Friday, January 9, 2015

Want to Connect? Tell a Story (by Coach Ryan)

So after nine years away I am back in the classroom again.  And after 8 years of teaching high school in my past life, this time I find myself teaching 6th grade.  To begin the day I put the 1st period schedule on the whiteboard.  I want my students to know what to expect during our 50 minutes together.  It usually reads something like this:

1. Welcome/attendance
2. Review yesterday's assignment
3. Today's lesson
4. Today's assignment

It's all fairly predictable most of the time.  What also has become predictable is that sometime before the class begins, someone will go to the board and squeeze in an extra agenda item that reads

"1.5 Storytime"

I like to tell my students stories.  Taking a minute or two at the beginning of class and sharing something about my time in middle school -- some of the adventures I had with Bradley Singletary, Mike Tudor, or some of the other kids has become a part of the class period that many of these current students crave.  It makes them comfortable.  It makes them feel like I'm a real person that they can identify with.  And for many of them, it helps bring them to the place where they are willing to open up their minds and learn from me.

Human beings are social creatures and in many ways, sports are about connections.  We want our athletes to connect -- connect with each other and connect with us as Coaches.  We understand that in order for athletes to perform at a peak level, they must care about others and be willing to connect with others.  Even an individual sport athlete must connect with Coaches, training partners and teammates in order to achieve maximum results.

When I became a high school Coach in 1998, somehow I intuitively figured out that a way to develop meaningful connections is through the use of stories.  I loved telling stories to my athletes.  I would coach a football practice, sprinkling in a story or two about my life.  And as I shared these stories, I began to see a change in the young people I was working with.  I'm generalizing here, but their attention span, their buy-in, their willingness to do the things I was teaching them do, all of these increased.

Get a group of Coaches around a table, and watch what happens.  Story after story comes out.  Get a group of old friends together and the same thing happens.  Get my old coaching friends together and you'll hear about someone throwing keys at me.  You'll hear about someone wrestling in the hotel hallway on his birthday.  You'll hear about an abrupt early morning wake-up call for two guys nicknamed "Springsteen and Bono".  There's no doubt about it -- stories are a powerful means of helping people learn to care about each other.

Don't be afraid of a little oxytocin.  It's known as "the bonding chemical" and is released when people listen to a story.  As I've read up on all this, it's been cool to learn about how the study of the brain provides actual scientific support for this practice.  In studies of neurochemistry, we learn about how the brain uses our stories to bring people together.  Watch this 6 minute video and see what I mean.  It's fascinating stuff, and it's fun to think about how a desire for community and connection that's naturally built into us can be met by sharing stories.


Rob Stewart said...

Amen, love coaching and building relationships, stories are a great way to create authenitic, below the superfical surface. Makes for a great teacher, great coach and one day a knock at the door, remember me, you invested in my future.... I am grateful....

Community for Coaches said...

Thanks Rob...I read somewhere recently that if you're alive, you have a story to tell. Grateful for you.