How much agency do you have? (not rated for kids)

Recently I had a dream that took me back to high school. After I awoke, two vivid memories from our senior year preseason football camp rushed back into my consciousness. Both were highlights of my senior year, for different reasons.

We would stay several nights at the HS gym and have all day practices and trainings before school and the season began. One afternoon, the coach locked us all inside the gym and he went to sleep in the locker room. We couldn’t get out of the gym except through the locker room. When we realized he was sleeping, we climbed up the bleachers (which were not pulled out) and got into the balcony, and then climbed down the stairway from the balcony and the out the doors of the gym lobby emergency handles that you would push, and they would open. So we propped the doors open, and everyone poured out of the gym into the parking lot. What do you think 80-100 testosterone laden boys were going to do when they are unsupervised? Well we thought about many options and finally decided to have a car race in the parking lot.  So we did.

About 6 or 8 of us began racing around the parking lot. Everyone was cheering. I was driving my 1964 black Riviera and was doing quite well. Everyone had taken the air cleaner covers off (it produced better performance). After a while we noticed a neighbor walk the long way around the parking lot and into the locker room. So we all immediately, parked our cars, threw the air cleaners in the bushes, and ran back into the lobby, up the stairs to the balcony and climbed down the bleachers. We did it in an unbelievably quick time. 

About the same time we were got settled, the coach came up from the locker room with the neighbor and we were all sitting around talking, playing cards, etc. They looked at us and the neighbor stared in disbelief. They both went back down to the locker room, and a little later the coach came back by himself. I had never heard him swear, but I clearly remember him saying, “I don’t know how the Hell you did it but thank you. If I ever catch you doing it again, you are off the team.”  He didn’t really catch us that time, but when we went back to the parking lot to put our cars back together, there was a low hanging blue haze hanging over it. You could tell something not good had happened, but nobody said a word.

I am not advocating for this behavior with high school students. But I am concerned because we are attempting to take all the danger out of the lives of young people. There are significant negative consequences. Young people are deprived of learning from their mistakes. They don’t learn to take risks or positions and then assess consequences with an open mind. They never learn to listen to opposing views because they have been “protected” from even being exposed to them.

The Coddling of the American Mind is a great book which studies the impact of our current cultures fixation on eliminating risk from the lives of its young people. I couldn’t agree more with their recommendations

The second memory came from that same training camp. As captain of the team, I would say “Alright! Alright! Alright!” with increasing volume and pitch whenever we were exhausted from sprints or something as grueling. It was my way of pumping the team up. I did it over and over through the practices. But, a number of the players were increasingly annoyed by my rah-rah spirit. 

On the last night of our camp, a group of them got a bushel of tomatoes. While I was in my sleeping bag, they snuck up on me and‚ “tomatoed” me. They were screaming “Alright! Alright! Alright!” as they threw the tomato after tomato at me. I tried to hide in my sleeping bag, but I was covered in tomatoes. The coach came up in the middle of it and made the culprits clean up the mess, while I went downstairs to the locker room and took a shower. After cleaning up, we all went to sleep. I don’t remember what I slept in because the sleeping back was thrown away.  Ironically, I didn’t really feel angry or even bullied, it was almost a badge of courage. I guess that is what difference perspective makes. It never was an arrow or a wound. It was seen as fun, and I had brought some of it on myself. In fact, I still chose to do it for the rest of the season.

It is amazing how one’s perspective makes all the difference in how an experience impacts their life. Two people can to through the same incidence and have radically different memories of the impact of that episode; simply because of their agency. Did the person demonstrate agency, that is, did they have the freedom to act or choose during and in response? If one demonstrated agency, then the episode is less traumatic.

Kids need to experience tough things in life. The challenge of parenting is knowing how much leash to give to allow them to experience the consequences of their own decisions. Both of these experiences were formative in my life and they continue to bring a smile to my face today.






Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *