I have a first grader this year in my PE class who could very well be the Crown Prince of Athletics.
He displayed his royal status last year, as a kindergartner, when I watched him play basketball on the playground during recess a couple of times with the 4th grade boys.
Let that just sink in.
He was a kindergartner. And he was playing basketball with 4th grade boys. And they passed to him. And he made baskets. And the 4th graders gave him high-fives.
The little fellow is the shortest guy in his class. He’s also the fastest, by a long shot. He runs like the wind. He can, in fact, outrun everyone in our private school, through the 3rd grade. He gives the 4th graders a heck of a challenge, but their longer legs end up sweeping them to a first-place finish in foot races against him.
But soccer? He’ll outscore the 4th grade boys, every single time at recess.
On top of his amazing athletic skill, you can add other little attributes. The little fellow listens. He follows directions. He is so stinking cute, I want to take him home with me. He is polite to his classmates. He is kind to others. He is respectful.
His only strike is that he’s a wee bit competitive, and he likes to win a little too much.
Which is, you know, a given in 1st grade PE. He can single-handedly take on his entire first grade class this year in soccer — a team of one against a team of twelve — and he will still be able to flash the victory sign when the game is over. (And he does love to flash that victory sign, let me tell you! But I love him, anyway.)
I expect that he will totally own Small Town High School’s football team, soccer team, and basketball team, when he’s older. I’m not sure that I have EVER seen a child who is as athletic as he is.
In my PE classes, we run laps. The dreaded laps. The laps that we all used to run while we were growing up as victims of Physical Education classes, when we’d cut the corners, to shave four extra feet off of the distance we were required to jog out. I don’t like how congested a class of kids gets when we run laps around and around my gym, so I’ve always broken each class in half. Half of the kids will run laps, while the other half sits and waits for them.
Or sits and hammers out a couple more push-ups.
This way, no one ends up falling over anyone else, and the pack stays thinned out.
Last year, when this little fellow was a kindergartner, he finished running his laps first every single time. There wasn’t a kid in the class who could get anywhere near him while he was running. It didn’t take long before the half of the class who were sitting, waiting to run, began to cheer for him, en masse. The entire sitting group would raise their voices as one, and they would chant his name, over and over, because everyone wanted to cheer for the winner.
Everyone wanted to be able to say, “Yep. I cheered him to his number one spot!”
If they couldn’t be there with the gold medal hanging around their necks themselves, they at least wanted a smidgen of his glory to rub off on them by being able to say that they had called out his name while he was running…that they had known how to distinguish a winner.
On the flip side of this boy, I had a little girl in my kindergarten PE class last year who was the slowest runner I’ve ever met. Oh, she could run. If she wanted to. The problem is that she never wanted to run. Ever.
She was the little girl who would kick her shoes off while she was running, and trot slowly around the gym floor in her socks. And sometimes she’d sit down in the middle of her laps to tie her shoes. Or adjust her socks. Or pull up her tights. Or straighten her headband. Or ask to make a side trip to the bathroom. Anything that caused the running to pause was a tactic that she was eager to employ.
But she could run. She could run well, when she set her mind to it.
Her biggest problem was simply this: She was also competitive, and she didn’t like the fact that she was never going to beat the Crown Prince of Athletics on the lap running.
I used to beg this little darling to finish her laps last year. I would plead with her to keep on running, and not to stop, so that we could get to our game or our activity, but every single time, without fail, she’d look me in the eye and basically give up.
Because being second wasn’t her favorite thing in life. And if she couldn’t be first, then she wasn’t interested in finishing in a timely manner.
And I did mention that through all of this — through her hair-straightening, and her shoe-tying, and her sock-adjusting — the other kids continued to chant the name of the Crown Prince of Athletics. I was forever telling the group, “Let’s not cheer just for him; cheer for everyone.” For a while, this would work, and the group would shout out, as one voice, “GO, EVERYONE! GO, EVERYONE!” But it was never long before they were back to encouraging the little jock on to his victory lap.
Finally, one day, the little gal plopped down on a chair along the side of the gym and said to me, “It’s just hard to run, when I only hear one name being shouted out, and it isn’t mine.”
