Every year our dojo takes students to a camp on Lake Winnipesaukee for the weekend. Karate Camp offers students lots of good training, swimming and activities. With any luck, it’s also a time when the students learn something about themselves. The older students are dragged out of bed early in the morning for calisthenics on the lake’s sandy beach and usually subjected to some sort of mental and physical challenge. The younger ones are given a little more responsibility and freedom for the weekend but required to follow a set of rules and are held accountable for their decisions and behavior. All weekend the student’s are pushed and challenged.
During the weekend, I’ll witness several moments where students make little breakthroughs and realizations about who they are and what they’re capable out. This year one of those moments happened during a pickup game of Ultimate Frisbee.
One of the older students, a great kid filled with passion and drive, jumped on to my team. He’s the kind of kid that is up for anything and, because of his drive and willingness to work with a team, is an asset to any group. (He’s also tall, which is always a good thing in Ultimate Frisbee.)
As our team faded back to throw the Frisbee to the other team, this young man was already declaring our victory. The white disk sailed high into the sunny sky over the field until it slowed and floated into the hands of our competition. After a few good passes and battles over catching the Frisbee, we finally gained possession. Being athletic and fast, this young man was immediately open and pumping toward the goal line. I snapped the disk to him. He accelerated, creating a comfortable distance between himself and the person covering. He reached the disk. Stretching, his fingertips met the Frisbee perfectly then he fumbled and dropped it. Immediately, he was angry with himself.
The game went on. Every time the disk was passed to him he would get to it but drop it. His anger turned to disappointment in himself. Phrases like, “I can’t believe I missed it,” changed to, “I suck.” The spark went out of his eyes and his shoulders slumped. He was now missing the Frisbee before it was even thrown.
“You’ve already lost in your head,” I told him. “Know you can catch the Frisbee and catch it.”
“Yes Sir!” He said as he smiled and stood tall. My words had reminded him of something he already knew. Our biggest challenge – the one thing most likely to defeat us – is our own thoughts. We must win in our minds before we have a chance of winning outside of them. As I say to my six-year-old, “If you want to be the boss of yourself you have to be the boss of how you think [and react].)
He caught the next pass and most of the subsequent passes.
It was a great moment for him and a great reminder to me of how directly our thoughts affect our actions and performance. The trick, the last phase, is to tell yourself to have the thoughts, to transition from some else disciplining your thinking to self-discipline. A transition I’m sure this young man will make soon.