World Cup Reflexes

One of my go-to school assembly topics utilizes a soccer ball.  I begin by tossing it back-and-forth with random students.  Each student will typically catch the ball in his or her hands and toss it back to me. After 6 or 7 students have had a turn, I abruptly stop the game of catch and tell a story.

Many years ago – before any of the 2019 US Women’s World Cup Champions were born – a professional European soccer coach gave a clinic to our players at Hyde.  During his first session, he did the very same routine with the soccer ball.  The students responded as the students did in the above paragraph.

The coach then broke from the routine and said, “If I did this in Europe, the kids would never reach up with their hands.   Instead, they would head the ball, trap the ball on their knees, or juggle it with their feet.  Until American kids get to the point where their first impulse is not to reach up with their hands, the Americans will never be competitive in World Cup soccer.”

This analogy applies to kids at Hyde.  We are trying to graduate young men and women who will have excellent character reflexes. They will… be truthful, act with courage, step up to lead, exhibit enterprising curiosity, and care for others. But it is not enough to do these things. The point is to do them without thinking about it, to do them as a reflex.

Once developed, these split-second reflexes require life-long maintenance.  I recently sat, buried in some deep thought that I cannot today recall, in a jam-packed New York #6 subway train heading out to the Hyde-Bronx charter school.  There was a pregnant woman, holding a baby in one arm, a shopping bag in the other, and standing nearby.  A second later another passenger got out of his seat and gave it to this woman.  I was embarrassed and more than a little ashamed at myself to realize that my concern reflexes had failed me.  They clearly needed some maintenance work.

Aristotle said, “Character is the habit of making right decisions.”  It’s one thing to think about the right thing to do in a given situation.  It’s quite another to do it “on the fly.”  And should you doubt that such reflexes can actually be learned and internalized, consider the country of origin of the 2019 World Cup Champions.

Onward, Malcolm Gauld