The National AfterSchool Association is the leading voice of the afterschool profession dedicated to development, education, and care of children and youth during their out of school hours.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Finishing Strong

One of my most embarrassing moments occurred when I was a junior in high school. To end the year, our school had scheduled an outdoor field day complete with games, sporting events, and races for all levels of competitors. Because the seniors had already graduated, like many of my classmates, I was discovering the new-found arrogance of being a senior – at the top!

Because I had always been lean and lanky, running had become sport while my brothers excelled at football and basketball. So for our field day, I entered the one mile run. As I considered the competition, I presumed that I would do well – and maybe win the race.

The race consisted of four laps around the high school track. I hadn’t trained that spring, but because my legs felt good, I quickly rushed out to the front to take the lead – and by a considerable distance after the first lap.

At the halfway mark, the burning cramps began. The lead that I had built  gradually started to erode.  My pace slowed, and those who had been applauding my prowess suddenly began cheering for the slower (and smarter!) runners to catch me.  I can remember the looks on the faces of some of my friends and teachers as I passed them in the stands on the third lap. During the fourth lap, with most of the runners passing by me, I had slowed to almost a crawl. I finished dead last – embarrassed – yet I somehow summoned the strength, despite severe pain, to complete the race.

Years later, I realized that I learned some very good lessons that day.  We learn from our mistakes. Training is essential. Pacing is the key to long term success. Patience is a virtue.

I’ve always wanted to go at a fast pace. Many times, my mother admonished my impulsiveness by reminding me that, because of my rush to be born, she barely reached the hospital. As an educator, going too fast often confused my students. My insistence to complete tasks quickly came off as aloofness and arrogance with my colleagues. Even today, when I feel the urge to rush, I’m reminded of my infamous race. As difficult as it was, I learned that pacing coupled with continuous training, especially at the end of the race, is essential for success. By picking myself up, dealing with my humiliation, and facing my friends, I learned a lesson about perseverance.

Every child must learn the lessons I’ve shared. They are an integral part of the ‘hidden curriculum’ found within every school and afterschool program - not easy to experience from books. They must be lived, as painful as they might be. We’ll all get knocked down. With training, we’ll learn how to get back up.

Even as adults, we must never lose sight of the value of continuous training. It might be uncomfortable to sit in a class. It’s not fun to practice and prepare while others appear to play. But we can’t expect to effectively lead others unless we have prepared ourselves to do so.

Today, I continue to run for my health. I’m not as fast as I used to be decades ago, but I’m proud that I’m still working at it, long after many others have hung up their shoes. But more imperative to me now is the importance of maintaining the strength and endurance of my mind. To succeed until the end, I have to train it. So I read, write, think, speak, and welcome opportunities to learn with others. I train and practice every day. My goal is to finish strong.

Like me, you may wonder what lies ahead. You may doubt if you are up for the race. But I can assure you, getting to the finish line isn’t what matters most. Conditioning in order to enjoy the run is much more important. Let’s enjoy training - together. Our ultimate goal will be to finish strong.

Paul G. Young, Ph. D.
President & CEO
National AfterSchool Association

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