Outcomes Offered

■ Thoughtfulness

■ The benefits of practice

■ Enjoyment of learning

■ Positive self-evaluation

There was a familiar saying that the family had about Joe when he was young. In fact, it even persisted when he got older. From what they said you might think they meant something different but, over a long time, Joe had come to know what they meant.

His mother and father said it first, then his sister picked it up, and now even uncles, aunts, and cousins were saying it. . . . And mostly they laughed when they did, leaving Joe to feel even worse. He grew to dread it but knew it wouldn't be long before someone said it yet again.

What they said was, "Let Joe do it." Now, an outsider may have thought they were giving Joe a compliment, suggesting that he was competent and capable of doing things, that the family could trust Joe to do it. In fact, it meant just the opposite. IfJoe was to turn on a tap, the water was likely to come out in a great rush, splashing all over him or the floor and making a mess in his mother's kitchen. Seeing it, the first thing she would say is, "Oh no, let Joe do it." If he was drying the dishes and dropped one, it was always a piece of her best crockery. "Let Joe do it," she'd say. Reaching out to pick up a glass, his movement was likely to be too quick or too awkward no matter how hard he tried to get it just right, and even as it fell to the floor, smashing glass and spilling his drink, he could hear the words, "Let Joe do it."

Of course, there were other sayings, too. Whenever they went on summer vacation it was almost a daily routine for the family to play softball on the beach. If he was fielding, there might be a nice gentle hit of the ball off the bat, arching high in the air, falling softly toward him with Joe in the perfect position to make a catch. Somebody would call out, "Watch it, Joe will drop it," and sure enough, he did. If he was batting and he had a dead-easy shot pitched to him, all that was needed was for someone to call out, "Joe will miss it," and his bat would somehow swing wrong and hit a foul ball to the sound of someone's excited cry, "How's that?"

It is probably little wonder that Joe began to doubt himself. He felt reluctant to do things. He was scared that if he tried something it would go wrong and he would hear those dreaded words again. He began to think that he was no good at ball games and he started to use every ploy he could to avoid participating in team sports at school. When he had to do sports, he chose individual activities like running and swimming, where he was not so likely to be put down yet again—at least not by a whole team.

It was not until he got to high school that Joe began to discover things could be different from what they had been. Some of his friends decided to form a lacrosse team and asked Joe to join them. "No, I'm no good at ball sports," came his quick reply. They answered, "Neither are we. None of us have ever played before. We're all in the same boat." When he still declined, they pressed him. "We know how good you are at running, and we need a good runner."

Joe reluctantly gave in to their pressure and, to his own surprise—while learning from scratch with his friends—he found he could run and play a ball game at the same time. They all fumbled a bit at first, struggling to catch or scoop up the ball in their rackets. And Joe found he was not much worse than anyone else. They practiced as a team twice a week and Joe even practiced in his backyard almost every day, without telling the others. In their first competitive game, Joe surprised himself by being the first to score a goal. Their coach was excited. Joe became their hero and found that, not only could he do it, he enjoyed doing it.

You see, there was something that Joe did not realize at the time when people used to say, "Let Joe do it." He was young and growing up. You have to learn to turn on a tap so that it doesn't rush out too fast. You cannot necessarily expect to be perfect the first time—or even at all the later times— you try to do something. You have to learn how to hold a plate so that it doesn't slip from your fingers when you're washing or drying up. You have to learn how to judge the right distance and speed to move your arm when picking up a glass of water. Joe didn't know this because everyone around him was bigger than he and had already learned how to do those things. He just expected—as everyone else seemed to expect—that he should be as good as they were.

He hadn't realized when he was playing softball on summer vacation that his father and uncle and cousins were all older and physically more mature than he was. Joe was the youngest and, consequently, you really couldn't expect him to be as skilled as they were in managing the coordination between his eyes and hands, could you? But as he grew up he became as equally capable of doing the sorts of things they could do. Maybe not all of those things, but certainly some of them. Maybe he could even learn to do things that they couldn't do.

He doesn't often hear people say "Let Joe do it" anymore. On those few occasions when he does, however, he is able to smile to himself and think, "Yeah, that's just part of growing up."

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