Achieving Life-Long Potential
Kids Under Construction
A Toolbox for Parents, Coaches and Educators
By Ronn W. Langford
The Foundation is The Performance Model
We are all struggling to prepare children for the future – for a world that we can barely imagine. For challenges that will place unique demands upon their abilities to learn, to create, to implement, and to be competitive. Especially for a time that is rushing toward us very quickly.
We are in the middle of substantive changes right now! We may not be sure we want some of these changes. But they are coming. Heading our way at a pace that will set our heads spinning. Think about the way our lives have changed in the past several years, and just imagine what the next several years can hold. Especially now, it is critically important to define the objectives and make the decisions as to how we intend to prepare our kids.
Our kids have been born at an amazing time. Talk with your kids. Listen to them carefully. They know things you don’t know. They know what is happening right now in regard to the use and function of technology, and they know how to access information.
The capabilities of technology can be good and/or bad. But almost as a result, there is the likelihood that kids may miss some important parts of a necessary learning and developmental process because they are so plugged into the use of a computer, or a smart phone to talk or text with friends, or the virtual reality of computer games. I see this as a huge problem because the programming of these kids’ brains is being impacted far too often in a negative way.
As an example, many kids who have been defined with a learning difficulty and/or functional and performance challenges are spending almost all of their time involved with their computers. For some, they have become absorbed in their computer worlds. Many of these kids are experiencing horrible games that are a kind of virtual reality. We need to recognize that these are, in fact, mental experiences, or what I refer to as a mental equivalent.
Our kids will need to learn to manage themselves – their frustrations, fears, and failures. If they can learn these things, it will enhance the quality of their lives. They need to be on a path toward their potential, every day. This would be a priceless treasure that will give exponentially expanding future value for their entire lives.
Bottom Line: We are currently preparing children who will seek jobs that are not even available today … using technologies that have not been invented yet … in order to solve problems that we are not even aware of today.
The Need for a Foundation
There seems to be a lot of confusion and a variety of opinions in regard to establishing an effective foundation upon which kids can develop their potential. Both in terms of knowledge and in terms of overall functional performance. I believe the first step is to define and agree upon an objective. Is our objective for the benefit of the child, or is it for our own personal agenda and our own needs, as parents, coaches, and educators? It will become obvious, one way or the other.
Assuming that our objective is to better prepare our kids for the future, we do indeed need to create a foundation – upon which we can build a structure – that will give us an understanding and an effective, step by step process, which we can use to work with our children. We must find ways in which we can help them increase their overall functional performance.
That FrameWork should be a functional model rather than a philosophical preference. As a parent, coach, or educator, we need to understand the functional elements of the brain and the systems of the body.
We are metaphorically growing a strong, healthy tree. Therefore, each system of the tree must be healthy in order to contribute to the long term growth of a strong tree. The root system is the core stability – the Foundation – and has the responsibility of furnishing energy to the rest of the tree. The trunk and limbs of the tree are the structure – the extension of FrameWork that you see. But the FrameWork is totally dependent upon the root system. The leaves and acorns are the result of the process – the beauty and the fruit that fulfills the tree’s purpose.
The function of each is dependent upon the quality of the other. The result – the fruit – is achievement. The level of achievement should be based upon progress, and should not be judged or compared to the achievement of others. Every person begins their journey with a different level of potential within their “acorn.” The objective is progress in developing their potential.
We will look at a FrameWork built upon a strong foundation – the way the human body functions – not just a theoretical opinion that can be conjecture or a matter of our perception. The systems of the brain and body must become integrated, and work together toward the maximum level.
As a parent, coach or educator, our job is to help prepare our kids to reach for their potential. And it is not an easy task.
There is an old Chinese Proverb – A child’s life is like a piece of paper on which every person leaves a mark.
I believe that every parent, coach, and educator – leaves their mark on kids. Every single kid – in one way or another. We all know those marks can last a lifetime. So how important is that process?
As a parent … You want to help your kids – exceptional, average, or typical (whatever that means) – step up to the next level in learning or in sports. Increase their overall performance. Or you may have a child who has special needs, ADHD, Autism, or Asperger’s. You may have great difficulty finding someone who can help them. Or help you.
