Can you coach Resilience? Here’s 7 ways to try…

There are so many tragedies around the world and it is inevitable that each and every one of us has either already experienced some kind of material set-back or knows someone who has. It is also inevitable that we will experience various set-backs throughout our life time, whether at home, at work, or in the community.

Some people, organizations and communities ‘bounce back’ quickly, others don’t. Why is that? Resilience is the ability to recover, become strong or successful again after something bad has happened. At the individual level there are some biological factors at play with regard to how our brains work that somewhat influence that process, but I’m afraid they’re above my pay grade. Given businesses and communities are networks of people, what I want to explore is how we can help develop or coach resilience through a process of encouraging and practicing healthy habits. Whether we are self-coaching, life-coaching, parenting, leading a team at work, or mentoring others, I believe these habits can be applied. The younger they are learned, the better. I have outlined 7 steps to develop resilience. Let me know what you think and please share any additional recommendations you have learned from your own coaching / experience?

Some of the young people we work with at Play Rugby USA it seems have experienced enough set-backs already for life. Some of them have had to grow up quickly as a result. It is truly inspirational to see how so many of them continue to go-forward and support each other in achieving success. We are proud to be able to provide them with some passionate Youth Development Mentors who they can trust to help them along the way. So this brings me to the first of my 7 steps to learning resilience:

1) Go-Forward mindset: Yes, this is easier said than done but we remind our students regularly to “Go Forward”. As I have stated in previous blogs, Go Forward in rugby means to advance the ball forward to maintain possession (control), challenge and ultimately penetrate the defense (adversity). Off the field this means to learn, improve, experience personal growth and to never give up. A Go Forward mindset therefore requires learning from the past but always looking to the future knowing we may not always be able to control every outcome, but so long as we are going forward (making progress) to never give up. A Go-Forward mindset isn’t enough on its own to be learn resilience, but it’s a solid start. Just saying to yourself regularly “Go-Forward” is a gentle reminder to keep focus on what’s next, not what has gone before.

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2) Understand that change is constant and set-backs are an inevitable part of change: We have likely all been told at some point in our childhood “life isn’t fair”, and we have it drummed into us that “the only constant is change”. But, how do we prepare for change? When coaching / mentoring we can communicate that goals & benchmarks can change, expectations can be adjusted and that there is always something can can be learnt from every outcome, whether it was desired or not. We can encourage people to “play what we see” and make the best decisions they can on the fly taking into account those around them. We can communicate that sometimes bad things may happen, and we appreciate that bad things suck. But because we know that, we shouldn’t be surprised; we can handle them. Also, we need to appreciate point #3:

3) Step back to broaden your perspective: Picture your issue / set back. It may be all consuming. Then take one massive step back in your head. What else is there in your life? What is going well, what and who do you love, who do you know, who has been through this before, who can help? I’m not exactly a philosophy expert but Budda did say: “Our life is shaped by our mind. We become what we think. Suffering follows an evil [replace with "negative"] thought as the wheels of the cart follow the oxen that draws it”. Thinking broadly, thinking positively helps dilute the concentration of adversity.

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4) You can’t change the weather: (Although you can move to improve it!). We can only control what we can control. So, we have to make the most of the things within our sphere of self-influence. Also, if there are too many external factors negatively influencing our sphere of self-influence, how can we control (i.e. get rid of / minimize) some of them? For the things within our control, imagining our ultimate outcome (vision) for each, helps set our course. For example, if you’re a personal trainer working with someone looking to loose weight (it is New Year after all) how do they want to look and feel in 12 months time? Then, we help them set small goals in bite sized pieces, to help them move them forward. Then:

5) Self-Leadership: This is a broad and much documented topic but there are some basics we can employ that help us maximize point #4 above. Once we have set our ‘ultimate’ or  longer-term direction for a particular factor we can control and we’re motivated to get there,  imagining what that could look like (motivation), we can now employ 3 R’s: a) Reward ourselves for our achievements, and b) Reflect upon our outcomes (whether good or bad); and c) practice self-Respect. That is – put your positive hat on! If we respect ourselves, we can look positively at each step we take towards the vision we have for ourselves and be honest about whether we’re still going-forward. And if we’re struggling, we can always remember the old English proverb: “where there’s a will, there’s a way”.

6) Balance routine with enrichment: Personally, I’ve always been one to “keep busy” to keep my mind and body active & challenged and in some respects this has helped me go-forward after some set-backs. Routine for me traditionally has been work (running a small portfolio of sports-themed social enterprises) and training (gym, running, biking, rugby practice). However, having a routine it is not enough and at times can be a cause of stress and anxiety by taking on too much and loosing control of too many outcomes. So, just as important  or helpful as a routine may be, it’s equally important to have fun. Take a break, play a game, go out with friends, watch a movie, write a blog..haha, etc.

