Can We All Just Stay in 4th Grade?

by Matt Cuccaro, Ed.M.

I was working with one of my high school athletes recently and he made an interesting comment that resonated strongly with me and became a foundation in our work together. It allowed us to simplify a deep and useful concept. It has allowed him to take a deeper understanding and appreciation for developing his game. Here is how the conversation began…

“I liked 4th grade much better than 6th grade and beyond”, he said.

“Why is that?”, I asked.

“In 4th grade teachers gave comments on your work and report cards, in 6th grade and beyond you started getting grades”, he replied.

Commentary is open, flowing and provides plenty of wiggle room for personal interpretation and further deliberation. This sounds like the ultimate learning mindset. Grades are boxy, permanent and limit creativity by labeling results in one simple letter. This sounds like a limiting mindset. Why confine potential to a pre-determined box? Why make performance black and white rather than appreciating the ebbs and flows of a multi-shaded gray world? Yes, it’s clearly easier and much more convenient for athletes and coaches to simply throw a number, letter, or some other short label on performance. The problem is that it’s not truly helpful for the growth, development, and creativity of performance.

Life and athletic prowess would be a much more rewarding and self-motivating process by maintaining a 4th grade mindset over a 6th grade approach. In order to reach ones full, limitless potential keep the commentary coming and resist the urge to place simple tags on performance. Feedback that grows beyond “good/bad, right/wrong, yes/no” allows player development and continuous improvement to occur. Respect the fact that there is a wide spectrum of techniques, approaches, and development to experience out there. Nothing worthwhile in life comes easy. Feedback should be no different. Be a 4th grader, stay a 4th grader, and allow the helpful feedback through commentary to continue.

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