Don’t Overreact but Don’t Underreact

We never know where the ripples in the pool are going to go after we toss the rock.

Photo by Shaojie on Unsplash

I just finished reading an article in The Atlantic by Derek Thompson titled “Why Simple Is Smart.”

In this article — which is a pretty good look at writing and I agree with most of his thoughts — is a piece of advice about growing one’s “ego epidermis.” Thompson states, “writers of all ages should stay away from the extremes of hypersensitivity-to-feedback and obliviousness-to-feedback.” His point is that he has been both too reactive and has seen others not be reactive enough to criticism in writing.

I wanted to read this article looking for insight into my writing. I ended up in a coaching-and-parenting-existential crisis. I have spent most of my teaching, coaching, and parenting career striving to not overreact but making sure not to underreact, and Derek Thompson had just perfectly summarized the dilemma.

Don’t Overreact

Working with teenagers my whole life, and being a pretty emotional guy myself (especially in my 20s and 30s), I had to learn how to be more even keel. I had to learn how to stop reacting to everything that was happening. I couldn’t blow a gasket on every mistake and every problem in the classroom or on the field.

Many times, what teenagers need is calmness. It’s hard on 4th and 1 at the goal line, when everyone around you is losing their mind in the stands and on the sidelines, to slow down and be calm. One of my favorite coaching points in this situation is to have all the players look at me and take a deep breath.

Once we breathe, I can then tell them we are lining up in this front, playing this coverage, and here we go. They don’t need to hear me yelling and spitting at them in this exact situation. They already feel the electricity of the moment. What they need are clarity and calmness.

In fact, before most games, I would look in the mirror and say to myself “Clarity and Calmness.” Because I can be too emotional, I tried to make myself calmer and clearer. I wanted to make smart, rational decisions, not let my emotions get the best of me.

Not overreacting is a big deal.

Don’t Underreact

The opposite of this lesson is true, also.

A lot of times in the classroom and on the field, we are either coaching it or letting it happen. If we let it happen, that means we are okay with it and we can’t be mad if that behavior shows up later.

As educators, we can’t die on every hill. But some hills are worth getting bloody for.

In my English classes, every student writes for 10 minutes when they come to class every day. This is my most sacred period. I believe in the practice and in the skills they use for this journal-type writing. Early in the year, I have to coach this hard. I have to react to students who aren’t using this period correctly.

If you won’t write during this period, I am going to use different levels of persuasion to make it happen. I am going to convince you of the need for this. I am going to show you the research that shows this to be beneficial. I am going to win because I am not going to underreact to this behavior during our practice writing time.

There are other issues during other parts of the class that I don’t overreact to. It’s hard for a 16-year-old to be dialed in for 90 minutes of class every day. I get that. So there are some behaviors that I allow at different times than during that first 10 minutes of class. I teach this by not underreacting to students who don’t use their time wisely.

The same is true for football. There are certain techniques, or certain innate beliefs of our defense — like running to the ball with reckless abandon — that simply must happen. And if they don’t, I can’t underreact.

I’m either coaching it or letting it happen.

Don’t Underreact But Don’t Overreact

The trick is knowing where this line is in everything. How about the kids who are smoking dope? How about the kid who falls asleep during the lesson? How about the player who is constantly late for practice but you don’t know the reason why?

And then this gets into parenting. When these issues involve our own high school children, how do we find the line of over- and underreacting?

I always refer back to “we are coaching it or letting it happen.”

I guess this is one of the reasons I like writing and why that first 10 minutes of class is so important. I thought I was reading an article about writing and I ended up writing an article about something totally different but still related in my brain.

We never know where the ripples in the pool are going to go after we toss the rock.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to visit my website.

Written by: NathanWhite