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Lastly, and absolutely not least:

7) You do not have to be alone: One of the themes that comes out most prominently from many of the students we work with is that since they have started playing rugby they realize they have a new “family”, “teammates” and “support”. They “look for help” want to become “role models” and feel a “connection” to and “respect” for each other. They make each other want to be a “better player / person” and they “learn” from each other along the way. They have chosen to participate in a game that has provided them with a new network of friends and supporters. So, to develop resilience, you need to ensure that YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BE ALONE. Being resilient however isn’t just about asking others for help. Resilient people exhibit the following behaviors: a) make connections with other people; b) help other people and c) ask for help, when they need it.

Junior and Senior Academy players play team building games together

Junior and Senior Academy players play team building games together

 

I’m interested to hear your thoughts? Can resilience be coached / developed? What are the challenges? What has worked for you?

Wellness: Young peoples’ lack of participation in sports is America’s biggest missed opportunity for long-term success.

If you glance over international education league tables, you may not be too proud to hear that the USA is punching way below its weight. For the biggest economy in the world, USA’s ranking at 17th (Pearson, 2012) and below average among OECD member countries, leaves much to be desired. In the land of opportunity, where education is the primary vehicle  to seize that opportunity, the USA is falling behind its peers. The American dream while still aspirational may be becoming just a little too impossible for too many, to attain. And it’s America’s most disadvantaged, urban youth, that will bear the brunt of this, as the achievement gap continues to grow. I believe improving the wellness of America’s young people is the key to getting the USA back on top.

 There are some broader but related challenges, evidenced by the following facts:

  • 71% of young people do not get the recommended daily dosage of physical activity;*
  • 1 in 3 young people are overweight or obese;*
  • 25% of middle school students report being a victim of violence;*
  • On average only 58% of young people in urban public schools will graduate;*
  • Obesity treatment costs total more than treatment costs for alcohol and smoking related treatment combined! At an estimated $190 billion / year (2005), they are quite literally unsustainable.**
  • Obesity has roughly the same association with chronic health conditions as does twenty years’ aging.***

* Up2Us website / ** Cawley J, Meyerhoefer C. The medical care costs of obesity: an instrumental variables approach. J Health Econ. 2012; 31:219-30. / *** R. Sturm, 2002 Health Affairs.org

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Elementary school participants in Play Rugby USA’s program compete in a fun, indoor, flag rugby tournament. 

So why does wellness matter?

In short, I believe wellness as a core component in USA’s educational policy is the single-most important factor in America achieving long-term economic success. Furthermore, that we need to focus on wellness as the most powerful prevention vehicle we have through our young people who hold our future in their hands.

As luck would have it, there is demand for this among our young people. Participation in sports as an extracurricular activity happens to be the one thing the vast majority of kids report they want to do. Why? Because sports are FUN! And, research would suggest that sports (assuming appropriate dosage of the right sport/s, coached in the right way) have proven to be the most effective vehicle for young people achieving and sustaining wellness. Sports prepare young people for life while developing healthy habits leading to improved health & fitness. This ultimately will lead to a reduction in the systemic treatment costs associated with America’s poor health.

 In New Directions for Youth Development, Michael Bergeron reported that students participating in 1 hour of moderate of physical activity, 4 – 5x per week, during which their heart-rate was at least 50% of maximum –would notice favorable changes in body composition and maintenance.

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Perhaps Sports biggest asset for young people, is that coached appropriately IT IS FUN! What better way to keep the kids coming back for more exercise!

Sports programs have been proven to be the best value approach ($ / student) by engaging multiple students on a frequent basis. The cost of participation in sports is multiples less than the cost of treating obesity. Clearly sports alone cannot prevent obesity but sports happen to be one of the few solutions that positively impact multiple other outcomes of a child’s development. A number of studies show that participation in sports has empowered young people to improve: attendance at school; cognitive function; academic performance; graduation rates and college matriculation rates; while reducing discipline issues; other delinquent behaviors; and ultimately, drop-out rates. In fact, sports correlate more strongly with low drop-out rates than any other activity (Up2Us position statement on Education).

Runners World recently wrote referencing a study published in PLoS One that fitter kids (aged 9 & 10) had significantly better memory recall, particularly in harder recall situations.

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Students from PS279 in the Bronx, representing “New Zealand” took it upon themselves to learn the Haka – a Maori war-dance and performed it at a Play Rugby USA tournament.

