A Boy, Three Fingers, and Lifelong Resilience


About a year ago, I worked with a client whose 9 year old (we’ll call him “Jacob”) was trying to deal with the pressures of being a little league baseball pitcher.  Despite the self imposed pressure of throwing more strikes than balls or hits, he had to deal with the periodic setback of a poorly played game. During one particular game, Jacob was slow to respond to a bunt that rolled toward 1st base.  After finally retrieving the ball, he dropped it, picked it up again, and then threw it to 2nd base where the batter had swiftly run.  Jacob grossly overthrew the ball into the outfield which allowed the batter to come all the way around 3rd base and reach home plate to score a home run.  That run broke the tie and resulted in Jacob’s team’s loss of the game.

Anyone who understands baseball knows that scoring a home run on a bunt results from a comedy of errors that can only occur in little league.  Jacob wasn’t laughing.  He was crushed at his performance and the heckling from his 9 year old opponents.

Jacob’s mom came to me concerned about his ability to “bounce back” from setbacks.  Every time Jacob loses, he gets a “funny feeling” in his stomach, frowns incessantly, and worst of all, blames everyone else on the team for their errors without addressing his own.

We got to work on right away on building Jacob’s emotional intelligence skills of resilience and accountability.  Many strategies helped him along his way, but one in particular stood out.

We asked Jacob to point his finger as if he was blaming a teammate for the loss of a game.  When he pointed his index finger we asked him where his middle, ring, and pinky fingers were pointing.  Jacob replied “back at me!” 

After that, every time Jacob blamed others (and that was A LOT!) his very dedicated mom and dad firmly yet lovingly reminded him to use the other three fingers pointing back at him to focus on what he could do to be accountable for his own actions. 

It worked!  Within a month, Jacob and his parents even created actions ideas for the three fingers.  They all started with the letter “s” which made them easy to remember.

The middle finger stood for “study and strength”.  After losing a game, Jacob was encouraged to study his errors and learn from them. Of course, his parents helped. After that, he would focus on very specific strengths that he brought to each game.  Jacob particularly liked to recall the number of strikes he threw with his famous curve ball and that made him happy.  With prodding from his parents, he learned to add additional strengths such as “I gave John a pat on the back after he struck out”, and “I hit a line drive when I was up to bat.”

Jacob’s ring finger stood for “slide off.”   He liked his mom’s idea of letting a loss or a poorly played game slide off his shoulders.  He would literally lean back to act out the thought. By viewing the loss as a temporary event, Jacob could start focusing on the next game.  (This thought process is part of a larger approach to learning the important emotional intelligence skill of optimism)

That led to “strategies” which was represented by Jacob’s pinky.  Jacob’s dad was particularly helpful in helping him to think through his plays and practice them. They would spend a couple of hours at the baseball field every weekend.  Besides improving his game, Jacob enjoyed the time with his dad and the feedback he received.

Jacob and his parents are to be congratulated.  They were active participants in the coaching process and worked hard in between sessions to overcome unproductive approaches and implement new ideas in order to achieve success in their goals.

This exercise didn’t just help Jacob improve his game or his mood after a loss; it helped him understand how to be resilient, optimistic and accountable to himself.  Research proves that these emotional intelligence skills will serve Jacob well in the problem solving arena for the rest of his life.  If he slips back in to the finger pointing blame game and its ensuing negativity, he just has to remember where the other three fingers are pointing.

Reader comments are cherished.  Please leave us yours.

Parenting Kids to have a Strong Work Ethic

You’ve heard the saying “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!” 

When I ordered a new washing machine and dryer in late March, I got some seriously sour lemons in customer service from a well known national home improvement store.  The harrowing experience lasted for 2 ½ weeks and included:

  • 23 hours in which I was confined to my home waiting for 8 separate delivery crews or appliance service technicians.
  • Over 10 hours (yes hours) of phone calls to the store to get customer service I’m paying for.
  • Over 3 hours of phone calls to the appliance company to trouble shoot machines that ended up not working because of human error.
  • A string of human errors and incompetence including delivery men not knowing how to switch door swing on the dryer, not turning on the gas line to the dryer, not balancing the washing machine properly which caused the pieces inside to literally shred (the machine had to be replaced), not turning on the cold water to the washing machine, and dragging trolley grease up the staircase carpeting.
  • Robotic customer service who said “I’m sorry” with the most un-empathetic, unconvincing communication and no gesture to prove improved efficiency or courtesy.