As a coach … You are working with kids in sports … or playing an instrument … or singing. You may know about the x’s and o’s of a sport or you may be an expert in playing an instrument, but what if you could help your kids reach a totally new level of their performance?
As an educator … It is important for you to help your kids learn. To coach them in how to be more effective. What if you could help your kids prepare for their future and reach for their potential, not just go through the defined educational curriculum?
This is a step-by-step process. And if we have a good set of plans, we can build a solid structure within our kids.
Let’s look at a real set of plans – the blueprint – to define the strategy. Please view the following video.
The Performance Model
The Performance Model is a functional model. It is an excellent way to understand how we as human beings function.
I use the Performance Model with every person I work with personally and within our company: from working with a teen who has a brain injury to the highest level race drivers; from a child with a learning difficulty to a world cup soccer player; from athletes to children training for the performing arts.
I have found that we can be more effective if our client understands the process within this model. If the client understands the process, and if it makes sense to them, their motivation and understanding of what they are going to do can be much more effective.
The Flow and Processing of Information Through the Brain and Body
Basically – information goes into our brain – which we can look at like a biological computer. The brain processes that information, like any other computer, based upon its software. But – it’s a bio-computer. It’s alive. It’s a great processing unit. And the brain requires software just like any other computer. Our bio-computers did not come with much software.
You can go to a store and buy a new computer, take it home, plug it in, and turn it on. It won’t do anything until you install some software. You can install word processing and it will perform word processing, but it won’t do a spread sheet. Not until you put in some software to do an integrated spread sheet.
It is exactly the same with children. They will need some software to do specific things. You can install the “play tennis program,” but that does not mean that they will be able to play the piano. For them to play the piano, we will need to install the “play piano program” software. And the only way this can be done is through an experiential process. I.e., practice, practice, practice.
And just like any other computer, to perform at a higher level, our kids will need better software – the better the software, the better we function. The more we practice higher levels of function, the better the software. In a way, we can look at what we are doing as creating a very complicated set of “algorithms” within our kids’ brains. The brain has billions of cells which contain trillions of neurons and synapses and other little connectors and processors that are all (hopefully) integrated.
Software is formed in these tiny patterns of neurons, which communicate with each other. This software, or patterns of neurons, is created by doing and/or processing an experience, a movement, learning to react or respond, with enough repetitions to form a pattern.
Practice makes perfect – or at least (theoretically) perfect practice makes perfect. So practice is an experiential process. We know this is true. Since the emotions at the time of the experience become a part of our software, the future communication of those neurons with each other is affected, either negatively or positively.
The sum total of our software is who we are and who we are becoming. It is our behavior. Our perceptions. Our skills. It is our belief system, and is the basis of how we will perceive ourselves and our world. The question is – do we have some control over our programming? And can we make some changes in our programming? Yes. We can.
How do we select and formulate the information that is going into our brain? Sensory input is a primary source of information. This includes: Visual, Kinesthetic, Auditory, Olfactory, Taste, and maybe one or two more (a sixth or seventh sense) that we have a tough time defining.
The quality of that sensory input is critical to our ability to learn and perform. Improving the quality of sensory input is an important strategy we will use.
For an example please view the following video.
If we just notice the “result” – the effect – and never look for the cause of the effect, our success will be limited. If we can identify the cause, and if we have a strategy to reprogram the cause, we might be able to help a child make a change. As a metaphor, you can take two aspirin for a headache. That may help to change the effect – the pain – but it does not impact the cause of the headache.
The Performance Model – Please view the following video.
Creating an awareness of a child’s “status quo” (an acceptance that the current state or condition is just the way it is) and where they need to go is very often a primary responsibility of a parent. But this is also a coach’s or educator’s responsibility because the coach and educator are, by definition, working with the child in the learning process. We will discuss the importance of debriefing with a child and the necessary strategies to debrief later.
Let’s look into the basic Foundation that we need in order to understand the process better.
What’s on your mind?
How many times have we heard “It’s ALL in your mind” at various times in our lives? Usually when someone says that, they probably mean that it is not real. That we are just imagining something – making it up in our mind.
