A young boy is slogging his way round the track during the Inter-House athletics, trying to lift one heavy foot off the ground after another, losing touch with the other runners, but joylessly sweating this torment out. But then, almost as music to his ears, he hears a distant shout and he recognises the loving tone of his very own mother.
From the sidelines by the grandstand, in front of hundreds of other excited mothers and fathers, his own mother can be heard offering tactical advice and personal encouragement to her beloved child. What are these wonderfully inspiring, uplifting, enriching words? His mother screams from sidelines: “RUN!” That is all! “Run!” What does the child do? He stops, ponders for a moment, then thinks, “Oh, is that what I am meant to do? I never realised that! Gee, why on earth did I not think of that myself? Why didn’t someone tell me? Run — oh, that’s what it is! OK, I had better run then. Wow, thanks, Mum, for telling me that — I could have been out here going round and round on this track and never realised that that is what I am supposed to do! You have certainly saved me a lot of embarrassment, phew! Right, I had better get running then! Run, run, run!”
The same scenario can be witnessed at any school swimming gala where numerous and vociferous parents gather and shout continuously for their child, even though with the splashing of the water the child is unlikely to hear the parent’s words or voice at all. And even there, all that the parent seems capable of shouting is, “SWIM!” And there the child was thinking all he was supposed to be doing was walk through the water! Perhaps in a moment of inspiration the parent shouts, “Faster!” as if the child was not aware that the purpose of a race is to go faster than others — do we think the child thinks he is in fact there to model the swimsuit or display magnificent technique?
Of course, we would never have been such a parent! Consider another mother, though, (as shared on the internet): She was in the kitchen one morning making a breakfast of fried eggs for her teenage son. Suddenly the son came into the kitchen and shouted: “Careful, Mum! Careful! No, watch, put in some more butter! Oh, my goodness, you are cooking too many at once! Too many! Too many at once! Turn them now! We need more butter! Oh, my! Where are we going to get more butter? They’re going to stick. Careful! I said be careful! You never listen to me when you are cooking! Never! Turn them up! Hurry! Are you crazy? Have you lost your mind? Don’t forget to salt them! You know you always forget to salt them! Use the salt! Use the SALT! THE SALT!” The mother stared at him, in utter disbelief and disarray. “What’s wrong with you? Do you really think I don’t know how to fry a couple of eggs?” The son calmly replied: “I just wanted you to know what it feels like when I am trying to play my rugby.”
Now “Run!” may have been helpful advice from the mother of Forrest Gump in the classic film of that name, but it was certainly a different context for Forrest. She shouted, “Run, Forrest, run!” so that he could escape the bullies that chased him all the time and who thought he was not smart. Forrest certainly ran — fast — and in fact did not stop! He ran in American Football way over the end-line and out of the stadium; he ran from one side of America to the other and when he got to the other side, he turned and ran back. People followed his every step on his run across America, encouraging him, supporting him, rooting for him, wearing T-shirts of him. He also did not know why he ran (“That day, for no particular reason, I decided to go for a little run”) but one day, after three years of running (for no particular reason, either), he stopped.
Sometimes it would appear that the children that are running in inter-house or school athletics races are, like Forrest Gump, not really aware of why they are running.
Furthermore, it would appear that the children are not really impressed, inspired or encouraged by the loud exhortations from the sidelines by parents. If we are going to offer support and encouragement to our child (which is a good thing, for sure) we should perhaps make the support more meaningful and helpful. Many of us as parents do not know what we are doing when we are shouting but in truth we are doing very little for our child. Do we have any idea how ridiculous much of it is? Do we have any idea what our shouting is doing for our child? Run? Swim? Cook? Think, buddy, think!
Tim Middleton is a former international hockey player and headmaster, currently serving as the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools. Email: email@example.com