Achieving Life-Long Potential – Chapter 4

Achieving Life-Long Potential

Kids Under Construction

A Toolbox for Parents, Coaches and Educators

By Ronn W. Langford


Chapter Four


The Development of our Identity

Identity wraps around the Psychology Element in how we perceive ourselves (i.e., state of mind, belief system, confidence, etc.), and to some extent around the Physiology Element (i.e., basic make-up of the body, size, shape, functional systems, a predisposition to be able to do something, etc.). However, Identity is a separate element with its own specific areas of function and performance. It is equally as important as the other two elements because of the impact upon function, personal performance and decision making.

The process of the development of our Identity is defined by the famous psychologist Carl Jung as: Individuation. Or the things that make us an individual.

Identity has to do with the qualities of a person: individuality, character and characteristics, acceptance of responsibility, and values that are essential to a person’s self-awareness. It is basically the perception of self. How I see myself. What I think about myself. Who am I – really? Down beneath all of the “stuff” – behind the masks – under the camouflage – what do I think of me?

I believe that most kids at times are in a state of bewilderment. Think about that word and what it means. They are unsure and unclear about who they are. They are often in a state of confusion and lost, as if they were wandering around in the wilderness.

At times we all can have an Identity Crisis. Being uncertain about our feelings, and not at all sure of who we are – our “self.” This can be a critical behavioral and functional condition – especially for kids! Do you remember when you were a kid? Did you have a few situations in which you had an identity crisis? Did you sometimes feel that you were wandering around in the wilderness?

We have talked about how important it is whether I believe that I can … or that I can’t. But Identity is made up of many more influences: multiple, integrated, subjective influences upon our behavior, decision making, functional performance, motivation, personal drive, actions, etc. Even the way we “present” our bodies, our posture, and our personal energy are influenced by our Identity.

The clothes we wear will reveal certain things about our self-perception, character, values, and will reveal what identity we are attempting to establish. But the clothes that we wear (or in some cases don’t wear) could also be an attempt to conceal who we really are. To conceal what we – really – honestly – deep down inside – think about ourselves! And maybe more dangerous than anything else, can reveal who and what we want to identify with.

Kids will begin to seek out an identity for themselves. Some way to define themselves. They will begin to wear a type and color of clothing that makes a statement about who they are and whom they want to identify with. They may begin to “hang” with other kids who we may not be thrilled about. I have friends whose kids have gone in a specific direction of identity – based upon their clothes and their changed behaviors – and the parents just made a casual comment about “all kids have to go through this phase.”

I think we all understand that at some level. However, we do need to also understand that we are getting some clues about what may be getting ready to happen in our kids’ lives. And therefore our lives. As parents, coaches and educators, we may choose to pay attention to some of those life decisions, and decide to influence what may be happening.

Our reputation is a part of our identity. What do “others” think of me? We often wonder why we have a reputation just because we have a tendency to do a specific thing or think a specific way. We reveal so very much about ourselves by our behavior and the expression of our thoughts. It should be obvious to us that as we continue to do these things, we are revealing a great deal about ourselves – to others. We are also revealing things about ourselves – to ourselves – if we were just more aware.

This whole world of our Identity is so critically important to the quality of our lives, our character, our values, and what we want to be known for. And yet most young people do not have and are not given the opportunity to understand this process. Rather than just lecturing about what young people need to stop doing, or what they needed to start doing, what if they actually understood the process? And what if we, as adults, helped by framing the question?

As an example, if you framed a question in which you wanted to make a point to a child by asking them their opinion, and how they think other people would look at someone who does something or behaves in a certain way, it would be a much more effective strategy. Example: Frame – Susan, if Jason lies about something all the time, and no one knows whether they can believe him or not, do you think that his friends will ever be able to believe him? Question – Is being able to believe someone important to you?

Everything that you communicate to a child – the way that you communicate – the words that you use – the tonality of how you communicate – the objective of what you are communicating – WILL make a tremendous impact upon a child. Your communication can and will greatly influence the self-perception and value system of a child for the next 70 or 80 years.

