I really have some mixed feelings about discussing Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) in the context of education and the Ivy League in Michigan, but I think this one time it’s worth it. This past weekend we had as big a shocker in the MMA world as we’ve ever had: Holly Holm knocked out Rhonda Rousey. Holm dominated Rousey with a perfect game plan, executed flawlessly, backed by a brilliant skill set. If you can look past the violent nature of the sport for a moment, I’d like to share with you what I thought was the most inspiring part of the whole event: her post-fight speech.
Here are key takeaways and tips for helping your son/daughter on his/her road to the Ivies:
1) “… if you’re not aware of what can happen…”
You have to face reality and address the key concerns, weaknesses, risks and problems. Too many parents, in an attempt to encourage, motivate or instill a false sense of confidence in their children, gloss over problems. I understand the feelings behind those actions, but the end result is always bad. Students know they’re being deceived even as they go along with it, which actually leads to lower confidence, and, of course, they’re not prepared for the challenges; that naturally leads to failure.
Tip #1: Confront challenges head on.
At IvyZen, one of the first things we do with a new student is show the college application: the activities section, that section where they ask to attach an art portfolio or research paper, the Stanford essay question that asks “What matters to you and why?” Be encouraging, laugh, put an arm around them as you go through it together and try to make it fun. But look squarely and clearly at the tasks that lay ahead of you.
2) “… didn’t perform well, sat in my car, upset and I cried…”
Frustration, pain, anxiety, disappointment and failure are all part of the process of getting better. Disappointment and frustration comes from the disconnect between desired performance and actual performance, right? So these negative emotions are natural and good. It’s actually helpful to vent at times and get it out of your system. It helps to accept the new reality you’re in.
Tip #2: Get comfortable with the uncomfortable.
Learning a new skill by definition means doing something you’re not sure of, don’t know very well and are very bad at. You’re in the uncomfort zone and it’s not going to be pleasant. The worst thing you can do is to pull them out of there. Instead, tell them it’s ok. Let them know that they are safe, nothing bad will happen. It’s simply because you’re trying to get better.
3) “… you know what if I perform like that, that’s not gonna get me a win.”
Holm knew exactly when she was not performing well. Her camp, Jackson’s MMA, is renowned for smart, leading-edge training and coaching. Greg Jackson is considered a guru and deliberate practice is one of his mainstays. In everything they do, they get very specific about what is a good outcome and what is a bad one.
Tip #3: Make crystal clear performance measures
Students shouldn’t have to be confused on top of all the other things they must deal with. You can eliminate this by doing some work ahead of time getting the help of teachers, coaches and mentors. Every skill should be clearly defined and performance measures should be simple so student’s know exactly if they are getting better or not.
4) “So I’m gonna come back tonight and I’m gonna perfect those things, I need to get better. ”
Tip #4: Be positive.
Negative feedback is a necessary part of getting better. You have to know what to improve by seeing that you’re doing it wrong. However, the entire goal is to improve, to master a skill. And through deliberate practice, you will improve. Reinforce this message constantly. Your child may be scowling, upset and even direct some negative energy towards you. Ignore it. Be strong for your student and continue to project confidence that they’re on the right track, are progressing and will come out on top.
5) Holly Holm is not considered a super talented fighter, certainly not as talented as Rhonda Rousey. She has a lot of flaws in her game that people discussed openly before the match. Did it matter? No. Because as Geoff Colvin says, “Talent is overrated.”
Tip #5: Don’t worry about talent. Focus on deliberate practice.
Many believe that talent is necessary for success. What Colvin does so great in his book, Talent is Overrated (New York: Penguin, 2010), is to show that what we thought was due to talent was actually due to deliberate practice. Many believe you’re destined for Harvard from birth… horse shit.
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