Caitlyn was a very cute, outgoing, but slightly overweight, 6th grade girl, who very much wanted to be on the Middle School Cross Country team. Her primary motivation for wanting to be a part of the team, as is the motivation for many young people, was because many of her friends were going to be on the team.
Caitlyn had a problem, though. It’s called self-doubt. She had never been very athletic, and because of her weight, she was convinced that she would never be able to run the entire 3.1 mile course. How do I know that? She told me!
Just before the first practice of the season, she pulled me aside and said “Coach Van Horn, I’m really scared. I want to do this, but I know I’ll never be able to run that far. I’ve never done it before.”
“Have you ever tried?” I asked her.
“No,” she said looking at the ground and with a slight quiver in her voice.
“Then how do you know you can’t do it?” I countered.
“I just know I can’t.” She said, moving some dirt with her foot.
I put my arm gently on her shoulder and said “Caitlyn, you’ve already done the hardest part.”
She looked up at me, incredulously, and said “What…?”
“This might sound strange, Caitlyn, but the hardest part of doing anything new, is finding the courage and making the decision to actually try it! You’re here, you’re dressed in your running clothes, and you’ve told me you really want to do this. You’ve already done the hardest part.”
I don’t think she believed me, but we walked over to where the rest of the team had gathered near the front of the school. I talked with the kids about Cross Country running and explained that, today, we would go out to learn the course. They could run, jog, walk, at any pace they wanted, but we would go the full distance of the course.
As we all started out, I asked Caitlyn to stay with me and told her we would run the course together. I told her I would stay with her the whole way and that it didn’t matter how fast or slow we went, so there was no pressure.
As is typical for most kids—most runners, in fact—some of the pack went out really fast and got far out ahead of Caitlyn and me.
“See, look at them,” she said. “I’ll never be able to keep up with them.”
I just smiled to myself and said “Don’t worry about them. Let’s just do the best we can and see what you can do.”
Did I mention that Caitlyn loved to talk? Did she ever! As we jogged, she started talking much faster than her feet were moving. She talked to me about all the things she liked to do, about her family, about school and her friends, the music she likes, etc. I was listening to her, but not saying anything in response. Just the occasional “yep, oh, that’s cool.”
As we were jogging and she was talking, I was noticing something that she didn’t and I wasn’t about to point out to her. She just kept talking and she just kept jogging…
What was happening was this: while she was completely caught up in whatever story she was telling me, we were passing other kids who were now walking and out of breath. We just jogged right past them and she did not even notice! Some of the kids we passed were the same kids who had gone out in that initial fast pack—the same kids she said she could never keep up with!
Eventually, we came to a spot near the front of the school where several runners had stopped and were talking and drinking water. Caitlyn was still talking…
With a slight smirk on my face, I said “OK, let’s stop now, Caitlyn. Go ahead and get some water.”
“Oh, OK” she said, smiling, and walked over to the water cooler to get a cup of water.
More kids had come up behind us and were gathering with our group. They were drinking and talking and giving each other fist-bumps and high-fives while still catching their breaths.
After she had had a few cups of water, I asked Caitlyn to come over to me.
I put my arm around her sweaty shoulders and said with a mock-serious voice, “Do you know what you just did, Caitlyn?”
“What… No, what did I do?” she said with a look of concern on her face.
“You just did what you said you could NEVER do! You just ran the entire course. You just ran 3.1 miles!”
“WHAAATTTT?!!!!” she gasped, putting her hands up to her mouth in shock.
“That’s right! You were so busy talking…” I winked at her, “that you didn’t even notice that you were running… or that you never stopped to walk… or that you passed about half of these other kids!”
She just started jumping up and down with her hands still over her mouth. For the first time, maybe in her entire life, she was unable to speak! She had tears running down her cheeks and wrapped her arms around me and hugged me tight.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you!!” she said, looking up at me with tears still in her eyes.
“You don’t need to thank me,” I said, ruffling her already tangled hair. “You’re the one who did it. All I did was believe in you!”
You see, all of life’s treasures are guarded by fear and self-doubt.
The hardest part of doing anything new is finding the courage to decide to at least try. Confidence is something that only comes with experience. It’s OK to be scared. Do it scared. It’s OK to doubt your ability. Do it with doubt. You’ll never know if you can if you don’t try.
It makes no sense at all, when you stop to think about it, how we are so afraid of trying something new because we don’t think we can do it. Seriously, think about it. We cannot do anything we have never tried before, until we actually try it! We do not know how to do anything until we try to acquire the knowledge and skills needed.
So, I want you to make a few changes to your vocabulary that will, ultimately, make a change in your mindset. I want you to replace the word “can’t” with the word “CAN.” And if that proves too difficult for you at the start, I want you to add the word “yet” to the end of any sentence that contains the word “can’t.”
Instead of saying “I can’t do that,” I want you to start saying “I can’t do that, yet!” Instead of “I don’t know how,” I want you to say “I don’t know how, yet!”
If you will do that, if you will at least try, you will soon be saying “Yes, I CAN do it. Yes, I CAN go the distance!”