Something to remember. The kids you are working with, as a parent, coach or educator, are also getting an impression of your identity. Each of us needs to be aware of that! In their minds, your identity is going to be a direct result of what you do and how you are doing it.

You cannot effectively teach values and character to a child by lecturing, when the child observes your values and character as something totally different! It is just simply incongruent and makes no sense to the child. As a parent, you may want to spend some serious time thinking about this, and make some decisions about any personal changes in your behavior that you want to make.

I spent some time pondering this many years ago, and making some behavioral changes that I felt were most important to me. Changes I needed to make – to become the person I wanted to be. One of these was to control my temper. (It was all my father’s fault. Right?) Tough to change when some of that programming is so deep! But you can change it! And I did make big changes in my response behavior by visualizing myself being a mentor, with the patience to understand the various ways that someone could look at situations. It actually worked because I began to see myself differently.

Essential Areas of Identity


There has been so much discussion in the past few years in regard to how important self-esteem is to kids – especially within our educational system. It is something that we as parents and coaches and educators must focus on, because it is so very important in the development of a child.

There has been a tendency to think that if enough “flattery” is given to a child, whether deserved or not, it will create self-esteem. I think we would agree that it is best to give kids “kudos” for work well done. But if it is not for real, and is not based upon a real accomplishment, the kids will know it. This strategy has resulted in some big misunderstandings in regard to the process. All with the best of intentions, and yet with extremely poor understanding of how self-esteem is achieved.

The opposite perspective in regard to self-esteem has also been expressed: self-esteem is not that important to a child, self-esteem is a bunch of “bunk,” kids just need to learn more basic math and language and English skills and “learn to grow up.” All of which is absolutely true. But then, we need to ask the question – are these things mutually exclusive to each other? Obviously not!

Once we define what we mean by self-esteem, we could use that to help a child achieve a higher level that will serve them in the future.

How does a child develop self-esteem?

What is the cause of self-esteem? Where does it come from? How does one “get it”? Self-esteem is just too important to be left with a surface discussion that points out that a child needs it. So let’s dig into the subject and see what we can discover.

We know that the only way you can get self-esteem is by doing. By experiencing. By accomplishing. By achieving. By improving. Doing something well, and knowing that you are doing it well! By learning how to do something or take on something that was really a challenge, and knowing that you stepped out of your box and did it.

“We have neglected to discipline our children and called it self-esteem.”
– Billy Graham

For a moment, just for fun, let’s look at how you don’t get self-esteem. You do NOT get self-esteem by passing out “blue ribbons” to everyone. The net result is that the blue ribbon has no meaning. You do not get self-esteem by everyone getting a participation trophy. You do not get self-confidence by someone telling you that you should have more confidence. You do not overcome anxiety and fear by someone telling you that the fear is all in your mind. You also do not get self-esteem with a pill.

Self-esteem comes about as the result of a process, and that process is an experiential thing. Self-esteem is the result of having a challenging situation or condition, and overcoming that challenge. If there is minimal challenge, one does not get as much satisfaction or esteem of self. If it is a big challenge, and you are successful in accomplishing even one piece of the challenge, you begin to feel very good about that accomplishment. If you have a good mentor or coach that tells you how great that was and how well you did it, and gives you advice on ways to improve from there, then you can make a major step toward accomplishing the entire objective.

For a short story about Rachel, please view the following video:

It is very important for a parent or coach or educator to understand this process of self-esteem and have a strategy to work with kids. This is even more important in working with kids who have some functional challenges. One of the biggest challenges in working with kids who have a developmental challenge is their identity, which is tied to their belief system about who they are, and their constant concern about “what’s wrong with me.”

If you verbally beat a kid up or try to run them down, this is obviously not an effective coaching strategy. Now, before someone takes what I am saying out of my intentional context, I am not talking about not challenging a child. I am not talking about not being demanding in regard to the quality of their work or performance. What I am talking about is being abusive, or using language that runs the kid down and/or demeans them!

This does not mean that, as a parent, educator, or coach, it is not possible to get them to make a change in their performance by doing these things (abusive language, yelling, screaming, etc.). With a few kids it might work. But again, we first need to define our objective. Please consider what you have probably just taught this kid about life, and performance, and relationships, and most importantly about themselves, if you have used an abusive strategy.