But alas, there is lemonade to be made. 

I don’t doubt that I’m the only one who has had an experience like this.  You probably have too!  Was it the cable, satellite, phone, or internet company?  Could a poor work ethic have caused workers not to maintain a Southwest airplane properly causing the recent mid-flight “hole” to appear?  Perhaps the more important question is what can we do about these incidences? 

To me the answer lies in Gandhi’s words.  He said “Be the change you want to see in the world”.   Not only can we function with a strong work ethic and empathetic attitude but we can teach these values to our children. 

Now we have reached the part where we can make lemonade. 

Parents are the CEO’s of their families.   Their leadership in the home is responsible for sculpting future citizens and employees.  Take a moment to dream about how productive and kind our world could be if every parent took this leadership with gravity.

Here are some ideas to ponder.  Take what works and toss what doesn’t.

1.   Starting at a young age, teach kids to focus.  Start with simple tasks like homework.  Eliminate distracters like cell phone text messaging, Facebook , music , or TV so kids can concentrate on completing one task comprehensively and with accuracy.  Kids wouldn’t allow themselves to get distracted when they need to score points in a video game.  If they can focus there, they can focus anywhere!  Focus is the basis of a “job well done” that eventually sprouts pride.  Effective multitasking can only grow from effective single-tasking!

2.  Be the “best.”  When I was a younger, my dad told me to be whatever I wanted, but to be the “best” at it.  Ask your children what it takes for them to be their “personal best.”  Incorporate their ideas to help them create a plan of action about any given task from homework to sports or even video games.  Kids love to have their ideas taken seriously and revel in creatively carving their own successes.

3.  Limits, consequences, and consistency are supposed to be a parenting mantra but they are not easy to enforce.  If the police gave you a traffic ticket for a rolling stop instead of a complete stop at a stop sign, chances are you would refrain from that recurring.  Parents, you are your child’s police officer.  You hold the power to enforce a strong work ethic instead of letting a weak one slide.

4.  Elvis said it best.  “Walk a mile in my shoes.”  Teaching our kids to have empathy can make a world of difference in how they treat others.  We don’t like being in situations like the one I described at the beginning of this post.  We can avoid putting others in that situation by knowing what it feels like and doing our “best” to prevent it from happening.  Sincerity and integrity matter.

Over to you.  What do you think?  Can we effectively follow Gandhi’s words by being the change we want to see in the world?  Can our strong work ethic and that of our kids make a community wide difference?  Please leave your comments as well as your suggestions on building work ethic in kids.

What Christmas Values Will You Choose?

With Christmas this month, I fondly remember my favorite inspiration from Jesus.  “Forgive them for they know not what they do.”  Imagine the nobility of those words.  Think deeply for a moment, could you or anyone you know do this at a time when you are being persecuted? I chuckle as the first thing I think about are dogs.  They are experts at forgiving us with their perpetually wagging tails, and we in turn forgive them.  I have a beautiful black lab, and no matter what she does to misbehave, I forgive her and continue to adore her because I know that she doesn’t know any better.  It is simply her nature.  Isn’t this often the case with humans, the ones that make up our family, friends, community, and work colleagues?  Sure… I know you are thinking that they DO know better!  Maybe they do, but innate tendencies take over and they slip up without realizing it.  The point here is that Jesus did not complain about others knowing better, or what they SHOULD have, or COULD have done differently.  He very simply took responsibility on how He would manage the situation He was placed in.  He chose to think and act with nobility and forgiveness and subsequently gave us that profound guidance “Forgive them for they know not what they do”.

