is a great chance to identify and begin working on what could be improved upon. Some kids think of that as “focusing on the failure,” we have to help them understand that it’s actually going to help them improve.
There Will Always Be Somebody Better Than You
This wasn’t a lesson from this race, this was a tremendous life lesson from my mother. As I said, she was a high school track star in the 70s in Hawaii. She placed 2nd in the State in the 200m and 400m and had a scholarship to the University of Hawaii. Maybe this life lesson came from the fact that she came in second, but it’s been an amazing tool for me to learn to accept not winning.
I try to teach this to kids so they understand that someone being better than them doesn’t mean they “suck.” You can be the smartest kid in your class and then a new kids will come in and be better. Your team can win all season long and then get destroyed by new teams in the championships.
We have to teach kids that someone else’s success doesn’t mean they are failures. They have to learn that sometimes no matter how hard you work, someone will be better. This doesn’t mean that work was for nothing, it was to build their character and to help them go as far as possible.
It’s amazing how one moment in life can shape your character so much. I wanted to share this because as a teacher, I find myself using the lessons I learned from this experience to children.