I remember it clearly. Even though it was 32 years ago, I can remember it just like it was yesterday. While the memory has faded into the background of my subconscious, it had a tremendous impact on the person I became.
I was born in Ireland and as you do in Ireland, I was playing Gaelic football for our local team. It was my first year playing and I was completely out of my depth. My cousin was the star of the main team and I was just glad to be playing in his vicinity. As one of the youngest players, I rode the bench. I wasn’t too fussed as I was still more interested in Spiderman than kicking a ball around the place.
The game that shook me to my core was played in Enniscorthy, a little town in the south-east of Ireland. I arrived at the game with no expectations of playing. I hadn’t played a game yet so why would this game be different. We gathered in a cold change room (even for Ireland) and waited for the team to be read out. Back in those days, the jerseys were handed out by the coach out of a large plastic bag. The jerseys looked heavy. I didn’t know as I had never worn one. I sat on changeroom benches and listened.
And then it happened.
I was pointed to and handed a jumper. I was stunned. That thing was on in no time and I stood there proud as punch, smiling at everyone. Wait till my Dad sees me I thought.
And then it all came crashing down.
The coach looked at me and said words that I can still hear.
“What are you doing wearing that. Get it off. You’re not good enough to play.”
I was 7 years old. I didn’t cry. It cut deeper than that. I watched the rest of the game on the sideline in a daze. Now approaching 40, I remember that day as clear as if it was yesterday. Those words. That tone. The laughter.
Great lessons from poor leaders
You learn as much from poor leaders as you do great leaders. I learnt valuable lessons that day. I learnt how NOT to speak to people. I learn how NOT to be a role model. As a grown man now, I say that no person should be spoken to like this, let alone a 7-year-old. Our words and actions can have a huge impact on the lives of young people. Beyond the interaction, those words are taken inward and stew. The rise in depression in men is evidence of this. To young men, we say “man up”, “harden up”, “grow some balls” but this is wrong. As men, we need to stand up and raise young men who can be open to talking, are respectful and truly value our role in raising good humans. This is done by leading by example. This is done by speaking with respect.
Today, I never speak to students/young people that way EVER. I pay them the courtesy they deserve. I listen with no judgement. I smile and encourage. I value my role in raising good humans. While I am thankful (now) for that experience, there is no place in my world for that type of interaction.
Be wary of the power of your words. Never underestimate the impact your words can have on young people. Break the cycle by speaking with respect and integrity.
I was inspired to write this post after reading Benjamin Hardy’s great post on fears and emotional blocks.