Changing the Way You Keep Score

Scoreboard“Why do you even keep score?” This is the most common question my mom asked every time my brothers and I would get in an argument over a game. In fact, other than, “straighten up and fly right,” it’s probably her most famous quote to us. Typically our arguments centered on scoring and were grounded in my middle brother changing the rules.

I am the youngest of three boys, Dana, Trent, and me. To say my middle brother, Trent, was competitive would be a major understatement. He was so competitive that, “cheating,” was his thing. He would change the rules in the middle of the game and always to take advantage of the poor innocent baby of the family. If you ever played a game with Trent and he wasn’t cheating…well you were naïve, he was cheating. This drive and competitive spirit followed him to adulthood and some could argue it served him well. He worked full-time, went to school full-time, and raised a family. From there he built an engineering firm from the ground to a juggernaut in the industry with offices across the country. Words like tenacious, focused, and driven were perfect descriptors.

In August of 2004 during a meeting at work Trent had a seizure. After extensive testing it was determined that he had a brain tumor and a decision was made to remove it via surgery. After the surgery the surgeon revealed that he couldn’t get all the tumor, and radiation was prescribed. During this time, because of the seizure, Trent couldn’t drive and he couldn’t work. Up to this point in life two things defined Trent: work and family. And in his words, his priorities were “a little out of whack”. No work meant more time with his family, specifically his wife, Valerie, who served as chauffer. After months of radiation, great news, the tumor was not growing. Everyone was ecstatic, but for Valerie reality set in quickly. As they were driving home she told Trent she was worried things would get back to normal. Trent took the hint and “got it”. He was faced with the notion that all his life he kept score because he was competitive and now he needed to change how he was keeping score. No longer could Ws, bottom lines, profit margins, and getting the deal be his focus. He started to understand mom’s question, and now asked, “How do I keep score?”

And oh how he changed how he kept score. He started keeping score by the lives he touched. He didn’t lose his tenaciousness; he just turned it to mission work in Swaziland, construction work in New Orleans, playgrounds in Jamaica, and anywhere he found people at risk. I will never forget where I was on I-75 in Vandalia, OH, (we were coming back from getting BBQ for dinner) and he said, “I just changed how I keep score.” And he continued with something to the effect of that small change can change how you impact the world. Impact the world? I am not a big impact-type of thinker, but that was obviously in Trent’s wheelhouse.

As Trent was changing the world, in August of 2014, he had another setback, a stroke. As usual with a stroke he lost use of one side of his body and as you might expect, he started rehab immediately. And to no one’s surprise, he made huge progress in a short amount of time. He was driven. Until September 26th, 2014. Valerie called and said they were taking him to the hospital. A few hours later I get a text from my dad, “He’s gone.” Until that moment I’ve never understood when people say their knees buckled or they felt like they had been punched in the gut. Now I do.

I know this is a lengthy lead in but I share that because Trent’s message for the last years of his life was, “Do something, before IT happens”. His IT was a, “Tuma,” (his word not mine). It resulted in a complete change in perspective. His small changes in perspective changed the world for countless people. So what does this mean to physical educators? If you believe in the butterfly effect or the domino effect, what small tweaks can you make that will make a difference in the lives of youth?

To get your mind rolling, here are some adjustments I have considered, tried, and pondered in the last two years:

  1. How do I view students (or athletes)? As pawns in a little game of testing or a little game of (insert your sport here)? Or do you look at students (of all ages) as our future? Are behavior problems a disruption, or a chance to impact students? In most cases the root of misbehavior will break your heart. It’s the behavior you don’t like, not the child.  As educators, students are our future. We get to impact students and the future. We must remember that the foundation of everything we do is relationships. Carl Buechner once said, “They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel…” Think about your favorite teachers. Chances are, they weren’t your favorite teacher because they taught you to conjugate a verb or divide a fraction or throw a ball. They were your favorite teacher because they made you feel good…or accomplished…or worthy…or that you mattered. Every student needs a teacher that makes them feel this way. Be that teacher. We have to believe the students we impact are far more important than the content we teach. Reaching students is our way to positively “impact the world.”
  1. How do I see education? Is it a job or a passion? Are you leading students to water? Making them thirsty? I recently read that the best part about education is that it matters and the worst part about education is it matters. That’s pressure. But a great pressure. Do your students know you love education? Physical education? Do you need to tell your face that you love physical education? SMILE more. Be respectful of the entire education experience students receive. Attend math nights, literacy events, plays, and concerts. For me this part requires a balance between family and career and I have to consciously balance it all. But it’s worth it. Education is our vehicle to positively “impact the world”.
  2. How do I look at physical education? “It’s a job for me,” or, “it’s the best career in the world”? If you are like me, you go back and forth on this one. My challenge is to get myself to keep looking back to “it’s the best career in the world”. The only thing constant in physical education is change. We have a history of changing foci (in theory) every 10 years. From gymnastics, to fitness, to perceptual motor programs, to movement education, back to fitness, academic integration…and now, “physical literacy”. And if I am honest, it’s a bit frustrating. As a field we must keep doing things better and we need to do better things. We need to really look at who we are, where we have been, and how that impacts the foothold we have in education. Do we really want to argue over dodgeball, whether students call us coach, and whether other teachers allow students to call it, “gym”? Or do we want to step back and say, “Why”, why do we do what we do? Because we care about the health of youth. Right? As you can see it’s hard for me to tease apart students, education, and physical education. Especially when I think of my “why”. Physical education is the path most of us have chosen to positively “impact the world.”
  1. How do I approach life? Am I just existing or am I thriving? Do I live with vigor? For me it depends on the day. While in the hospital Trent’s favorite song to listen to was “Thrive,” by Casting Crowns. The song speaks to the notion that we have to do more than survive in this life. At times we will need help thriving and at times we will provide the help to others. I remember when I was teaching there were days I just didn’t have it. But as soon as the 2nd graders came bounding down the steps into the gym with their endless energy (and it was endless), they helped me. I was fortunate to have two incredible educators and even better people as co-teachers who would also give me a kick in the pants at times as well. My point is that as a field and as educators we have to have each other’s backs to help everyone thrive. I am running out of space so I will expand more on thriving in my next blog.

In sum, we often make slight tweaks or modifications in how we keep score during our physical education lessons. What if we made small changes in how we keep score on our impact? Just what if….We can impact the world! Thanks Trent. THRIVE! 

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