Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Contemplative Competition

When I came running into my driveway, a voice in my ear congratulated me on completing "another two hundred fifty miles." I knew that a) this was not the distance I had just covered that morning, and b) I have probably covered a few of these two hundred fifty mile chunks over the decades that I have been running. Six miles a week over the course of a year would get me past that mark. It wasn't the distance as much as the milestone. The speed with which I have been able to cover those miles has long since been laid to rest. I don't tend to measure myself by other runners. That would be discouraging. Instead, I find myself allowing these disembodied machine voices to be my coaches. The Wii Fit ghost lady and the happy mouths of Nike that come through my iPod  are my motivation. The good news I take away from this is this: apparently I don't need a lot of motivation.
That isn't the case when it comes to the kids at my school. Once a week I take each grade level out for PE. The third, fourth and fifth graders run laps around the playground at the beginning of each class, with an emphasis on the fifth graders preparing for their spring fitness test in which they have to run a mile. I make a point of telling them, amid a flurry of excuses that range from asthma (undiagnosed) and footwear (improper), that they are not competing against one another bur rather against themselves. They should do their best and that should be their measure.
The challenge works for many of them. But not all. There are still a great crowd of boys and girls who obviously feel no particular compunction to push themselves any harder than their friends with whom they continue to stroll languidly around the playground in spite of the exhortations from their coach. That would be me. Even when I am running along with them, coming up behind kids who are more than forty years younger than I am, they look at me with mild disregard. Would they ignore a synthesized computer chip, urging them on?
I know that in the classroom they feel the motivation supplied by a computer-generated scoreboard to keep them at their typing practice. They spend almost as much time at picking out the home row keys as they do searching for their names on that list of leaders. I'm at the top, but that doesn't keep kids from telling me, "I'm going to get you, Mister Caven." I guess I need to figure out a way to get keyboards out on the playground.

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