One of the really great programs ever created for kids is the Special Olympics. To observe the awesome impact on special kids who have competed and completed some contest, just look at the fantastic look on their faces at the finish line. This is a great experience for everyone – not just for the kids. They know they have done well.

Another example is the Iron Man Triathlon that takes place in Kona, Hawaii each year. It is inspiring to watch the in-depth stories of participants, and see how this experience impacts their lives – some of whom complete the triathlon and some of whom could not complete their quest. For most of these people, just being there and taking on the challenge is a fantastic life experience that creates a higher level of self-esteem.

Question! What can we do to give more kids, normal everyday kids, more opportunities to experience a higher level of achievement? This doesn’t have to be only in football or basketball or track. It can be in dance, or playing the cello, or science.

Rather than decreasing the potential meaningfulness of competitive environments, we should have more kids involved. You don’t have to sit first chair in the violin section in order to be contributing in a meaningful way. Progress should be the primary objective. If the child is making progress, as a parent, coach, or educator, we can support that.

I am very concerned that many kids are spending so much of their time playing computer games, which are getting more and more “virtually realistic.” Do we really believe that playing those games is not programming our kids’ brains? Think about it! Our brains are programmed by repetitions of realistic experiences, and the more realistic, or virtually realistic, the more effective the programming.

We have found that many children, who have been defined with functional or developmental difficulties, are spending almost all of their time playing computer games. This is not helping these kids function at a higher level, and is surely not helping them to have more high quality “life experiences” with other people. It is a way to keep them occupied.


“The responsibility for instilling good values and building character lies with parents, educators, and coaches. If we don’t make an effort to give children moral instruction, many will become predators.”
– Michael Josephson

There are many ways of defining what we may mean by “character.” Most of us know what we mean, but that may not be what others may think. It is something that we, as adults, probably need to define with more clarity for ourselves, especially when we are working with kids.

A child needs to have some guidance in understanding the meaning of character. We need to let them know how important these core values are to their future; to the quality of their lives. To do that we need to spend some time defining what you and I believe to be the most important to us.

One way of looking at character is to think of it as something that someone “is.” I.e., “He is a character.” We all know some characters, and what they have a tendency to do or not do. It is sometimes difficult to define what those characters may stand for.

We can also look at character as something that someone “has.” That is, if you perceive someone as “having character,” what is it that he has? We might agree upon a variety of specific distinguishing traits or values that are important in our culture – self-discipline, moral strength, trustworthiness, integrity, and other distinctive qualities. If a person has these core values, and their behavior and decision making is based in those values, they get our respect.

Respect is good. We all need to be respected. Not getting respect is bad. But that would be true only if we agree on what gives us respect by others, and if we agree on how we get it. As an example, we have been experiencing some problems with character in the leadership of college and professional sports. The image of sports organizations and colleges is based upon the character of their members. That is, the amount of respect we give them is subject to the behaviors of individuals.

These organizations and sports teams also have members who are respected for their core values. Some very special people contribute to their communities. They support organizations that accomplish worthwhile objectives and help others.

There are several potential traits or behaviors that you and I can probably agree are important. In some cultures, however, there can be some real differences in regard to what may be the most important values.

In some cultures, corruption, bribes and payola are just a part of the accepted behavior. It’s expected. Therefore, there is no loss of respect. My concern is that in our wonderful country we are experiencing some challenges with corruption, dishonesty and lack of discipline. We need to realize that these people are featured in the news because of some “unacceptable things” they have said or done. There are thousands more that have character and core values that we would respect, but they don’t get the coverage.

What about honesty? And how much honesty? Integrity? Responsibility? Accountability? Caring? Commitment? Discipline? Consideration of others and their opinions? Does this mean that you shouldn’t be able to express your opinions? Absolutely not. Some people seem to think it is their duty to tell everyone else why they are wrong or what is wrong with other people. We hear some of the leaders of our country as well as members of the media falsely slander and label and attack others, just because they don’t agree with them. Then they later justify it because “they have an important agenda.”

