For many years I joked I was going to homeschool our kids through junior high. My plan was to keep them home during the maturation years and then put them back with their peers when they were high schoolers. I remember my own time in middle school as moderately uncomfortable, but most definitely annoying. I also remember being annoyed with the middle-schoolers I taught when I dutifully fulfilled my requirement to show up for a stint as a seventh-grade student teacher. It took about two days for me to decide that middle school teachers are among the best people on earth, and I was happy to remain in awe of how they navigate that hormonal, cantankerous, goofy group, but I did not need to martyr myself following their career path. (somehow I thought high schoolers were easier to teach…LOL)
At any rate, I never did pull the trigger on homeschooling my seventh-grader because I do recognize one of the biggest lessons they are learning at this age is how to navigate the social landscape. (that and let’s face it, homeschooling would mean I would have to be teaching a seventh grader…every day…all day…like, really?!)
It’s a strange age. They are moving through so many developmental stages at once, and everyone goes a little nuts for a bit. We adults know that it is a phase, and that they will (hopefully) outgrow it. Growth is painful, however, and it is at this stage where some of the biggest growth spurts are happening…literally.
So what in the world do you do with a team full of junior high kids?
Run them into the ground. If they are tired enough they don’t have the energy to be quite as annoying. (JK, although there is something to be said for solid exercise)
It’s not an easy age to coach, especially if you are a parent of one of the kids on the team. Tom Swyers, a baseball enthusiast and youth sports advocate argues parents should completely step out of coaching roles by the time their kids are thirteen. He has a solid argument.
No matter who is coaching this agegroup it takes continual effort to offer guidance, direction, discipline, consistency, and a patient sense of humor. (you may want to record a few key phrases so there can be a continual loop playing…it’s simply a time-saver because you WILL BE A BROKEN RECORD!)
- “Respect your teammates”
- “Respect your things”
- “Respect your opponents”
- “Respect the refs”
- And “are you kidding? Put your buddy down. I am fairly certain he DOES NOT want to go in that trash can.”
The truth is, these kids are all feeling badly about themselves, and only God knows why EVERY kid has to go through a phase of thinking they suck, but it is a scientific fact: the seventh grade brain loops the negative at a much more intense pace than the positive. (okay, so it’s not totally scientific, just something I’ve observed) It is our job as parents and coaches to give them every reason possible to entertain a positive thought. The kids will provide the negative critical track, and the adults HAVE to be the balance. That includes when a doink kid on the team says a doinky thing or makes a doinky decision and your kid wants to know “How do I play with him/her? He/she is so mean to me?”
You ask your kid how they feel about it, assure them it is totally okay to feel that way, and then brainstorm in a positive direction.
“What do you like about doink kid?” you may ask.
“Nothing,” would be a standard reply.
“Every kid, even the doinky ones have something that is great about them…if you were to text doinky kid and you HAD to say, ‘I really like ___ about you’ what would you write?”
Keep working on them to see the positive as long as they’ll let you.
If it is a stretch to find something good, explain that there are sometimes personality differences that make it hard for some personality types to get along, and that they don’t HAVE to be friends with everyone, but they are expected to respect everyone.
Then remember to keep pumping the positive. Jim Thompson, founder of Positive Coaching Alliance , talks poignantly about the athlete’s emotional tank. Calculating on a 5:1 ratio that people need five positives for every one negative, he offers a script for coaches to talk about filling tanks with their athletes.
It is no wonder everyone hates seventh grade. The negative is SO pervasive, it is exhausting to try to maintain the 5:1 ratio. If you decide to coach this age, or if because of your legal obligation as a parent you have to keep one this age in your house, there HAS to be an effort to put positive back into the equation. It’s honestly your best survival tactic.
Team chemistry is an incredibly elusive thing at this age, and it is because the brains of this aged kid is growing toward how they want to define themselves individually. It comes in fits and starts, and expresses itself in their experimentation as a teammate. They are not sure what kind of person they want to be, and they will be up and down about what kind of teammate they want to be too. The best approach is to keep working on their vision.
- Point out when kids make a good decision…even if it is not your kid. If it is not your kid, try to make a point to tell that kid’s parents, or the kid himself.
- Make an effort to see for yourself what makes each of the kids on the team a great asset, and then point out to them why you think that.
- Make a list of the best traits of a great teammate and then praise them when they show said traits.
Junior high may seem like a vortex of drama and frustration. That’s because it IS a vortex of drama and frustration. The kicker is that if we want contributing members of society, this phase of life is necessary, and it offers all of us an opportunity to help guide how they step out of this darkness into what they will eventually become. That’s a pretty awesome responsibility.
OK, with that said, I am going to log off now and go tell my kids five affirming things.
Learn more about Meagan’s current book project at her website: http://www.meaganfrank.com
Copyright 2013 Meagan Frank Choosing to Grow