According to the Center for Disease Control, for young people the optimal dosage of activity is 1 hour / day of moderate to vigorous physical activity. While at school, physical activity can be achieved through participation in physical education classes, through recreation in the playground and through participation in sports. All three are important but sports have the advantage of engaging young people in structured safe play with positive adult role models (coaches) who can facilitate the development of life skills, increase activity levels & facilitate young people having fun. Moreover, sports delivered after-school provide an engaging alternative when young people are most at-risk of being inactive and / or making bad choices.

So, why are budget cuts year on year reducing opportunities for young people – especially those in urban areas who are disconnected or disadvantaged – to participate in sports? Why is physical education and sports not front-and-center in the educational agenda, rather than a massively underfunded after thought (which is the reality)? With these budget cuts, pay-to-play participation is on the rise and the future for America’s most in need young people does not look bright. Initiatives like the First Lady’s “Let’s Move” are a step in the right direction by increasing awareness but are still ancillary to the core educational agenda and in creating systemic action & change that is required.

According to a recent GAO Report (February 2012) only 55% of schools mandated physical education, and under 16% offered physical education at least 3 days / week (13.7% elementary, 15.2% middle, 3.0% high school). There’s 50 million students in America – so that’s a lot of kids not running around, having fun.

Furthermore, the USA, I believe, is one of the only countries in the world without a Sports Minister, sports department, or anything that remotely resembles a body that has any material influence over mandating or supporting sports participation in schools. Without Sports being a core component in America’s educational dialogue, we’re missing a huge opportunity to create a generation of healthy, successful people to drive our economy forward.

But, let me not criticize the powers that be, without making some suggestions:

 1) Instead of ObamaCare shouldn’t we have ObamaFit / ObamaPlay / ObamaSports. I do of course appreciate the need for access to healthcare (I am from the UK after all) but with the reality of finite resources, debt-ceilings and the associated opportunity cost of political decisions, can we not put our tax-money into prevention and start with our kids- our potentially most valuable asset or alternatively our largest long-term liability. There’s a stakeholder model here through public-private partnerships that can truly work, very efficiently, very effectively, to create a long-term legacy of a healthy America.

2) One such model (there are many) could be to simply multiply the force of Coach-mentors across the country (see CoachAcrossAmerica) delivering Sports-Based-Youth-Development programs. We could place them in schools to work alongside (not replace) physical educators and staff from organizations like Playworks – to jointly develop opportunities for students’ participation in sports during & after-school. If we’re moving towards an extended school day (that’s another debate) let’s ensure physical activity & sports are part of the day and the extension! I mean, I know our kids all love taking tests :) but can they also please play some games!

3) Let’s change and improve America’s sports culture from one of elitism and money making to one that also embraces and encourages amateurism and participation. Parents speak up! Sports don’t just have to be for the most talented “Varsity” athletes, they can be fun for all. Community programs don’t just have to be elite travel-leagues, let’s create some additional leagues that encourage participation, play, competition and fun. American professional sports will be just fine – they’re too big and too popular to fail, but let’s get our next generation of amateur sports players activated!

4) Let’s add in some new, less traditional American sports – providing something new & something different to engage our young people. There’s value in all sports if coached with a player-first philosophy but clearly with a blog called rugby4good I am somewhat biased towards rugby. So, to end my rant on wellness – America’s biggest missed opportunity – here’s some reasons why participation in rugby can help:

  • Rugby is inclusive, life-long, inexpensive and in it’s flag (non-contact) form, safe, simple to coach & flexible enough for almost every school in America to adopt. We have a best-in-class online curriculum and coach training program that can support this effort!
  • Rugby is a vigorous but seamlessly-engaging physical activity:
    • According to a study conducted by the University of South Florida Flag Rugby (6.03 METS) attains the highest activity levels when compared to flag football (4.93 METS), basketball (5.51 METS). Flag Rugby students also reported to be their highest engagement and competence level, closely followed by basketball and further behind again, by flag football. >6 METS is considered vigorous physical activity for young people.
    • Play Rugby USA’s most recent evaluations with middle school students indicate over 2 after school practices (3 hours total), average heart-rates of over 65% in boys and over 70% in girls.
  • Rugby is a second-to-none sports opportunity (vehicle) through which you can develop life-long values in young people:
    • It is player centered – requiring students to make decisions individually & together on the field, enabling them to learn from mistakes, support each other and “go-forward” together.
    • It is fast paced and dynamic – requiring students to “get there” with physical urgency and “switch on” mentally, to make the best decisions for their team in a rapidly changing environment.
    • It is continuous and fluid requiring students to constantly “play what they see” by constantly assimilating visual, verbal and physical queues and reacting accordingly.
    • The “spirit of rugby” is a core component of the laws of the game and engenders integrity, solidarity, commitment, discipline and respect in a way unsurpassed by other sports.
    • And finally, to quote one of our students – Zolia – “Rugby is sanity, you know, mental health”!