Nike’s recent video campaign, Dream Further, has me feeling all the feels.
As an athlete, forever fueled by the pulsing energy of a competitive arena.
As a mother, so grateful that THIS is the normal messaging in the media that my girls get to grow up knowing.
As a coach + consultant, working to shift the culture in the athletic arena so all athletes feel safe, supported and seen.
As a woman, standing on the shoulders of all the women who've shown us what courage looks like, we continue to RISE.
As a human, longing for a day when ALL humans are loved + accepted + respected for being our most authentic selves, without conditions.
Don’t change your dream. Change the world.
A message that resonates so deeply, I had chills all over.
And. About that world...
If we want our kids to dream further AND achieve those dreams while honoring their whole-selves;
If we want our kids to cultivate greatness without having to betray or rail against parts of themselves,
We’ve got some serious work to do.
How do we protect our kids, our athletes from this?
Here’s what the high school softball players had to say about their coach:
“He [hs softball coach] called me a ‘heavy set hitter’ in front of the whole team and thought it was hilarious.”
“He [same coach] told me during practice one day that when I run the ground shakes. He said to another girl, ‘if you had one less potato chip you would have been safe at first.’”
A powerful, infuriating and painful reminder of WHY I’m doing the work I’m doing. With athletes, coaches, parents and the organizations who serve them.
Because, this banter. These ‘jokes.’ This ‘old school’ style coaching. No matter how well-intended the coach, slinging shame of any kind is simply unacceptable.
It’s toxic and downright dangerous.
As athletes we rely on our coaches to provide us feedback on our physical bodies.
There is a responsibility that comes along with that. A massive responsibility.
It’s time all coaches understand the power of their words.
And it’s time for the organizations for which they are a part of to provide the structures, supports and resources to ensure education, training and accountability.
Body shaming. Sexualizing. Belittling.
They are the furthest thing from constructive feedback.
It’s not motivation. And it’s definitely not coaching.
It was these kinds of comments made by my club coaches that planted the seeds of deep, deep body shame. Toxic seeds that sent me deeper inward.
Tugging + pulling + starving + hating my body.
When would I get boobs, they laughed.
Look at that a$$, they’d say as they’d stare at teenage bodies in bathing suits.
She’s done - look at how fat she got.
No bread at dinner for the women’s team - as if bread would make us fat - as if we didn’t have the agency to properly nourish our own bodies.
True stories. I know because I lived them.
These words, and so many more, from my club coaches are captured in the journals + logbooks of my 17-year-old self. Verbatim.
Words that became weapons in the war between my ears.
Five and a half years into this work and, painfully, I know my story is far from unique.
These off-the-cuff comments made about me + to me about others sent me spiraling into a darkness so deep, I wanted to quit the sport I loved.
The inner critic grabbed hold, fed by this external noise and eventually transformed into an eating disorder + suicidal ideation.
Here are my questions for all of us:
How can our kids dream further when they have to swim upstream in a culture where this kind of toxicity is common place?
How can our kids buy into the message that they have the power to change the world if, when they speak out, their words are silenced, dismissed and/or met with defensive + dismissive roars from the very people + organizations that are supposed to be serving them?
Kids these days are too weak. Too entitled. Too sensitive. Too soft.
You can read it here, in the softball coach’s own words:
“I'd finally like to reply to the allegations made against me by two former players. I deny all charges made against me. What you have here is a classic 'witch hunt.' You have two entitled players who quit the team because their coach held them accountable. Great parenting skills!"
You can see it here in this picture of a slide my husband sent me from a presentation at the National Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association 2019 Coaches Conference:
You can feel it standing in a room full of coaches and parents.
You can read it in the comments on social media.
The divisiveness is palpable - with one side blaming the other as if it’s some sum zero game.
We’re in the midst of a mental health crisis. Anxiety, depression, loneliness, self-harm and suicide on the rise.
And until we are willing to walk into the messy middle, together, our kids will continue to suffer.
The shouting + shaming + silencing + snowplowing + snowflaking.
IT’S NOT WORKING.
And, Nike’s Dream Further won’t work either, unless we do.
There are coaches who are spewing toxic messages. And. Coaches who are proactively working hard to honor the development of their athletes.
There are parents who are out front plowing. And. Parents who are working hard on themselves so they can learn to dance in the space between leaning in + letting go.
All of this, true.
Which brings us back to the original question:
Can we protect our children from this?
Yes. And. No.
Digging deeper, I think the bigger question to ask ourselves is
What can we control?
We cannot protect our kids from all.the.things. At some point, they are going to be forced to navigate hard.
Don’t we want them to have the skill set + belief to know they are strong enough + capable enough to rise, no matter the challenge?
We can simultaneously work to rid the harassment and abuse and shame-slinging while still allowing our kids the space to fall + feel + rise.
We cannot protect our kids from parents who coach from the sidelines + criticize from the front seat. We can control the culture of our team + messages we’re sending.
We can simultaneously work to educate and engage with parents while creating safe, supportive environments.
We can challenge the assumptions + storytelling we’re making about each other.
We can challenge ourselves to grow personally so that we have the emotional agility to navigate our own internal worlds, freeing us up to parent + coach with aligned, intentional action.
We can hold organizations accountable - demanding that they shift from a reactive-at-best model to one that’s proactively addressing the ever-changing needs of the athletes they serve; one that has supports and structures in place to honor the development of the whole athlete.
I really believe, with rare exception, coaches care about their athletes as whole-humans.
In fact, I KNOW that one of my coaches, whose words cut so deep, cared about me as a human. And it wasn’t until we sat down together and I read him a letter that he fully understood the pain his words had caused.
And, I really believe, with rare exception, parents are doing the best they can with the resources they have.
Here’s the thing we’re missing:
Coaches. Parents. Athletes.
We are all human.
We’re going to fall short and make mistakes. It means our words aren’t always going to land the way we meant them to. It means we’re going to show up in a way we wished we hadn’t.
There’s no such thing as nailing this perfectly.
Until we embrace our common humanity, we will continue to resist / struggle asking for help, admitting our mistakes + owning what’s ours to own.
What else we’re missing:
Our kids are watching us.
And if we’re not equipped with the skills to positively cope with big emotion, how can we expect them to?
If we’re so quick to judge + blame + protect from pain, how can we expect them to know how to ride the wave of emotion and RISE?
If we’re going to cultivate greatness while honoring the health of the whole athlete, it’s going to take an empowered + equipped village.
It’s time to get to work.
It’s time to hold organizations and ourselves accountable AND help empower + equip our kids with the skills needed to RISE.
Samantha Arsenault Livingstone is an Olympic Gold Medalist, high-performance coach and consultant, transformational speaker, educator and entrepreneur. She is the founder of Livingstone High Performance, LLC., the Rise Free Academy and the online course, Strengthening Our Emotional Agility — inspiring, empowering and equipping athletes, coaches and female leaders with the skills they need to become more mindful, courageous, resilient leaders.
In addition to private and group coaching, Samantha consults with teams and organizations on athlete wellness, Mindful Sport Performance Enhancement (MSPE), leadership, strategic planning, rising skills and developing high-performance cultures.
Join Samantha in the I AM CHALLENGE private community space to link arms, connect + participate in her free challenges.
A mama of heart warrior and mama of twins, Samantha and her husband, Rob, live in the Berkshires with their four girls. To learn more about her offerings, go over to www.samanthalivingstone.com