By Doug Beavers
Over the past few years my oldest son has taken part in a Lego Robotics League. It’s a fascinating combination of engineering, computer programming and competition, and it has been a wonderful experience for him. One of my favorite things that he has learned from the group is a concept called “gracious professionalism.”
Here’s how the folks at First Lego League define gracious professionalism:
“It's a way of doing things that encourages high quality work, emphasizes the value of others, and respects individuals and the community. With gracious professionalism, fierce competition and mutual gain are not separate notions. Gracious professionals learn and compete like crazy, but treat one another with respect and kindness in the process. They avoid treating anyone like losers. No chest thumping tough talk, but no sticky-sweet platitudes either.
Knowledge, competition, and empathy are comfortably blended. In the long run, Gracious Professionalism is part of pursuing a meaningful life. One can add to society and enjoy the satisfaction of knowing one has acted with integrity and sensitivity.”
This concept was established on the first day of robotics practice and reinforced throughout their time together. If kids started to get snarky or nasty with one another, the coaches would stop the discussion and review the idea of gracious professionalism. The result was a group of children who interacted with one another in a remarkably functional and healthy way. The competitions were stressful. Mechanical, software and human errors abounded. But these 12 and 13 year old kids stayed cool. They worked together harmoniously, and they overcame major obstacles to perform beautifully under pressure.
It got me to thinking. The concept of gracious professionalism is a principle that could and absolutely should be applied to all aspects of our diving programs. This is an example of a conscious effort to establish healthy ground rules for personal interactions. It applies perfectly to communications between coach and athlete, among members of the coaching staff, between athletes, and between parents and coaches. It is a way to encourage people to stop and think before responding. It’s an opportunity to teach people that they can control their responses to situations, even when things are tense.
Emotions are a very real part of life. We shouldn’t hide from them, deny them or try to stifle them when they arise. But we also have to learn to process them in healthy ways. The disappointment of a poor competitive performance is real. It hurts to train hard and come up short. It’s excruciating for parents to invest time, money and effort into a diver’s training and then see all of that end in the agony of defeat.
Our organization runs several big events every year. Pulling together a large group of volunteers and staff to put on a dive show or a large invitational meet is a real challenge. Traveling to meets and enduring the frustration and anxiety of competition can test anyone’s patience. Coaching for twelve hours straight and then having a diver arrive late for warm up when you were already fantasizing about dinner and sleep can push any coach over the edge.
But if we all make a conscious choice to adhere to a principle of civility and courtesy we can make these difficult moments much more tolerable. Too often we are swept up in the emotion of a moment. We are triggered by a certain tone of voice, the roll of a teenager’s eyes, the piteous tone of someone who is feeling sorry for themselves. And we snap. Before we know it, words are coming out at top speed. These are the moments where relationships are damaged and where people are hurt. Sometimes that damage is lasting. But it is absolutely possible to break this pattern. We can learn to insert a tiny moment of reflection into these chaotic situations. We can learn to take a breath. We can memorize the phrase,
“This is probably not a great time to talk about this issue. Let’s discuss it after we’ve all had some time to cool off.”
The idea that we can decide our response to any situation, even the most stressful ones, is incredibly powerful. It’s a lesson I think every child should be taught, and a skill that we should all strive to master. Stuff happens. We all get the short end of the stick at some point. What’s important in these difficult moments is to recognize that there is one area where you still have control. You have the ability to decide how you will respond. When we learn to take a breath, consider our options, and consciously choose our reaction to a situation, we exercise an incredibly powerful muscle that will get stronger and stronger with each use. In those moments we strengthen the muscle of self-mastery.
What better concept can we share with our kids than to teach them self-mastery?
Emotions are beautiful and important and real, but they can also lead us to impulsive and destructive places if we don’t learn to take a moment and consider how we should respond. What response to this situation provides the best opportunity for a good outcome? I like this concept a lot, and I intend to make it a basic principle for all of our divers, parents, coaches and volunteers moving forward. When we run meets, we will make gracious professionalism a primary tenet. When we hold parent meetings we will expect gracious professionalism. When we communicate with each other via text and email? Gracious professionalism. Here’s hoping that gracious professionalism leads us to a more civil and courteous atmosphere in the future.