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November 30, 2018
Take the Proactive Approach
If you’re responsible for teaching and training young people in any way – as a coach, a teacher, or a parent – then there are two approaches you can take. You can choose to do what all great coaches, teachers, and parents do and take the proactive approach to this important work. Or you can choose to accept the easier, lazier, more convenient route – the reactive approach – and in doing so, choose to settle for something less.

A proactive approach to teaching and training is focused on preparing your young athlete, as their guide and mentor, for the tests that you recognize are to come. If you look closely at the principles and philosophies of great coaches, in any sport or era throughout history, one common thread connecting each is the value they placed on preparation. Bear Bryant said, “It’s not the will to win that matters – everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters.” Branch Rickey called success “that place in the road where preparation meets opportunity,” and John Wooden – very plainly and profoundly – said that “failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” When it comes to teaching and training, great coaches, teachers, and parents see clearly that the proactive way is the most productive way.
A great teacher recognizes that it’s his job to develop those in his care for what he anticipates is coming in the future, even if those in his care don’t recognize it yet. A proactive approach requires the foresight to anticipate challenges coming in the road ahead and equip students (or players, or children) to handle the twists and turns they’ll find when they get there. The bright lights of the big stage have a tendency to reveal all the work you and your child have done in the dark, prior to the big moment. If you’ve taken a proactive approach that’s prepared your kids for success, then in that moment you’ll more likely be proud of what you see.

A reactive approach, on the other hand, is what Coach Wooden was challenging each of us to guard against. With a short-sighted, narrow-minded perspective, it becomes easy to focus only on what’s right in front of us, and in turn to neglect that preparation that’s so important to our kids’ success. Instead of constantly searching for ways to prepare them for the road ahead, a reactive approach seduces us into naively assuming that everything’s just fine, for us and for those in our care, as it currently is. Unfortunately, the bright lights of the big stage also have a tendency to expose all those areas where our children aren’t as prepared as they need to be. If you’ve taken a reactive approach, you’ll probably regret in that moment some of the work that you chose to leave undone.

Of course, learning and developing what it takes to become a champion, in sports and in life, is a long process that can’t happen overnight. You can do all the proactive teaching and training you want, but there will still be plenty of struggles, challenges, and even failures for your child to go through along the way. After all, despite even extensive preparation, some things can only be learned through experience; that's all a part of the journey. If you’re disappointed by what the bright lights of the big stage have revealed, then let it fuel your proactive approach moving forward. There’s great value in using whatever happened today – even if it was difficult – to prepare those in your care for taking another step forward tomorrow.

Finally, as part of your proactive approach, make sure that besides just teaching and training, you are committed to supporting and encouraging. If you’ve embraced this big picture perspective, and you have the foresight to anticipate those challenges in the road ahead, then you should also recognize the important role you play in being your child’s biggest cheerleader. By enjoying the journey yourself – even the difficult tests along the way – you help your young athlete learn to enjoy it, too. It’s also likely that by choosing to take this proactive approach, you’ll help them find that place in the road where preparation ends up meeting opportunity – that place Branch Rickey called success.

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