Making the Connection Between Effort and Reward
A young student approached me today to ask when his belt test was going to be scheduled. He’d been scheduled to test before the holiday break, but became ill and missed a week of classes, then a couple weeks more over the holidays… He figured a new test date was due, now that he was back. Like many (if not most) kids, he’s very focused on getting that stripe or belt.
Normally, when a student misses a test date, I’ll schedule a make-up asap, but sometimes this doesn’t work out. This young man hadn’t kept up his skills during his absence, and when I ran him through the basics at the first class of the year – expecting to check off his test requirements one by one – I discovered he just didn’t know his stuff. He didn’t recognize the names of basic techniques we practice every class, and he couldn’t show the difference between lunge punch and reverse punch. When I scheduled him to test back in December, he was able to do these things. Clearly, he had lost ground during the time off. It happens, and when it does, we get to work. I put him (and the other white belts) through their paces repeatedly during class, covering the 1-yellow-stripe techniques and stressing the importance of focusing on these basics before trying to copy the advanced kids or learn new things. Today I ran through the list again, and again he wasn’t ready.
So, here he came after class, asking why he hadn’t gotten a new test date yet. I told him that, as much as I wanted him to get his stripe, when I looked at his basics, I didn’t feel he was ready. I pointed out the difficulty he’d had with lunge punch and reverse punch, and with performing the lower block correctly. (This is a child who is old enough to do these things well.) He looked disappointed, as is to be expected; but more than that – he looked shocked, as though it hadn’t occurred to him there was a connection between what we were doing in class, and what stripes he would get on his belt. I assured him that he would get his date as soon as I saw him getting the basics back up to where they’d been in December. He continued to look surprised.
We instructors talk about it all the time, but it still amazes me: Many kids seem to expect rewards they haven’t earned. They want the stripe or belt, and figure they’re entitled to it just for showing up, no matter how little effort they put in! But they’re good kids. Usually, all they need is for someone to clarify the connection between effort, accomplishment and rank (and then clarify it again, and again). Today’s young man, like so many kids, somehow didn’t understand that the things he was messing up on during class had something to do with his belt rank. And like so many, instead of focusing on what he needed to improve and practicing outside the dojo, he was walking out the door and forgetting about everything till the next class. (That’s why I wrote the book – to help those kids take their lessons home and make real progress, instead of forever running in place.)
Instructors – How do you help your young students understand the connection between effort and reward? Please share some of your favorite lessons and strategies.