And, of course, that is exactly where it is! Those things are in our brain, but that doesn’t mean they are not real. The brain is basically … the ultimate management system of the body. Therefore, it is the ultimate management system of everything we do. Of everything we think.
My objective is not to define all of the parts and lobes and areas of specific functions, etc., since we are not here to learn to do brain surgery. It is important, however, to be able to relate the basic function of the brain in regard to performance.
Most people rarely think about what is inside their head – inside their skull. There really is a brain in there. For many years now, most people have become aware that the brain has specific areas of function. And that the brain has two hemispheres. This is not just a right side and a left side, like a melon. There are two separated hemispheres that are connected by a bundle of nerve fibers called the corpus callosum.
The basic communication between the hemispheres of the brain takes place through the corpus callosum. We can look at the corpus callosum as a “wiring harness or connection” between two computers – nerve fibers that create an integration and communication of each of the hemispheres of the brain.
The hemispheres of the brain are “supposed” to instruct the reciprocal side of the body. That is, the right hemisphere is supposed to be in control of the left side of the body, and the left hemisphere in control of the right side of the body. For maximum coordination, this reciprocal function of each side at the highest level is important to performance.
Each hemisphere usually takes on the majority of a specific set of functions, but not exclusively. The left hemisphere primarily (not entirely) programs and processes information that has to do with linear detail, the “pieces” rather than the big picture. The right brain programs and processes information having to do with concepts, the big picture, the image of what is happening. In a small percentage (estimated to be less than 5%) of people, the L/R functions are transposed. That is, the right hemisphere in some people is their “logical” side, and the left hemisphere is their “creative” side.
To discuss the function of each hemisphere, please view the following video.
Based upon current research, a child at the age of nine to twelve begins to differentiate and specialize the hemispheres into these specific functions; however, prior to that each hemisphere executes all of the functions.
The development of coordination of a child at this age is a critical part of the process of “personal performance.” It is a critical time for their body to “learn” to become integrated or move in the most effective manner. There is also another time when the integration of brain communication to the body is critical, and that is when, as a baby, they begin or should begin to “cross crawl.”
Most babies will start to do a unilateral crawl at the age of about 5 or 6 months. That is, they will (after falling on their noses several times) begin to crawl with the right hand and the right leg moving together, and the left hand and left leg moving together.
They will usually crawl for a while using this technique. And then most babies will begin to “cross crawl.” They will crawl while moving their right hand and left leg together, and then their left hand and right leg together. This cross crawl movement is much more effective than the unilateral movement. It is amazing that most kids actually figure this out and do it. If you get down on the floor on your hands and knees and do this, you can see it immediately. (So – why don’t you try this and experience it.)
We now know that if a baby does not spend enough time “cross crawling,” they will miss some of the original dendrite programming, which is the foundational programming upon which future learning and strategies are built. This programming – the original learning – comes about through movement of the body.
Some babies do not crawl. They just “scoot” or “roll” around. Some babies will begin to walk at an early age, and we believe this is “wonderful.” I can remember when, as a parent, we would be very proud of our child starting to walk early. (That gave us a higher “percentile” number – right?) In fact, we would encourage this and hold out our first fingers, to let the child walk around holding onto our fingers. This has been done by millions of people.
Actually, we now know we should not do that … because it very likely will decrease the amount of time that a child spends cross crawling. And the more time they spend cross crawling, the better their body is programming integration.
When I am working with a child who has demonstrated some functional difficulties, and I ask the mother to tell me about the child’s crawling as a baby, it is typical for the mother to comment that their child did not crawl. They are often surprised that I would know this. However, it is actually very common.
Babies who have had continuous problems with ear infections often have some difficulty in this area, and also difficulty with balance. The development of the vestibular system (balance) can be seriously impacted as a result of early ear infections.
We need to be aware that the way the child MOVES his or her body will give us some very important information! Observing the movement of the body reveals a lot about the functional performance of a child. If we are aware of this, as we work on “movement,” by focusing on integration of the brain and body, the overall functional performance will increase substantially.