In fact, we sometimes hear parents pointing out the flaws and the weaknesses of their own kids, and they may do this most often around other people.

I recently heard the mother of a teenage boy tear into him over something he had done, and the basic conversation went like this … “I knew I couldn’t trust you! I knew that you would not do what you said you would do! You never have. You will never amount to anything worthwhile because it just isn’t in you. And I am getting tired of covering for you!”

That is an actual account of the conversation. Now, can you imagine what this did to this young teenage boy? The question is, was there a better strategy that may have been more effective? Assuming that the mother may have had a clearly defined objective, the loss of emotional control created a big problem.

I am not saying that a parent, coach or educator should just let the “fault or weaknesses” continue. A better strategy would be to debrief, define and agree upon the objective, clearly identify why one would want to make a change (motivation – what do they get). Trying to identify a meaningful motivation for a child is absolutely critical to the success of making not only a point, but in making a change.

“For children to take morality seriously, they must be in the presence of adults who take morality seriously. And with their own eyes they must see adults take morality seriously.”
– William J. Bennett
Author – Political Theorist

Sometimes we find that some people try to justify their behavior and lack of integrity because of the importance of their “cause.” It is alright for them to be dishonest and misrepresent and commit fraud – IF – their cause is so very important. It is alright for them to cheat and misrepresent because almost everybody else is doing it. The cause has become more important to them than their character.

Kids need to understand that there will always be some people who do not have integrity, for their own personal reasons. However, who should they respect? Who do they believe has the core values they want to have? And when they identify those things, they can ask what they want to be or what kind of character do they want to have.

Ethics are fundamental … not situational. Character is doing what’s right, whether anybody is watching or not. These are a part of the life lessons that must be taught by parents, coaches, and educators.

However, some educators may have hidden agendas. We hear about college level professors, who use their positions of control not just to “sway” someone to their opinion, but to literally mandate that every member of the class must think like they do, within their perceptions or agenda. As the professor, they control the topic and correct perceptions in the name of “academic freedom of thought.” And yet, the opinions of many students are not permitted and/or not considered valid if they disagree with the thoughts of the professor. And the university administration does not do anything about it because of the fear of being accused of impinging upon the academic freedom of the professor. What about the freedoms and objectives of the students?

If you are a parent, I would strongly suggest that you know what your kids’ coaches and educators are teaching them about ethics and character. Some coaches and educators are simply not teaching the values and character you might prefer. It is more important for them to get their kids to think the way they want them to think. It is their agenda, and that is what is important – to them. This is done far too often in our schools, and especially in our institutions of higher learning.

The sad thing is, time after time these professors are without integrity in most other ways. They are caught cheating and lying and stealing from others, but they expect academic freedom. I do not understand why we, as parents and the people funding these institutions of higher learning, tolerate that.

Character is not learned by talking about it, but rather by modeling. It is sometimes difficult as we all have to make difficult decisions. We don’t learn about character by choosing the easy path. If we, as parents, coaches and educators, could just give a lecture to kids on character, and expect that each child would program those behaviors, acquiring character wouldn’t be so difficult. It is not that easy.


Trust is a very powerful word, because the concept is powerful. Trust carries so much meaning and multiple interrelated dimensions. The bottom line is: trust has to do with having confidence in the reliability, honesty, integrity, and responsibility of another person. You believe that someone is going to respond and furnish information and make decisions and take care of some duty or responsibility – IF – you can trust that person! Is that person worthy of your trust? Are you worthy of another person’s trust?

How important is trust within any relationship? Within a personal relationship? Within a business relationship? Trust is vital to any relationship, but it is not something you can easily see. You can observe or listen to someone, and then try to make up your mind as to whether you believe you can trust that person. Often we attempt to feel whether we think we can trust someone, and sometimes we are wrong.

Trust is something that is known only by experience. When you have had sufficient experience with another person, you will form a level of confidence in what they say and what they will do.

What does trust provide? What does lack of trust limit? Does trust impact everything we do or every relationship we have? Is it better, more efficient, more effective, more clear, more valuable, to be trustworthy? Especially when you know that you can trust someone else.

