John Livingston

Teaching our Children to “Never Give Up”

This has been a big week for me. The Ohio State vs. Michigan game was an absolute bust for Ohio State fans. On Thursday night, I went to my granddaughter’s piano recital at the Dunkley Music Hall in Eagle. My granddaughter Lilly is 11 years old, and she played jingle bells “perfectly”. There were 8 other young children and a mother-daughter duet team. They all were absolutely “perfect”. There were more than a few missed notes and “do-overs” but the concentration and effort and determination on the faces of those kids was inspiring.

Watching them stand up and introduce themselves to the audience of about 40 people in the small concert hall, overcome their fear of performing, and plowing through their pieces with 100% effort was for me breathtaking. Performing in such a setting is not just about the performance itself, but rather about the “educational derivatives” that come from learning to execute a difficult task. We want our children to participate and take chances, risks, and work hard to succeed and learn to fail. Music, performing arts, athletics, learning how to build roads or fly jets, or navigating by shooting stars or shooting for the stars, is all about taking risks. I want my children to learn three things before they grow up. I want them to learn to win, to learn to lose, and to learn to compete to the end— never give up. Every person who has been successful in life has failed many times, had a dream along the way, and carries in the deepest corner of their souls the sense of pride in competing against themselves and others. Competition makes us better people.

So many times, with a musician or a great athlete during the time that their talents are being realized and developed, they never have to give 100%. The great basketball coach Bobby Knight opined that when most of his scholarship athletes first came to campus, they thought they were giving 100%, when really it was more like 70%. Until they get to the higher levels they never have to truly compete. Division 1 College football teams have 85 scholarship athletes on their teams. Many of them come to campus as the best players in their states or in cases like Alabama, Ohio State and Michigan they are the best players in the country. The task of the big-time college coach is to teach them to compete, to fight to the end and never give up.

Last Saturday I watched the vaunted Ohio State Buckeyes not compete, and worse yet they stopped competing at the end of the game—some would say they quit. All the talent on the field and much of it stopped competing. In a team sport you must fight the demons of fatigue and pain and in the case of some players’ selfishness, to give the overall effort a chance. In a piano recital one must overcome the drudgery of preparation and the anxiety of performing. When the spotlight is on you it is all up to you. Give it your best in both cases. Success is never guaranteed but prepare hard and the chances for a great performance are improved. Be perfect in your preparation and your effort and the notes will take care of themselves. Parents today in my opinion spend too much time protecting their kids from failing. Those parents who spend hours making their kids practice the piano or a sport risk having their kids fail. They are putting their boys and girls on stage and in the line of battle. There are very few today who seek such a position of individual responsibility.

Teddy Roosevelt in his MAN IN THE ARENA SPEECH said it best:

It is not the critic who counts, not the one who points out how the strong man stumbled or how the doer of deeds might have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred with sweat and dust and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, if he wins, knows the triumph of high achievement; and who, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

We need more men and women who are willing to get into the arena.

So, for me given the choice of watching some gifted athletes not compete or watching a 7-year-old kid play his piano recital piece in a “perfectly” unrecognizable rendition of SILENT NIGHT while giving a 100% effort and courageously overcoming their fears (and starting over 3 times) —I choose the latter thank you. Those kids don’t quit. They probably have their parents to thank for that, but their piano teacher has also contributed to teaching that great lesson. I think many coaches at the upper levels of sport have forgotten to teach their “scholar athletes” how to compete. Thank you, Mrs. Cynthia Waldon (Lilly’s Piano Teacher) for teaching our kids how to compete. There are some college coaches out there that could learn a thing or two from you.

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