Now – if we use this same knowledge – we just might be able to work with a child with a learning difficulty, to teach his body to integrate and coordinate, and observe a change in performance very quickly. Or we can work with an “average” kid on improving coordination and integrating movement, and in a relatively short period of time, s/he is no longer functioning at an “average” level, but at an extraordinary level. Or we can work with an outstanding athlete, and suddenly, they can attain a unique and elite level of performance.
The Brain Hemisphere Functions
The following list is a more detailed description of some specific functions of the Right Hemisphere and the Left Hemisphere of the brain:
LEFT HEMISPHERE * Logical Processing – Linear
RIGHT HEMISPHERE * Intuition – Creativity
LEFT HEMISPHERE * Mathematics – Numbers
RIGHT HEMISPHERE * Representational
LEFT HEMISPHERE * Structured – Analysis
RIGHT HEMISPHERE * Spontaneous – Free form
LEFT HEMISPHERE * Sports (hand, eye, foot placement)
RIGHT HEMISPHERE * Sports (flow of movement)
LEFT HEMISPHERE * Music (structure of notes, rhythm, harmony, etc.)
RIGHT HEMISPHERE * Music (the emotional meaning)
LEFT HEMISPHERE * Language (structure of words)
RIGHT HEMISPHERE * Language (comprehension or meaning of words and thoughts)
LEFT HEMISPHERE * Sequential thinking
RIGHT HEMISPHERE * In the Flow (the zone)
The average brain processes and sends about 2,000 bytes of information per second at the conscious level. If we have to “think” about doing something, that is approximately the speed of processing. If we have programmed an activity to some level, and we can now execute that activity WITHOUT thinking about it (without conscious direction from the brain to the body), then the brain processes information much, much faster. Would you like to guess how fast the brain can process something at the “subconscious” level? (Take a guess BEFORE you read ahead!)
We now know that the brain, fully developed and programmed to a high level as in an elite athlete, can process and send up to about 3 to 4 billion (that’s right, with a “B” – 4,000,000,000) bytes of information (messages) per second. That would be the potential of a specific activity at the subconscious level. Actually, that is how we should perceive the potential. We are obviously just beginning to understand the potential of the brain.
For a short video example, please view the following video.
For the same reasons, a child with learning and/or functional difficulties must get more and more things programmed to the subconscious level. Otherwise, their functional performance will stay exactly where it is – at their “status quo” – and will always be limited.
This would be like pushing a beginning skier off the top of a downhill racing course, and telling them to go as fast as they can. (By the way, some young people come to Colorado and do just that!) They would obviously be trying to do it at the conscious level. How long before they are going to crash and burn? How many seconds?
Or, we can look at it more from a positive direction. IF we can teach a child to do more and more at the subconscious level, his or her overall performance will increase substantially! They will perform at a higher level, because their programming is at a higher level and they are processing more at the subconscious level.
“Somewhere, someone is practicing. And when you meet him in head to head competition, he will beat you!”
– Anonymous (on the wall of a canoe racing club in Hilo, Hawaii)
Most of us have some awareness of the terms skill or psychomotor skills, but it is somewhat difficult to convey the actual meaning with clarity – especially to kids. And, as I have said, you can be more effective if they understand the process, and what they need to do to learn specific skills.
We have defined a simple, but effective way, to understand the meaning of psychomotor skills.
* Psycho – My psycho is my brain.
* Motor – My motor is my body.
* Skill – My skill is the ability to do something at the – subconscious level. Where I don’t have to think about it. I can do it – automatically.
The brain is sending bio-electrical stimuli (orders) to specific muscles of the body to do a specific task or activity, to move in a specific way or speed, or to apply a specific amount of pressure. Every athletic activity must become a psychomotor skill in order to perform that activity at a high level of performance. Every pianist must develop the programming to tell the fingers what to do – at the subconscious level. You cannot play the violin well at the conscious level. The stimuli from the brain must be sent in a chunk of information.
What seems to be the simple activity of walking is actually a very complex psychomotor skill, which requires a tremendously complicated program in order to walk without “thinking” about it.
