Saturday, October 29, 2011

We should teach what David Freese learned to do

I tuned into NPR this morning to see if I could catch a cerebral take of the World Series – a historic series that many are saying, already, was the best ever. Jim Bouton, former NY Yankee pitcher and author of the legendary baseball memoir “Ball Four,” was being interviewed by Scott Simon. They talked baseball, about the managerial styles of the two managers, about fans carrying much more of the hurt with them through the off season than the players. And then Scott asked Jim about David Freese, the hometown kid who plays third base for the Cardinals, who talks like a surfer and plays liked a Hall of Famer. They talked about his path to success. Bouton stated clearly that this golden boy had troubled waters to paddle through along the way to catching this amazing post-season wave. Freese was both MVP of the Playoffs and the World Series this year and a regular fixture on sports high-light shows throughout the autumn.

So I looked up this remarkable David Freese to see what his path to success looked like. After a stunning high school career, Freese was offered a baseball scholarship to play with University of Missouri Tigers. However, during his senior season of high school, he quit. Simply put, he was burned out on baseball and opted not to take a scholarship. Instead, he enrolled at Missouri to study computer science. Just like that, he was done, emotionally spent, and only a teenager.

Following his freshman year at Missouri, Freese spent the summer working for his hometown school maintenance department, and had a chance to visit his alma mater. What did he realize? That he missed baseball. A lot. Only weeks before having to head back to college, he contacted St. Louis Community College-Meramec, to ask for a roster spot. He got one and took it. In one season, Freese was named an All-America. His coach recommended him to the head coach of the baseball team at the University of South Alabama. He transferred and was unstoppable. According to his manager, Freese was the best player he ever coached.

With a stellar college career in his pocket, Freese ascended to the pros and was well on his way to greatness when he hit a physical wall: a major ankle injury, requiring two surgeries and an extended time on the disabled list which cost him most of his entire first season. He rehabbed it back to health, stayed focus and became a starter this year. What happened next? He was hit by a pitch in his left hand, breaking it, causing him to miss two key months. He worked hard to recover, continued to refine his hitting with the help of his coaches, and was able to return to the lineup later this summer. If you watched any of the playoffs or World Series you saw the result – a performance which will now go down in history as one of the greatest ever.

Now let’s go back to Bouton and Simon’s conversation. When asked how Freese does it, Bouton said it was this: his ability to overcome adversity. Freeze had a number of key highs and lows, breaks both good and bad. Luckily, he didn’t have an easy road and was forced to find resolve and a course through the valleys in order to get back to higher ground. He has what all successful people have: grit. And lots of it. Sure, Freeze can hit. He can throw. And he sure can play. But if there is one attribute Mr. Freese has that is truly remarkable, it is his ability to overcome troubles, focus on a goal, get there, and then perform at the highest level on the most visible stage.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Parents, performance, protection and pressure: a view from a grandparent

I just read an interview done by Sewickley Academy of Pat Bassett, president of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), a membership organization of more than 1,400 independent schools and associations of schools in the U.S. and 250 affiliated schools and associations internationally. Pat was asked "you’re a grandparent, who we’re guessing, might have strong views on contemporary styles of parenting. What advice do you have for parents as they wind their way through the thickets of advice in a high stress world?" His reply? "Read both of Wendy Mogel’s books, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee and Blessing of a B-, and Richard Weissbourd’s book, The Parents We Mean To Be. Then attend the book club meetings your school and parents association should offer, moderated by a school administrator and a local child psychologist. Bottom line – parents are both over-protecting their kids on the one hand, and putting immense performance pressure on them on the other. Kids grow in loving, supportive home and school environments, at their own pace, with stops and starts and long detours, and only get derailed when well-meaning but misguided adults in their lives make a mess of it. The daily message from parents to their kids should not be “I just want you to be happy,” nor “I just want you to be successful,” but rather “I want you to be good.” It turns out our hyper-parenting and obsession with “happiness” and “success” produce kids who are unhappy and stress-riddled. It turns out kids who are “good” (meaning morally good kids with character traits such as virtue, resilience, and perseverance) turn out to be much more likely to be successful and happy adults than do kids who become adolescents and then adults obsessed with being happy all the time or being driven to distraction about some unobtainable, perfectionist definition of success. We have one shot, and it’s now, to redefine “the good life,” and we need parents in that conversation."