Change Becomes You
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Change Becomes You

What Did You Do Outstanding Today?

Perhaps the best question I ever learned to ask my kids came from their toughest coach.

Parenting is hard. Sometimes you think you are the best parent in the world and other times you feel like an absolute failure. As a career educator of over 25 years, I have seen lots of parenting styles, some successful and some I fear did more harm than good but I have never seen a parent that did not want the very best for their child. Our kids may not understand that when they are young, but I am convinced that no child will ever truly understand how much their parents love them until they become a parent themselves and for many, that is too late.

Because parenting can be so challenging, we often need help. When my oldest kids were little, I spent plenty of time reading books and searching online about how to raise “good” kids, how to talk to them, and have a good relationship with them. I don’t really know if any of that stuck. I watched how others interacted with their children. There were things I swore I would never do that I have done. There have been promises I made and not kept. Plenty of laughs and plenty of tears along the way. All and all, based on the results so far, I haven’t been perfect but I have five great kids. They aren’t perfect either and I would not expect them to be. Sometimes I wonder what they will remember most from their childhood. I sure hope it is something good.

One little trick I learned a few years back that I think has helped me as much as any, was a question I picked up from one of their coaches. Coach Roger taught my kids to play tennis. In our family, we like to think of him as sort of a mythical character, one part Mr. Miyagi from the Karate Kid and one part Norman Dale from Hoosiers. He wasn’t for everybody. He was a little cranky at times. He was A LOT cranky at others. Having grown up poor, he had little sympathy for anyone not working hard or trying their best, and he did not hesitate to let them know it. I witnessed more than one parent pull their child out of lessons while their kid was sniffling never to be seen at the courts Generally, it was because of some drill that seemed too tough or an off-the-cuff comment Coach had made up on the fly. I always felt sorry for those kids.

Some of the drills and “Rogerisms” have become legendary in our family and around the community. He had a medicine ball he called the “Baby” and every kid knew if you hit the ball over the fence you were going to have to carry the Baby around for a little while. He was also notorious for quipping, “If you hit the ball, the ball won’t hit you.” A quote my daughter, in about fourth grade at the time, once turned around on me after a particularly hard shot to my stomach.

He was tough but fair. He loved kids and did not want any of them to go without. If you got past that rough exterior, you knew he cared and in his own way, he was doing the best he could to help kids. He believed the world was tough and they needed to be tougher. I personally saw him give away more tennis racquets to kids that couldn’t afford one than I can count, but never without making them earn it with their hard work.

What did you do outstanding today?

At the end of every practice or lesson, Coach Roger would gather the kids around him and one at a time he would simply ask, “What did you do outstanding today?” And for all my educator friends out there, let me tell you, Coach Roger was the master of wait time. He would wait and wait, but he would not budge.

What did you do outstanding today?

I witnessed many kids, my own included, struggle and stammer to answer this question. Still, he waited.

What did you do outstanding today?

He would not let them off the hook. You had to articulate something you did that you were proud of that day. He would tell the group, all of you did something well, be proud and tell us what it is. This from the man that had just spent an hour as nothing short of a drill sergeant.

What did you do outstanding today?

I am not really sure what caused this gruff old man to ask that question of so many kids over the years. I do know this. I use it. I use it all the time. When my kids get home from school or around the dinner table I ask them:

What did you do outstanding today?

Coach Roger met my oldest daughter when she was about to enter third grade. She was shy and nervous. He almost scared her to death when he told her he was going to “make her a tennis player.” He told her that if she would listen to him and work hard, she would be playing varsity tennis as a freshman. She had no idea what he was talking about but he was right. She has enjoyed a successful high school career that started with that short conversation.

My youngest children never had the opportunity to play with Coach Roger, but I desperately wish they had. He passed away about 4 years ago after a long battle with cancer. Ironically, it was about a month before my daughter tried out for and made the varsity team as a freshman…just like he had predicted six years earlier. There is no telling the impact he has had on hundreds of kids. Some of his players went on to be state champions, others simply learned to play a game well that they can share the rest of their lives. I do not doubt that he asked them all,

What did you do outstanding today?

The past few months have had me in a panic as a father because my oldest daughter is a senior in high school and I feel as if I am running out of time to teach her everything she is going to need as she moves to the next phase of life. I wake up in the middle of the night sometimes wondering if she is too naive or if there are things I could have done better (obviously there are many!). There is also tons of guilt that maybe I haven’t done enough.

I am grateful for my kids and my family. Parenting is hard and I am thankful for the many important adults that have influenced their lives. Teachers, coaches, friends have all had a huge impact, and all parents need help along the way. We have been lucky so far and I hope and pray we will continue to feel that way. I do know very few days go by that I don’t text my kids in the morning and tell them to “Be Bold” during the day and there are also few days that end without me asking them

What did you do outstanding today?

Sometimes I have to wait for an answer, but it is always worth it. Lesson learned.

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Dr. Robert Thornell

Dr. Robert Thornell

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As a husband, father of five in a blended family, and an educator for 25+ years, I have seen, heard, and experienced a great life. I just love sharing ideas!