As the holidays are upon us, I read many articles both online and in print on how to manage the holiday stress of difficult people whom we interact with… particularly visiting relatives.  How do you feel about incorporating Jesus’ words in to your toolbox of stress management?  How can you forgive your sister in law for her curt remarks or your colleague for his insensitive gift?  Think about what irks you, who irks you, and why.  Perhaps you want to write this down in a private journal that you can reflect upon.  Then think… how will you forgive them and not take their actions personally? What three specific steps can you apply this Holiday season to truly live by Jesus’ words?  Perhaps you would like to write these down too.  You might want to use them again!

Since I am a parent coach, we have to incorporate some parenting here, so remember that your children are closely observing you and learning from you.  Do you want them to grow up constantly frustrated with other people’s insensitive behaviors or do you want them to have a toolbox of effective self-soothing and noble behaviors (by the way… this is a part of emotional intelligence which you can read more about on my website http://www.ontheballparent.com/ )?  If you can overcome your frustrations and apply tools like Jesus, you will have created the ultimate win-win situation for yourself, your watchful children, and of course those whom you interact with. Wouldn’t that be a tremendous achievement that you can carry in to the New Year!

Any examples you choose to share in our community forum would be greatly appreciated by all.

Why Good Parents Choose Coaching

You the reader are a good parent.  The fact that you took the time to click on and read this segment tells me that you have a curiosity to learn more about parenting.  If you are open to tweaking, enriching, or even rebuilding your strengths and strategies, then, congratulations, you have passed the first test of being “coachable”. Imagine you were competing in the Olympics in the category of Best Parent.  Would “good” be good enough to win gold, silver or even bronze?  Not a chance!  If you wanted to be an Olympic winner, you wouldn’t settle for good, you would pursue being the absolute best.  You would do anything conceivable to improve your parenting strengths.  You would practice every day and have a coach feed your motivation and hold you accountable to achieve results.

A parenting coach is very much like an Olympic personal trainer who builds your parenting strengths and holds you accountable to do what you promise to do, so that your parenting goals are attained with wild success not to mention the endorsements.  No… Nike and Coke are not going to pay you!!  I’m talking about the endorsements you get from family, friends, teachers and community members who highly value children who have turned out academically, emotionally, and socially successful because of outstanding parenting.  A parenting coach can actually help parents to apply very specific research proven skills that help children to grow up authentically successful and happy because of whom they are as opposed to what they have.

Every parent is different.  Values, priorities, and family dynamics vary.  Parent coaching takes this into account and creates plans of actions that are personalized just for you.

Most parents say they would do anything for their kids.  Where would you begin?  What would be the cost of not beginning?

Perhaps you find yourself turning into your mother or father and not only exercising their good parenting techniques, but the ones you swore you would “never” do to your kids.  How will you recognize and break those patterns?

Many parents read “how to” books and attend seminars that tell them what they “should” be doing for their kids.  Turning this advice in to a successful plan of action can challenge even creative parents who aren’t sure how to make strategies work for each of their unique children.  To complicate matters, parents find it difficult to be consistent and frequently “fall off the wagon” giving up their efforts as well as their desired result.

Divorced parents and even married ones whose styles and priorities immensely differ often find that coaching will provide solutions for cooperative success.

Some parents find that if they just have some time to take care of themselves and squeeze in some of their own fun, that they can care better for their family.  This is exceedingly important!  It’s no wonder that airline flight attendants tell parents to put their own oxygen air mask on first, and then assist their child.  If you are struggling to breathe, how on earth will you be able to help your kids?  Not only does coaching give you permission to take time for yourself, it will actually help you devise a plan of action and hold you accountable to achieve it every single week.  Time for yourself will also help you manage stress and create work / life balance.  Your newfound peace of mind is essential in creating the family life of your dreams.The above examples may or may not be your priority.  Whatever your goals are, a Certified Coach, trained by an accredited school, and following a strict code of ethics mandated by the International Coach Federation will help.  

What have you got to lose?  You are a good parent who has everything it takes to be a winner.  Like Nike says, “Just Do It”.