Now I have to be discreet about the following, for reasons that will become pretty swiftly clear.
Recently, I was coaching in a local Primary School – first session. As a ‘way in’ – that is to get the children moving, giggling, but listening and used to my voice – I often give them all a ball and set them off on ‘journeys’ around the space. (Mostly, the space is a playground and the journeys are a number of lengths or widths, or maybe circuits).
The ball may be different from player to player; often I encourage them to swap so as to experience a different size, shape, feeling.
I think I may have started this particular group off by asking them to make a particular number of catches, over two journeys. Before the off, I asked the children how high we should throw the ball, before launching one forty feet up.
That high? (Giggles).
Why not? Exactly! Because it would be chaos! Because we’d kill every passing seagull or hit Sara, Fred and Tomos on the head and we don’t want that, do we? (Giggles and inevitable contradictions…)
Okaaaay. Maybe we do that seagull stuff later. But first, how many catches?
After having agreed to throw them about three metres up (max), the children set off, choosing their own kind of catch, as instructed. There are 30 children, which is a few more than the ideal number. I mingle / get in the way, because this too, can be fun and because this way I can check on things and get some encouragement into nearly everyone’s face, immediately.
There’s a boy in tears. I see him early but go past so as not to draw too much attention and then watch a little as I interact with other children – most of whom are unaware of the issue.
Ok. It’s clear the boy is tearful because he ‘can’t catch’ – because he’s frustrated but mainly because of the shame. He’s probably eight. He’s not the only one struggling but he’s the only one who can’t bear the weight of his own ‘inadequacy’. It’s actually the most heartbreaking thing I’ve seen for years, in a school situation.
(Later, whilst considering writing this, I think about how this boy might be described. Obviously I’m not going to detail anything about his appearance in a way that might identify him but there are other difficulties here. Privately, I might (we might?) describe him as ‘looking like a rather sensitive sort’. He was paleish, thinnish. Thirty years ago I/we might have said he was ‘a bit weedy-looking’).
These feel like grossly pejorative terms, now, to the extent that I may yet cut them. If I persist it’s because I think the feeling I had after the event that this boy should never have been allowed to get to his age without being comfortable with a ball in his hands was a) kinda legitimate and b) as complicated by my own worldview as his alleged lack was (and is) by where he finds himself.
He is in a place that has denied him that particular physical experience – or the few words of encouragement or guidance that might transform that awful fear-fest into an easy, pleasurable life-skill. I think it’s fair – whilst in no way searching for scapegoats – to note the possibility that the world has failed him.
In the here and now, though, I have to help. As discreetly as possible, right?
I could have found a bigger ball… but this didn’t feel discreet enough, given the level of sensitivity, given the ongoing tears and the boy’s pitiful explanation that he ‘just can’t do it’.
I am in emergency mode here, in a way. I cannot halt the session to offer this boy a one-to-one… and yet I must. I’m simply not having this level of hurt, over something so do-able.
So I flit to and from the individual, whilst dolloping out the encouragement to all. We have to move on and forward. The challenges actually should get incrementally more sharp – more fun – as we proceed but clearly now I have to offer choices.
Whilst the class in general are more-or-less coping with adding claps into their catches, or bounces, or inventions of their own, I’m looking to grab a few seconds here or there with The Boy Who Can’t Catch. I do. The others are loving it, they are in their own world of adventure.
Firstly, I encourage and I sound friendly. Second, I really get him to listen. Thirdly, I put in there the idea that maybe the ball becomes the only thing in the whole wide universe for one minute… and that we just have to watch it ALL THE WAY IN.
And then I’m gone, to bawl
Wadda catch, Sara!
No waaay did you just get EIGHT claps in there, dude?!? That’s unREAL!
A few discreet returns and one or two repeats later… and we have a Boy Who Can Catch. Maybe not every time – but most, or many.
I move through a zillion swift catching challenges, every time repeating to all that we can choose to stay with our own practice if that feels good to us. Nobody takes a blind bit of notice of that offer but one individual; the rest are finding other, theoretically more ambitious avenues – getting comfortable with that next diversion.
Later in the session we are throwing. The boy has partnered-up with a girl as they throw underarm at a hoop on the floor, opposite each other, stepping back one pace if either one of them hits that target. They do hit. It is evident, in a lovely, quiet way, that both of them are enjoying this.