If you attempt to walk at the conscious level, you will not do it very well. If we think walking is complex, consider how complex downhill ski racing, or playing soccer or tennis, or playing a violin or a piano can be.
When we first begin to learn how to do something, we are operating at the conscious level. We have to think about doing it, and therefore we are not doing it very effectively or efficiently. We have a tendency to stumble through the activity. But as we repeat the activity (by practicing), we are programming the software (neuron patterning) to be able to do something automatically. This programming also impacts confidence, the ability make a quick decisions, and your belief system.
If we know that we have a higher level of skills (psychomotor skills), and if we have more knowledge about what we are doing, then we have a tendency to perform at a higher level.
This is why it is so important for a parent/coach/educator to be aware of exactly what a student is doing during the learning process. If a child is practicing doing the wrong things, then that is what is being programmed. If a coach desires for a player to change a bad habit, and make a specific change to do it differently or better, that programming must be changed by many repetitions of doing it correctly. A re-set is required. Start slowly. Do it deliberately. But do it correctly! Time after time after time. A child needs to understand this process, the process of building a psychomotor skill.
There has been substantial research in regard to “bio-medical signal processing devices” which will interpret a person’s thoughts, translate that information into a computer, and in turn instruct a machine to do something. For instance, a paraplegic could think about going over to a table, and a motorized wheelchair would take him there. Just think how exciting that could be. That research is currently being done.
When you really think about it, that is essentially what we all do. Except that the “machine” is our own body – our arms and our legs are the servomotors that direct what we do and how we move. The software in the brain is the computer directing the activity.
For example, a young child learning to play the piano will spend hours practicing (hopefully). The repetitions give the brain the programming to direct the fingers to function – movement, pressure, rhythm, tonality, space and silence, etc.
Can you imagine the challenge of trying to move the fingers to play the piano at the conscious level? However, if one continues to practice a mistake, time after time, the mistake is now a part of the programming. The parents and educator of our young piano student will know exactly when a mistake will occur when performing at a recital. Why? They have heard it “practiced” a hundred times. The mistake is now a part of the program.
If I have programmed a mistake or the wrong way to do something, what do I do now? The first step is to “deprogram” and then “reprogram.” As a parent, coach, and educator, it is important to remember that the process of deprogramming is frequently more difficult and takes more time and patience than creating new programming. Why? Because there is an existing program that has to be overcome (deleted), in order to create a very, very strong “new program” that will replace it.
We have coined a behavioral law in our company entitled – The Law of Reversion. Basically, it says that “under pressure or stress, you will tend to revert to your prior programming, if it is still the strongest programming.”
The Processing of Information – Software to interpret and execute.
Multiple, complicated, interrelated bytes of information are received by the brain. That information is processed by its software. The brain needs two basic sets or types of software. One set of software to interpret the meaning of the information coming into the brain. And another set of software to execute or direct the responses to the body.
Therefore, one objective is to increase the quality of the information going to the brain, along with what that information means. As an example, the development of the vestibular system (balance) is necessary to determine what occurs that affects balance, and what needs to be changed to maintain balance. We create new software to instruct the body how to respond, how to move, and how far to move in order maintain balance. But this has to be done at the subconscious level.
This is critically important programming for a ski racer, snow boarder, gymnast, race driver, running back, etc. The fact is, it is important to everyone at some level. If you observe a beginning skier, then you can see how important this can be.
The point here is to clearly understand the process and the strategies.
To get a better understanding of this, let’s experience this in a short video.
When we look at overall performance in this manner, we can begin to understand more clearly what is meant when we say that an athlete is “thinking too much” or “trying too hard.” It is a functional reality! You can also begin to understand how the performance and the learning process of kids with learning and functional difficulties can be enhanced.
You can also understand that by “trying harder” you are, in fact, literally forcing yourself to do something at the conscious level. So, as a coach, rather than instructing a young person to “try harder,” what would be a better strategy to use? The objective is to develop a higher level of programming – to be able to perform a skill at the subconscious level.
