Education and Discipline / by James Leath

I believe books are the most under-valued and under-appreciated technology in the world. I also believe that teaching leadership is less about the number of books you have read and more about being an open book.

In my experience, most students are unimpressed with titles and accolades. Instead, they want to hear stories and experiences. I get the most positive feedback from my students whenever my sessions have personal anecdotes sprinkled among the lessons.

However, my stories are finite! After a few months I have run out of stories I believe my students would like to hear. So, I read. I take notes. I collect stories from the written word and try to bring them to life for my students. In a book by George R.R. Martin called A Dance with Dragons, I ran across this quote:

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.”

My father-in-law is a brilliant man and is always laying wisdom nuggets on me he found in some forgotten book. Last week, I wandered into an antique bookstore and discovered two old tomes that I found extremely fascinating. They reminded me that the rules for living and finding success are the same as they have always been. Here are two passages I plan to share with my older athletes this week.

From Education Through Recreation, 1936 By Lawrence Pearsall Jacks

“A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself he always seems to be doing both. Enough for him that he does it well.”

From Self-Knowledge and Self-Discipline, 1916 By Basil William Maturin

“We do not endure [self-discipline] merely for its own sake, but for what lies beyond it. And we bear those acts of self-denial and self-restraint because we feel and know full well that through such acts alone can we regain the mastery over all our misused powers and learn to use them with a vigor and a joy such as we have never known before…”

“It is as though one who had a great talent for music but had no technical training, and consequently could never produce the best results of his art, were to put himself under a great master. The first lessons he will have to learn will be, for the most part, to correct his mistakes, not to do this and not to do that; it will seem to him that he has lost all his former freedom of expression, that he is held back by all sorts of technical rules, that whenever he seeks to let himself go he is checked and hampered. And it is no doubt true. But he will soon begin to realize that as he learns more and suffers in the learning, possibilities of utterance reveal themselves which he has never dreamed of. He knows, he feels, that he is on the right path, and as the channels are prepared and the barriers against the old bad methods more firmly fixed, he feels the mighty tide of his genius rise and swell, he hears the shout of the gathering waters as they sweep before them every obstacle and pour forth in a mad torrent of glorious sound. All those days of restraint and suffering are crowned with the joy of the full and perfect expression of his art. The restraint and discipline he knew full well in those seemingly unfruitful days were but the means to an end. The end is always before him, and the end is positive expression. The dying to his old untrained and bad methods is but the birth throes of a larger and richer action…”

“Without such an inspiring motive [discipline] is meaningless, it is cruel self-torture. We need—who does not know it—to fill our life, not to empty it. Life is too strong a thing, our nature is too positive, to be content with mere restraint and repression. Many a soul who has given up one thing after another and emptied its life of interest after interest, learns to its dismay that its energies finding no means of expression turn inward and revenge themselves in morbid self-analysis and sickly scruples. They need an outlet; they need interests. You may check the flow of a stream while you are preparing to divert its channel, but you cannot stop it. If you try, it will only gather force behind the barriers that hold it back, beat them down and rush through with a strength and volume all the greater for the restraint. And the stream of life cannot be merely held back. Many a man trying thus to repress himself finds after a time that temptations have only grown stronger and passions more violent, and that he seems to have become worse rather than better through the temporary resistance. What he needed, what might have protected him from failure and despair, was to be taught that all the restraint was but temporary, and in order to turn the stream into its true channel.”

Lastly, I have the following poem hung up on my office door:

No written word, nor spoken plea Can teach the kids what they should be. Nor all the books on all the shelves It's what the teachers are themselves.

It was originally written by Ronald Gallimore, but Coach John Wooden recited it often so it is many times attributed to the Great Coach. I believe it is a great reminder to myself about how to reach and teach my students.