Developing a growth mindset in the young people we serve in expanded learning programs is an important part of what we do. Below is a personal take on this important work.
By Guest Blogger, Frank Escobar
Frank Escobar, Visalia Unified School DistrictSpending more than half of my life in and out of a locker room, one gets very used to the sound of competition. Sayings like, “failure is not an option” and “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing,” were common echoes in my upbringing. From one coach to the next, it was always about winning, getting better, playing your best, minimizing mistakes, practice makes perfect, etc., etc. It’s no wonder that I wanted to quit after losing my first soccer game of the year in 4th grade or during the 4th quarter of my first contact football game in 8th grade. I was convinced by others, that if we weren’t winning or if I wasn’t playing well, we or I were losers and should concede. As I look back, all I remember about my playing days is that every coach I ever played for was obsessed with one thing – winning. That is, except for one. My dad.
Frank Escobar Sr. never officially served as one of my coaches but I’m certainly convinced today, he taught me more about sports than any formal coach I ever had. Back then, my dad had what we call growth mindset today. A former junior college athlete himself, it wasn’t that he lacked competitive drive or a will to win, he simply had perspective. And, that perspective helped balance my competitive spirit for years to come, even today.
I do consider myself competitive, even hyper-competitive at times. The difference is my competitiveness is not tied to winning, rather just competing. I went 0-10 my senior year in college and while most of my teammates (and coaches) were rather embarrassed of our performance, I didn’t seem to mind telling friends and family how my last hurrah in college football ended up. You see, I was just happy to have been playing college football. A 5-foot, 100-nothing pound little Mexican kid from Nowhere, California was just lucky to attend a college, let alone convince a college to pay for me to attend. This is how I kept perspective and as a result, didn’t allow a 0-10 final season discourage or distort my beliefs about who I was, what I was capable of or what I should or shouldn’t pursue in my future. Call me uncaring, of low expectations, accepting of failure, and I’ll call me keeping perspective and exercising an attitude of learn from your mistakes and move forward.
Today, our American culture makes it difficult to accept a loss. After all, we have to be the best at everything don’t we? Whether in finance, business, sports or education, America was built on competition, and not just competition but winning that competition.
Now, we strive to place our children in the best of institutions, raise them in the best of neighborhoods, give them the best of advantages in life possible so that we can help them live the American dream – to be a winner. It is quite scary how we have become a society consumed with winning at all costs and accepting nothing less. This is all too evident in our material wealth, showroom lifestyles, and obsession with Facebook stalking the reality-show lives of the rich and famous.
I believe if we are to willing to win, we must accept failure as a part of that process. But also accept that winning is up to one’s own interpretation and right to define. Where one may define winning as earning a 4-year college degree and entering their dream career, another not far away might define winning as a stay-at-home parent committed to their child’s upbringing. I wish America, in all it’s diversity, would better accept that winning is as diverse in definition as the very social-fabric that clothes it. And where one may define a loss another defines it a win.
I choose to believe that losing is an important, necessary experience in life. And not just for the sake of winning but for the simple sake of living. I also believe that the more we teach our young ones to lose, the more they’ll win at whatever it is they define as winning in life.
In our after school sports league, RIZE, we constantly tell our coaches they should be hoping for a loss. Obviously, we get lots of blank stares and every now and then a good laugh. But the honesty in it is that when our students lose in the after school program, whether in a sport game or a dance competition or on a quiz, our staff “win” the opportunity to develop their grit, resiliency and growth mindset. The social-emotional skills and perspective that will help them deal with the real losses in life that will inevitably challenge them in their years to come.
Today, I can’t be more proud of my colleagues and our field for the wide embrace that we have given the act of failure. As odd as it may seem and indifferent to how I was raised (in the locker room), I do believe that my losses in life and work have defined me but have also developed me into the person of resiliency and persistence that I am today. For me, I truly believe that losing is the new winning.
Frank is currently the Manager of After School Programs at Visalia Unified School District in Visalia, CA as well as speaker, trainer and consultant for the after school and youth development fields. A popular speaker and trainer at school assemblies, youth and after school conferences, Frank has spoken to thousands of middle and high school youth and trained hundreds of educators and youth program workers across the country.
Frank and his colleague, Rico Peralta, created a Facebook page entitled, Strive. Strive aims to provide tips, tools and resources for those who work in the after school field and manage the day-to-day operations of an after school site. Frank was also named a Next Level Leader in afterschool and joined us for a 2-day convening of other leaders across the state.
Sam Piha is the founder and principal of Temescal Associates, a consulting group dedicated to building the capacity of leaders and organizations in education and youth development.