Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Are You a Coach or a Critic?

I have decided there are two kinds of people in the world.  Just two mind you.  There are coaches and there are critics.  Given a choice I prefer the former and not the latter. Coaches encourage and critics dishearten.  I feel very enlightened on this subject since I just returned from serving as a judge at the Texas UIL State Cross Examination Debate Tournament.

As a debate judge, I feel a huge weight of responsibility to evaluate the round as fairly and objectively as possible.  I recognize that I am dealing with high school students that are in the process of growing both intellectually and emotionally.  I try to see myself as a coach and not a critic.  Coaches certainly do offer helpful critique. But the key word is helpful! 

And then there are critics.  The students I accompanied this year encountered at least two critics.  One judge made reference to a line of argumentation used by one of my debaters as: “absurd.”  Now that is an interesting choice of words for an educator to employ in communicating with a student.  Perhaps she needs my critic versus coach lecture regarding human nature?  And then there was the younger judge that made reference to our female debater’s skirt.  My first inkling was to ask why is she looking at the girl’s skirt and not focusing on the arguments in the debate.  Thankfully that was not my role.  I could and would have crossed over from coach to critic if I had said anything to the young and over zealous debate judge.  Our young ladies skirt was not at all inappropriate.

I must be honest.  As I observe our impressionable first year debaters dealing with critics and not coaches, my own story comes to the surface.  I was a decent cx debater in high school.  We had a good teacher preparing us to compete.  But I was lacking coaches in my life in general.  My father died during my sophomore year in high school, so I especially yearned for male coaches that would encourage me to fulfill my goals.  But during those crucial high school years, such individuals just were not present.  Discipline problems led to my dismissal from the team during my senior year. Consequently I never made it to the state tournament.  If there had been a mentor working with some of us, I am convinced that story would have had a different outcome.  A teacher can only do some much.

I have been coaching and judging debate off and on as opportunities have arisen since 1981.  I was also privileged to teach freshman speech at the university level for 5 years on a part time basis several years ago. That was fun too!  I am passionate about it, because I know that kids need more coaches and not more critics in their lives.

I am so proud of the debaters from Tolar High School.  They are champions in my mind.  I feel really selfish, because the time I got to spend with them in preparing for competitions benefited me more than it benefited them.  The  time at the tournament judging students from all over Texas was the same.  In fact, interestingly enough my father passed away 34 years ago today.  As I reflected on that life changing event, I was grateful to be with students that were exactly the same age I was that loss occurred.  It reminded me of my role. 

I am not their teacher. They have an outstanding teacher. She is a top notch educator.  I have a different task. My role is to step in and fill the gap that was missing during my high school years. My job is to be a coach.  Part of that task is to help them face the critics.  Critics will always be present, because after all there are only two kinds of people in the world!  More on this subject tomorrow in “Part II.”

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