At a recent high school athletic dinner where a number of past outstanding athletes were telling their personal stories of success, I was reminded of what I believe the most; how the power of expectations, our own and those that others have of us, influences our performance.
In this instance an individual gave a compelling testimony about her coach in who had a significant influence over athletes during his tenure.
As this athlete related, “All my success and the opportunities I’ve had, I owe to coach.” He watched me one day in a PE class. I was running and participating in the activities. The coach came up to me and said, “Girl, you run fast.” These words changed my life. Up until that time, my grades had not been good; I had not participated in any school activities, and was thinking that my days in high school were numbered. As soon as he said, “Girl, you run fast. You ought to come out for the track team,” my life changed.
Here was this person that everyone respected, a person who knew everything, telling her that she could run fast. She went on to be successful in school, both academically and athletically, specifically in track. That success in track propelled her to college where she was a competitive athlete and successful student. She accomplished advanced degrees and holds a responsible supervisory position in a major organization, all because someone whose opinion she held in high regard said, “Girl, you run fast.”
Teachers and parents can almost will a positive or negative performance depending on how they convey expectations to a young adult or child. Expectations effect how we approach and solve problems. One example is teachers and grades. A class does poorly on an exam. One teacher might say, “I knew they weren’t studying; they weren’t trying. I’m not surprised at these grades. This is what I expected.” While another teacher will look at the same set of grades and say, “We have a problem. I must not have communicated the material effectively, emphasized its importance, or presented it in a way that was meaningful to the students.” One teacher solves the problem by blaming students, this teacher had low expectations. Another accepts the responsibility for learning and begins to search for a solution. This teacher had high expectations for student success.
Our expectations of many situations dictate how we approach them. As a young boy, I remember fretting about problems that seemed large at the time. I would worry about a test the next day or a homework assignment, or maybe my not so stellar performance in a Little League game. My mother would say, “Sleep well, things will look better in the morning.” Most of the time, they did. As a child, teenager, or an adult in my 60’s, my mother’s words of “things will look better in the morning” have stuck with me. In fact, in the morning I expect things to look better.