Practice makes perfect:
Several seniors played their final Pirate basketball game recently, and it has been an honor and pleasure to watch them over the years. They gave their best, and as each of them passes before my mind’s eye I realize that that’s all they know how to do; to do their best night after night, game after game. It’s an intimate sport, basketball, played in a small space surrounded by bleachers; and all the joy, frustration, and hurt on players’ faces and in their bodies is clearly visible to spectators. You can’t hide in basketball and we knew at the end of every game that Brian Bhaskar and Ben Chodosh, Mark Ma and David Woo, Kelly Knowlton and Chloe McNally, Dana Prelsnik and Megan Volpano gave it their best shot; and that the rest of the teams did the same.
I’m writing this from a hotel in Boston. I’m looking out at the falling snow and reflecting on the colleges and universities I’ve seen during the past four days with 55 of our 11th graders on the annual east coast college tour; and on what I’ve read so far in “How We Decide,” a book by Jonah Lehrer the major characters of which are dopamine neurons, the molecular source of our feelings “that constantly generate patterns based on experience: if this, then that” which affect the way we react to our environment. It’s Greek to me, but there’s a piece in the book about Tom Brady, the quarterback for the New England Patriots that hooks me in, and the thing about it is that these neurons apparently internalize our errors, in effect telling us that the most effective way to get better is to focus on (embrace) our mistakes.
Lehrer goes on to say that praising students for their effort is more effective than praising them for their intelligence. Encouraging them to see mistakes not as stupidity (danger) but as “building blocks of knowledge” (opportunity) is the key to everything. The more we practice, the more intelligent our intuition will be and the more trusting we can be of our emotions, those things without which we are incapable of making decisions.
I always enjoy visiting Columbia University. Whether etched in marble or in frames on walls, words to think about are everywhere. One that caught my eye is from Abraham Lincoln: “the great question is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with failure.”
People who excel in sports or music, or whatever walk of life, are never content with failure and see imperfection as an opportunity. It’s why Bhaskar and Chodosh, and Ma and Woo, and Knowlton and McNally, and Prelsnik and Volpano leave everything they have on the court. It’s why it’s such a pleasure to watch them.