How important is it for a child to know that they can trust their parents – their coaches – their educators? If a child learns the importance of trust, they can learn the meaning of being trustworthy. Being trusted has value to them.

Once trust is established, you can do a variety of things very quickly. But until trust is established, you can either rely on “blind trust” (which can sometimes be very risky), or you can “trust but verify.” However, once you have trust in someone, you no longer have to spend the time and energy to verify.

If you have a high level of trust with someone, the process seems to be easier. You tend to be in the zone, energized, enjoyable, and everyone understands the intent. Low trust is guarded and sucks out energy. It is not much fun since you believe you have to withhold information to protect yourself, and everyone has a tendency to read something into what the other person is actually saying. Or they hear what the other person said, and then wonder what they really meant.

Stephen R. Covey has recently written a book entitled The Speed of Trust. It is a unique book about the importance of trust and the elements of trust. The main concept is that trust has a major impact upon the speed and therefore efficacy with which you can relate with others.

In our country today, we are in a crisis in regard to trust. Only 34% of people believe that others can be trusted. Only 49% of employees trust their leaders, and it is not improving. Only 36% of employees believe that their managers act with integrity. Trust in institutions is at an all-time low. Trust in the political leadership of our country is obviously at an all-time low. When a politician is recorded saying something specific, and then says that s/he didn’t mean that, or “misspoke,” and denies what was said even though it was recorded, the question of trust might come to mind.

Who do you trust? Really! Think about it. It is an interesting exercise to ask yourself these questions and answer them. Who do you trust? Who trusts you? Does your family trust you? Do your employees, or your fellow workers, really trust you? Do your kids trust you? What are your thoughts in regard to trust, and how important is that to you?

There is a true story about The Donut Guy, who had a small one-man donut operation at a large office building. Making change and giving it to clients was costing him time and money. So he put a basket with money at the end of the line with a sign that said – “make your own change.” He found that his business doubled, since he actually had more time to serve people. And he made more in tips since people made their own change. How much trust did he have to have in others to save time and make more money?

Do you think he had to trust himself, to be able to even make this decision? This story gives a better understanding of the meaning and efficacy of trust.

We used the following metaphor earlier in regard to a child’s potential. But it is also relevant in regard to trust. Imagine a big tree, with lots of branches spread out into a beautiful shape, and lots of leaves on the branches. What you see of the tree are the capabilities, the competence, the results. But underneath the ground, are the roots. The character. The integrity. The trust. The underlying values. And of course, the growth of the part of the tree that you see is totally subject to the underlying core system.

It is very important for kids to learn about trust, and the benefits they get from trust through an experiential process with their parents, their coaches, and their educators! Not just because it is a better personal value to be honest and trusted and trustworthy. But because it is more effective, efficient and easy. And it is a lot more fun!

I think all of us would like to be around more people that we can trust. I learned the importance of honesty and integrity from my father. He was known and respected by almost everyone in our county. And I do mean that his “identity” in Grady County, Oklahoma, was being a man of total honesty. Almost everyone knew him well, and even today, many people remember him by his reputation.


Performance in all sports and life in general, requires a certain amount of flexibility, because we all live in a very dynamic environment today – one that is constantly changing. Our lives are constantly changing. The sports environment is constantly changing. In fact, the only thing that is constant today – is change.

One of the biggest challenges most of us have is that our programming has a tendency to become “set up in concrete.” We can become very rigid. We may have just one program. That becomes our identity. And we respond to almost every situation like a robot – an automaton – based upon our programming. No matter what changes have occurred, we react in the same manner.

Some people will continue to respond to a specific situation the same way, time after time, because “That is just the way I am. And I am not going to change.” Or, “It just wouldn’t be me.”

Remember the old definition of insanity – to continue to do the same thing and expect a different result.

We need to go back to the Performance Model, and look at the whole concept of how important the programming in this bio-computer of ours can be. We will probably need some “flexibility programming.”

One of the most important things in being flexible, is to ask – “Has the objective changed”? As an ice skater – I don’t need to do this other triple jump because I can achieve my objective without it. Or as a golfer – What am I risking in attempting to make this impossible shot?