I went home that afternoon after PE had wrapped up, and I thought about her comment for hours.
“It’s just hard to run, when I only hear one name being shouted out, and it isn’t mine.”
There’s a whole lot of wisdom in that comment, which was made by a kindergartner.
The next time we met for kindergarten PE, I had a plan. I gave every single kid a partner. Yep. Paired them off, two by two, exactly like Noah did. And I told them all, “One of you will run, while your partner sits on the sidelines and cheers for you. You can ONLY cheer for you partner. You are to yell their names out loudly, and you’re to encourage them to run well, and you’re to give them high-fives when they’ve finished their laps. And then we’ll switch places, and your partner will cheer for YOU, while you’re running.”
The little kindergartners thought that this actually sounded great, so off we went.
The Crown Prince of Athletics had one kid yelling out his name. And my little girl who had instigated the entire event with her comment had one kid hollering out HER name.
And she ran.
And she ran.
And she ran.
And she didn’t stop to adjust her socks or to pick at a scab or to straighten the necklace around her neck.
She ran so hard and so fast, she finished in 3rd place, and her partner jumped up and down in celebration with her. They clapped each other’s hands. They hugged. They congratulated one another on their great running.
From then on out, those kindergartners last year refused to let me get away with not assigning them a partner every PE period, so that they’d have someone to cheer them on to the finish line. They loved it.
So I started doing it in my other classes last year, too, and all of the other kids loved it.
When PE started this year, and I lined half of my 1st grade class up to run for the first time, I heard one little voice call out, “Do we get partners to cheer for us, just like last year?”
Of course we did.
Even though my one little girl has moved herself to a whole different continent, since her dad is stationed overseas now, we still paired up in partners, and we still had someone to cheer for everyone.
The kids in my PE classes run harder when someone cheers them on. They run without stopping, when someone calls out their name. They run with smiles on their faces, when someone shouts out encouragement with every single lap they make.
And suddenly, I am thinking about how this applies to real life.
How much different would our lives be, if we ALL cheered one another on? If we all called one another by name and offered words of encouragement on a daily basis?
Beth Moore said at her simulcast last Saturday that we are forced to reside in a mean world, and that this mean world is made up of mean people.
I’ve met my fair share of those mean people. Oh, yes, I have!
What if no one ever cheered them on? What if we could cheer them on?
I played softball and soccer my entire life, and I can’t ever remember my parents missing a single game. I’ve seen my parents wrap themselves in heavy coats and blankets to sit on the bleachers in sleet to watch me play soccer. I’ve seen my parents sit in the bleachers when it was 105 degrees outside, so that they could watch me play softball. They cheered me on through it all.
Hubs and I played softball together on a co-ed team after we were married. We had so many fun people on our team, and all of those people came with cheering parents. I remember one team telling us on the softball field once, “Your team is always so much fun to play, because you have your own cheering section! I’ve never seen another team with so many different people who come to watch and cheer. No wonder you do so well.”
Yeah. We did. We won the entire championship, two summers in a row.
One summer, we went completely undefeated.
I’m pretty sure it was due to all the cheering.
So that’s my serious post tonight. I just want to encourage you all to be cheerleaders for someone else, and not just little kids. Pick an adult who you know is struggling through something, and cheer them on. Offer her encouragement. Shout out his name.
Because it’s seriously hard to keep running, when you only hear one name being shouted out, and it isn’t yours. Be someone who shouts out the names of others as they run this race called Life, and let them hear you shout their names with encouragement.
And it probably wouldn’t hurt to clap a little for them, either, because clapping is always nice. (That’s the main reason that I’m addicted to Scrabble Blast on the computer. It’s because whenever I spell a magnificent word, worth a whole lot of points, the game cheers for me. And claps. And I am a big fan of the clapping — it brings me back for another game, every single time.)
And let’s just see if the people you cheer and clap for don’t run a little harder and make it across the finish line with giant smiles on their faces. I’m betting that they will.
And wow! I just wrote a blog post that was sort of serious! Who knew that I had it in me?
Now, if I could just learn to enjoy cooking dinner…