Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you are right. – Henry Ford
I use this phrase all the time, ALL the time. But it was ten year old Peter who showed me how to live it.
I began an after school Run Club at my children’s elementary school. It’s a small institution and we do not have any sports teams. The goal was not to create a cross country one, but call it a club and make it accessible to any child. The idea was to get more kids active, and running was a great way of getting a good cardio workout in.
I cannot begin to explain how much I am learning from the Run Club. And so I am writing a series of posts with anecdotes, as there are many. But this one, the story of Peter, set the Club on a path I couldn’t have predicted.
We had humble beginnings at 30 students for the first session, but I was thrilled! That was about 25 more kids I thought I would get. Armed with good intentions and a great Assistant Coach, we set off.
Many of the kids disliked running and were there because their parents made them. There was some enthusiasm but I can’t say anyone was busting at the seams to break any records. I knew I had to do something different, something that made the Run Club “cool” or else the kids wouldn’t want to come back after the first week. I took a chance and we set off to run around the school. This is something the children aren’t allowed to do during school time and all of a sudden, there were lots of “woo hoos” as they ran around the campus. I designed scavenger hunts, lots of relays, and we always end class with a game.
Run Club was becoming fun, and the kids were all running well, but Peter wasn’t having any of it. Sprinting? “I hate sprinting.” Running around the school? “I can’t run around the school, I am too slow.” Tag? “I always get caught.”
I can’t, I won’t, I this, I that. Peter had a pessimistic view of both the world and his role in it. I spoke to his mother, who is a good friend and also a teacher. She was just as baffled as to why Peter continued with a negative attitude when everyone around him was working to change it.
He thought he was the only one who had a hard time running. He couldn’t see past his struggle to understand most kids felt just the way he did. We would do simulations of a 200 x 200 where kids have to run each set at least one second faster than the first. It was hard, and many of them would rather give up then try again. As the kids struggled and said they couldn’t do it, I would kneel in front of them and say: “You can do this. You have everything it takes to be a great runner. You have it in your body to run it again. I believe in you. Now I need you to believe in yourself.” On more than one occasion the children’s eyes would water … along with my own. But they would turn around and run faster. Sometimes by even 20 seconds!
Every single child ran faster.
I knew I was on to something, and Peter confirmed it.
One day we did short sprint races where children lined up and raced against another person. The order was completely random; you got to the back of the line and you raced with whoever ended up on the start at the same time as you. Peter, as usual, resisted. He said he never won.
I took him aside, knelt on the floor as I had done so many times before but he wasn’t buying it.
I told him “if you tell yourself you can’t win, you will be right and you will never win. “
Still, he was having none of it.
“Peter, I know you can win. I believe in you but I don’t know what to do for you to believe in yourself. You CAN win, you’ve got this. “
“I can do this.” He whispered. That whisper opened the door, there was a little spark in there.
“YES! Yes you can do this.” I exclaimed. “But it doesn’t sound like you believe it. Say it so that you believe it. Say ‘I am powerful, I am confident.’”
“I am POWERFUL,” he shouted. “I can WIN,” he shouted.
I yelled with him … “YES YOU ARE! Now go line up and race.”
He lined up and and in the random line he was paired with the fastest boy in the club. The boy who won Every.Single.Time.
My heart broke. I couldn’t move him in the line because that would reinforce to Peter that he wasn’t good enough to race against the fastest child when he was pumped enough to feel like he could conquer the world. Before I knew it, the boys were off and I was hastily trying to come up with what I would say to console Peter when he would inevitably lose. I was searching for any tool my years of teaching could give me rehearsing in my head: “it’s your first time believing in yourself, you need to know failure to know success, the other boy was the fastest one and has been doing this longer….” Bla. Bla. Bla.
But the cheering turned my attention from my panicked thoughts to the race and it was neck to neck. Peter was running his heart out, and broke free from a tie with a final push. Peter won by less than one second. He WON!
He soared! He couldn’t catch his breath for a bit but his smile was so enormous it told me not to worry, the breathing would come soon enough.
I doubted Peter’s ability.
Peter did not doubt himself.
If he believed in himself as much as I had believed in him … he would’ve lost.
So what does that say?
I began to wonder just how much these kids could do if they believed in themselves as much as Peter believed he could win that race. That has molded the rest of the Run Club.
A couple of weeks later, Peter went on to win second place in the 10 – 14 age group at a local 5k race. I cannot say Peter turned into the most positive person in the planet; but at least in Run Club he no longer says he can’t do something. When he does, I remind him of his victories reached when he believed in himself, and how those prohibit him from calling himself a loser in anything, much less in Run Club.
And when I tell myself I can’t do something … I remember Peter and wonder what could I achieve if only I believed in myself as much as he did that day.
Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you are right.