Flexibility, in itself, is a strategy that is very important. However, the one thing that should not be flexible is one’s values, character and integrity. Do you know some people who have a degree of elasticity and fluidity in their character and values? That kind of inconsistency creates confusion.


Risk/Reward basically has to do with gambling. What are the odds? We are risking the loss of something in hopes of getting the reward. Children very seldom learn to consider what they are risking. This is primarily the result of minimal life experiences, and therefore the risk is not recognized or even acknowledged. In fact, I don’t think kids even consider the risks much of the time.

Studies have shown that risk is increased by “under perceiving the risk.” Therefore nothing is done to decrease the risk.

We sometimes use the term, “kids believe that they are invincible.” At the age of 16 or 17 or 18, we all have a tendency to believe we are invincible. Why? Because we are not thinking in terms of dying. Most of us have a tendency to think of ourselves as invincible at this age, unless we have had a close friend or relative who has been seriously injured or killed. The thought of being invincible is not right or wrong, it just is. And for this very reason, kids need to begin to think in terms of “risk & reward”!

Risk is one of the most important elements of decision making. Most often, kids have a tendency to place more value on the reward side than on the risk side. (Can you remember when you used to do that? Me too!) You might want to get a child to accurately define risk and reward in terms of a pendulum. If there is a lot of risk, is the potential reward worth the risk? If there is a lot of reward, are you willing to take on more risk?

In football, how important is the decision making abilities of the quarterback? Some quarterbacks have a reputation for making “good” decisions, and others for making “bad” decisions. A quarterback who throws into double coverage, and constantly tries to force the ball in to the receiver, is going to have some challenges. Too much risk, and the reward just may not be worth it. So we lecture the quarterback in regard to not doing that. But that will never be effective. Because you are attempting to deal with the situation at the conscious level – and the necessary programming has to be at the subconscious level. (I.e., it has to be “pre-programmed” into the mind.) You don’t have the time to think about it in that moment.

So how do we get that programming to make better decisions to the subconscious level? It’s called football practice for a reason.

Strategies for decision making

There are just two primary strategies in working with kids on decision making. The first is for them to understand the process. The second is to help them learn how to make a change – to deal with the deprogramming and reprogramming necessary to become a good decision maker. This may be one of the most important things in the development of your kids.

If you can help kids develop an awareness of various, potential situations, just as a coach would do within a sport, kids can develop into adults and athletes and parents who can make good decisions. Essentially, they are developing a multi-faceted “what if” scenario for as many situations as can be imagined. You may have to help them imagine various potential scenarios, based upon some of your own challenges. That is really powerful!

As parents, coaches, and educators, have you defined some strategies in working with kids on decision making? It is very meaningful to work with a young person, and watch them develop these abilities.

First, we can take a look at past decisions – what happened, why did it happen, was there a behavioral cause, was there a disregard of risk, etc. It would be good to actually write down as much of the details about the situation as possible. Write everything down rather than just rationalizing and trying to justify a decision. Do the debrief first! Then – go back through the scenario, all of the detail, all of the elements we have discussed, put the situation in slow motion, and look at the decision. Now, is there something to learn from this for the future? Which of the elements would be the most important? Which of the elements would need to be reconsidered and/or changed to make a better decision?

The more scenarios that you can get a child to rehearse in their minds, the more effective the programming for the future will be. Making good decisions is a process! Learning from these situations is important for kids to learn life skills.


The speed of a situation has to do with time, and therefore is a very important element of decision making. If time is not an important element, there is by definition sufficient time to weigh various factors. Objective – Motivation – Risk – Reward – Information – Options – Flexibility – etc. The question is whether a child can learn to “take the time” to really identify and consider the factors they need to use in making a good decision.

If time is an important factor, i.e., if you need to respond to something right now – real time – because there is insufficient time to think the situation through and make a decision, the quality of the decision is totally based upon your programming.

Let’s remember. A decision may have resulted in a mistake, but the mistake was not the cause of the problem. The mistake was the effect. The cause was the programming, the perception, or the lack of knowledge used to make the decision.

Continue to Chapter 5

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