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July 29th, 2011

Lessons from the Wimbledon Fortnight

One of the perks of living in London is the opportunity to attend world-class events.  Recently I was lucky enough to be at Wimbledon’s Center Court for the final between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.  Djokovic won in 4 sets, and he was the deserving winner.  He simply played better tennis on the day.

Athletes can be a tremendous inspiration; providing lessons in how to be at the top of their game and remaining confident, yet also maintaining humility.  Rafael Nadal summed it up so beautifully in his speech following his defeat by Djokovic.  He said:

“First I would like to congratulate Novak and his team for his victory today and his amazing season.  It wasn’t possible [for me] today in this final. I tried my best as always. Today one player played better than me.  I will try another time next year.”

Here’s what I like about what he captured in those short sentences:

  1. Djokovich won, Nadal lost and Nadal can still be happy for Djokovich and what he accomplished.
  2. He acknowledged that he was beaten by the better player on the day.  He says that he played his best, and he understands that on that particular day, his best wasn’t good enough to win.
  3. That he will leave the court with an increased commitment and motivation to learn from his loss; to look at what he could have done differently; and to refine his game and improve so that July 2012 might see a different result!

Apparently one of the things players see before heading on to Center Court is the classic Rudyard Kipling poem If

If you can meet with triumph and disaster

And treat those two imposters just the same

This is such an important lesson to instill in our children.  The ability to win with grace and humility and the ability to lose in the same way.  Defeat can lead to (at least) two outcomes: it can shut you down so you no longer want to try; or, you see it as a source of inspiration.  Defeat can be the opportunity to take stock with what you have achieved, re-clarify and re-commit to your goals and take some time to refine your skills.

Yesterday’s match demonstrated that, for Nadal, doing your best is not the same as (in that particular match) being the best.  While doing your best might not result in a first or second place finish, it will always provide an opportunity to assess your strengths and weaknesses and see them both as things to learn from and improve upon.

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July 01st, 2011

Wimbledon Fortnight- it's all fun and games for our children!

Have you ever had the experience where your child says they are bored and there is nothing to do? Or indeed the situation where a simple family game of cards dissolves into hysteria and tantrums if your child does not win? Simply playing sport or other games can sometimes be fraught with emotion for both parent and child. Encouraging simple creative play from an early age can often be a minefield as parents are bombarded with a n overwhelming array of educational toys – largely electronic, with an amazing range of batteries and buttons. The marketing gurus cleverly stamp a package as “Award Winning Toy” encouraging parents to buy with the implication they will have as a result an “award winning child”. This preconditioning starts early and moves with the development of your child into the more sophisticated area of Nintendo Ds; Playstations and Xbox’s. Electronic toys are largely about children executing tasks and play therefore becomes based on performance and not imagination. The manufacturers may just as well put a health warning on the box saying” creativity and imagination not included in this package!”

Another on going problem for many parents is that as children develop in age, there can be a temptation to fill children’s free time with many organised activities and entertainment often designed to add to their list of accomplishments. Indeed we do live in a culture of organised play, as the pressure to maximize every moment is enormous, especially as time together between parent and child may be compromised. The result can often be children who, when left to their own devices, may not know what to do. We don’t want fun to be seen by our children as commercialised and yet so often this can be the case .

The solutions to the above are so simple as to be overlooked:

  • For the younger children, go back to the old fashioned games of “Simon says”, ‘musical bumps’ and “I spy” to encourage not only physical movement but listening skills and language  processing. Action rhymes such as “Row, row, row the boat” soon become children’s’ favourites and enable them to focus on words and actions and learn about processing two part instructions.
  • For the older child, focus on engaging them in adult activities such as cooking; cleaning; ironing, washing the car as well as playing games. Depending on age and stage of development they may not be able to concentrate for long, but often you find these activities actually inspire creative play and the added benefit to you is you encourage self reliance early on!

In terms of playing competitive games and sports, many life skills are required in order to be successful and enjoy taking part. We need to teach and train our children to:

  • Follow rules and instructions
  • Use self control
  • Handle their feelings
  • Consider other people’s feelings
  • Look for solutions and develop strategies for dealing with problems

Set up opportunities to practice the above skills by playing sport and other games. (This also provides opportunities for positive time with your children which contributes to a positive relationship with them, improves their motivation to please and increases their self-esteem.)

  1. Before the game starts ask your child what the rules are or what they must do in detail.
  2. Ask them or suggest to them what feelings they might have if they win or if they lose.
  3. What might they feel like doing when they win/lose? What behaviour is required if they win or if they lose?
  4. Empathise that they might prefer to skip this conversation and get on with the game.
  5. During the game descriptively praise the behaviour you want to encourage – choose from: self-control, taking turns, stopping when a physical game gets too rough, not hurting physically or verbally, not complaining or storming off, kindness, consideration, tolerance especially re younger siblings, helpfulness, following instructions/rules and anything else that occurs to you.
  6. 6. Conspicuously model the desired behaviour (i.e. talk about what you’re doing) e.g. “Oh no I’ve picked up a bad card but I’m not going to make a fuss and I’m going to carry on playing the game. Maybe I’ll get good cards next time.” Or “Oops that wasn’t a good shot. I’m going to practice my goal shooting so I’ll get better at it.”
  7. Acknowledge that it’s hard when the game isn’t going your child’s way or he’s not playing skillfully. (e.g. can’t get the ball in the basketball hoop). “It can be hard to keep going when it doesn’t come easily at first. It takes self discipline.”

And finally when your child returns home from their cricket or rounders match resist the temptation to ask “Did you win?” replacing it first with “Did you enjoy yourself? And then “did you play your best?” or “did you manage to keep your eye on the ball the way you’ve been practicing” or “Did the coach have any good tips?”

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