When I awoke this morning, I read the news that Walter Gretzky, father of Number 99, had died at age 82. I read the article and reminisced about watching Wayne Gretzky during his Edmonton Oilers’ years and reflected on what a truly “great” athlete the Great One was. Reading a bit about his father’s role in young Wayne’s life, I could plainly see one of the key ingredients in his success. In addition to natural talent, Wayne Gretzky learned from a young age about the value of goal setting from his Dad. The results in his case were remarkable.
Most of our children and students will not achieve the lofty heights enjoyed by Wayne Gretzky. After all he was a true phenom. The kind that arises every once in a while in all areas of life like sport, music, science, and business. When they do happen, the impact is often far-reaching and inspirational and the phenoms themselves usually have at least one thing in common: the ability to set and achieve goals.
For the majority of kids, international success and fame are not within reach, nor are they the desired outcomes. Instead of dwelling on perfection and celebrity, we need to help our children set specific, flexible, and realistic goals that give them the purpose, passion, and motivation to “work and play hard” and improve – and live happy and healthy lives at the same time.
How can we help kids avoid unrealistic expectations? It’s an important question in a world that inundates them with messages about ways they “don’t measure up”. Let’s hope we are not part of that messaging system! We need to remind them to concentrate on goals that will help them stay grounded and present, as they work through immediate, day-to-day goals. We want them to have purpose and fulfillment, but we don’t want them to obsess about the score, the stats, or the outcome of “the game of life”.
In keeping with the memory of Walt Gretzky and his talented son, let’s stick with a sports metaphor for a bit longer. When we are supporting children and working with kids that are struggling or perfectionistic, let’s help them focus on specific, short-term goals. Let’s help them play one shot at a time, stay in the process, and focus on doing their best job for themselves and their team.
And while we’re helping our kids set those goals, let’s not forget to include the important mental objectives such as encouraging them to let go of mistakes and focus on what’s coming next without becoming obsessive or losing perspective. In a world where people can be hypercritical of others, the ability to be patient and purposeful with ourselves will be important to all of our long term mental health.
I think that Walter Gretzky would agree that these types of goals actually help children stay grounded and in the moment. I think he would also say that when children can stay focused and present with healthy goals, they’re more likely to “play hard” and take the necessary risks to help them grow as athletes – and as people!
As we remember you today, Mr. Gretzky, thanks for the “great” on and off-ice lesson!
Ric Anderson, Head of School