Let Praise Lead the Way!

Crossroads are not visible close up, not in the moment, or the hour, or the day. Deeply meaningful crossroads may truly be decades in your rear-view mirror before they come into focus. I want to share one of mine that is at least five of those decades in my past.

            I spent many of my summers at Camp Lakeland in Angola, NY. During my youth, I enjoyed sports, playing football, baseball, soccer and more. I was never the first player chosen when teams were picked and sometimes the last, but I still enjoyed participating. That all changed that next summer at camp.

            We were playing softball in an organized game between cabins. I came to bat in the first inning and as I stepped into the batter’s box, I heard the left fielder call out to his teammates. Now, I knew the left fielder from back home, his name was Jeff, but I had never been around him playing sports. He had an impression of me that I wasn’t aware of. He yelled out “Power hitter guys, back up”

            Power hitter? Who me? I was twelve years old and no one ever believed in me like that. I stepped back out of the box. This guy believes in me. Maybe I should believe in me too. I watched the first pitch go over my head. The second pitch was right down the middle and I swung and drove it into left field, over Jeff’s head and the ball rolled all the way to the tree line. Confidence in yourself, in your abilities is like a magic pill. I took that pill at the plate that day and became the hitter Jeff imagined. I hit eleven more home runs that summer.

            The last athletic event of the season was a camp Olympics. I came in second in the 100-yard dash, although I swear, I won. It was a photo finish with no camera. I won the 220 and the 440-yard run and was scheduled to be the anchor runner for the 440-relay, the last event of the day. At that point, my team was tied for first place.

            As the race progressed, my team was falling farther and farther behind the team that, if they won, would win the whole day. By the time I received the baton, I was at least thirty yards behind. I stumbled a bit at the beginning then started to gain speed. The runner ahead of me made a crucial mistake. Instead of running his race, he kept looking over his shoulder to see if I was gaining on him. I was. By the time we hit the last turn, I was right behind him. Once I passed him it was over. It wasn’t even close. The best part was the whole camp was watching this one event and the cheers I got were unlike anything I had ever experienced.

            When I went home after that session, I was truly a whole new person. I had a confidence in my athletic abilities that served to make me more competitive, more capable. I was never the last player chosen again.

            Whatever your role in life, in sports, at work or as a parent, let praise lead the way. Cheer on your teammates, let your coworkers or subordinates no how much you value their efforts and never, never stop telling your children how much you believe in them. Slip them the confidence pill. Be their Jeff.

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