Instilling mental toughness is also part of a thorough education

Sep 22 2023

Instilling mental toughness is also part of a thorough education

Nana korobi ya oki – Fall down seven times, get up eight
-Japanese proverb

If you get a chance, check out the fall sports teams. You could brave the heat and catch a match of our soccer teams. Win or lose, they’re fun to watch, and it’s obvious that they enjoy playing.

Or you could opt for a cooler venue and watch the volleyball teams. Like the soccer team, they play hard and compete admirably.

All the teams have demonstrated mental toughness in recent matches. For example, the varsity soccer team recently bounced back from a frustrating loss with a dominant performance in the following match.

During middle school, this year’s 9th and 10th graders had talent but struggled against physical teams that literally pushed them around. After one middle school match, the coaches scheduled a scrimmage that mixed middle schoolers and varsity players. The older players did plenty of body checking and the younger players got knocked around a little, but they progressed quickly.

That team went on to win their first district championship in more than a decade, and perform at a high level once they hit high school. They have a long season ahead of them with many ups and downs; we wish these Cobras all the best as they continue to play “the beautiful game.”

Those of us in the gym a few weeks ago witnessed a similar demonstration of resilience by the JV volleyball team. After winning the first game handily against Concordia, the girls experienced a lapse and dropped the second set thus proving the old adage that “the best thing about freshmen is that they become sophomores.”

In the third and deciding set up to 15 points, the Cobras dug themselves into a deep hole going down 13-4. That’s when they decided that they were not going to lose. In a game worthy of an inspirational movie like the classic “Hoosiers,” the girls simply would not give up and clawed their way back.

The gym erupted when our girls won 15-13; perhaps the sweetest sight was the varsity girls enveloping their younger teammates and congratulating them with hugs and cheers. The previous weekend, these same varsity players convincingly won a tournament in Boerne running over their opponents without losing a single set.

Congratulations to the student-athletes and coaches for providing us with lessons of grit, determination, and sportsmanship!

These recent examples demonstrate what we try to do at Keystone in the classroom, in the theater and the studio, and on the courts and fields of play. We want to challenge our students and build resilience, so they can handle the unexpected but inevitable challenges and setbacks of growing up.

Last spring, fourth graders demonstrated their toughness when they kept their calm during a middle of the night thunderstorm during their Outdoor Education trip to Government Canyon. This year’s 8th graders showed a similar strength against the elements on their recent trip to Yellowstone National Park.

Keystone students learn how to bounce back when they encounter a seemingly insoluble math or computer science problem, or the first draft of their essay cannot convey what they wish to express. Perhaps, the data they’ve collected refutes the initial hypothesis of their science fair project. I recently discussed with a group of ninth graders what they could say for an English assignment. They were flummoxed, but through the process of talking it out, they developed ideas that could turn into excellent papers.

The work at Keystone is challenging. However, in overcoming what may seem insurmountable, students discover what they are capable of achieving and gain the confidence to take on even more. They realize they have strengths they never knew were there. Students learn that self-esteem does not come from inflated praise but from the satisfaction of a hard job well done. Perhaps this is one reason our alumni are accepted to the finest colleges and universities in the country and they excel in their post-secondary school endeavors.

As parents, it can be difficult to see our children grapple with an assignment or a conflict. It makes us feel vulnerable and question our parenting. (As the father of two now-grown sons, I can tell you my wife and I felt this often.) For the most part, though, what can appear impossible to a child may simply represent a higher level of challenge. Indeed, we inadvertently hurt our children by rescuing them too quickly and preventing them from learning how to overcome difficulties.

In the past, people talked about helicopter parents metaphorically flying overhead and constantly surveilling their children. The newer image is snowplow or bulldozer parents who clear every obstacle out of their children’s way. While tempting, running interference for them renders our children helpless in the long term.

As educators, we look forward to partnering with you and helping your children learn how truly extraordinary they are as students and how exceptional they are as people.

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