Being In the Zone
Being in the zone, or what used to be called “being in the flow” is a special state. At times, most of us have experienced being in the zone. Do you remember what it is like? It is effortless. It is a feeling of total connection. It is not accomplished by trying harder, or by willpower. Or frustration. Or getting angry. In fact, trying harder, as we have agreed, means that we are operating at the conscious level. Hopefully, we can agree this is definitely NOT the objective.
Going into the zone is not something we typically do with intention. It seems to happen accidentally, and we are not sure how we got there. And it does not seem to happen very often. Can we learn to “trigger” that feeling of being in the zone? One can learn to trigger a “zone state” more often, and with intention. What if you could teach a child how to do that? What could that be worth?
Important question – does this process of being in the zone involve physiology – or psychology? The answer is – yes!
Which leads us into a deeper level of the elements of Physiology, Psychology, and Personal Identity. These elements are the FrameWork that we will build upon our foundation, and you can see how each wraps around and influences the others.
The Elements Are the FrameWork
As we have said, the first element is Physiology, the basic physical systems of the human body. We will define specific strategies that can be used to enhance each of those systems.
We have access to volumes of knowledge about various subjects, and yet many of the people who are actually involved in coaching sports, or music, or teaching, are not trained in the physiology of the body. People who are considered the experts in a specific field may have been trained in their subject matter or specialty, or the “x’s and o’s” of a sport, or history of music, or the curriculum of a subject. But they may not know as much about the functional systems of the brain and body that they need to know to be more effective.
As parents, coaches and educators, it would help us to know more about the basic physiology of our kids. If you have a child who is interested in sports or the performing arts, understanding the strategies to enhance the systems of the body will make them more effective and perform at a higher level. This is also true when working with a child who has a learning difficulty.
We constantly hear about and talk about the importance of the mental state in sports and athletic activities, the performing arts, as well as life in general. We talk about how important it is for a child to have confidence, and yet sometimes we do little to help our children develop confidence. Do we do more than just talk about it? Do we really do anything to impact the psychology of our kids?
The child’s state of mind is important in everyday life. In school life. In their social life. In their family life. And yet, as parents, coaches and educators, are we really doing much in regard to using strategies to help our kids develop their mental state?
We know that we all have a tendency to perform at a higher level if we are more confident in what we are doing. But telling someone, especially a child, to have more confidence, or that they should believe in themselves, does not give them confidence.
We know the importance of self-esteem to a child. In the past several years, we have begun to consider how important self-esteem can be. But a child does not get self-esteem by getting a “participation trophy.” They get it through an experiential process. By knowing that they did something well. By earning it.
State of Mind. Attitude. Behavior. Thoughts. Belief System. Emotional control. Mental Traits. We all know these are terribly important to the future of a child. I believe that we need to be more aware of this, and have better strategies we can use with our kids.
Most importantly, kids should learn what their mental state is all about! Why their attitudes are important. They should learn the techniques and strategies to induce a performance state of mind. How to do it – when they need it – in whatever they will be doing.
In many respects, identity will tie directly into the psychology element. And yet, identity is more subjective, and complicated, and difficult to define because it has to do with the way that a child perceives themselves.
Personal identity is the way we, each of us, perceive ourselves and also how we are perceived by others. Our reputation. Who we are. The characteristics and qualities and values by which we are known. Bottom line – what do we stand for?
After all of the life experiences that you, as a child and an adult, have had – all the difficult situations, trying times, challenges, failures, successes, highs and lows – what is your identity? What IS your self-perception? What are your limitations? Why are those things your limitations? What are you good at? What are you not very good at?
What if a parent, coach or educator could help to define (to some degree) the type of identity they want their kids to have, and how to help their kids develop that identity? Obviously, children are going to experience their lives based upon their perceptions – the things that happen to them and their interpretation of those events – in a unique and individual way.
The question is, can a parent, a coach, or an educator have an impact upon the way that a child may choose to perceive an event, or what can be learned from that situation, or even how to “debrief” after an emotional experience? The importance of debriefing in order to learn the most (and the most appropriate things) from those prior experiences is a critical part of the learning process. That debrief can play a huge role in how a child perceives themselves for the rest of their lives. A parent, coach and educator not only can but will impact the quality of that debrief, one way or the other.
Continue to Chapter 2
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