Last year I was sitting with a group of 20 pre-teen girls near the end of our season. I asked them to share the one personal accomplishment that made them feel the proudest.
The first athlete shared that she was so proud that she had become so much faster. The second athlete shared that she was so proud that the team had worked so well together that season. The remaining 18 athletes also shared lovely things about the team, great improvements they had made as a group.
Hmm, I thought, I must not have been very clear with my directions. I really wanted to hear about the personal improvements they had made over the past year.
The things they shared were heart-felt and meaningful, so I did not dwell on it. I asked them to write down suggestions for the next season and hand in their papers.
I always love seeing what creative suggestions they will make, but that was not the amazing part of reading their papers.
I saw that EVERY SINGLE GIRL had written an amazing personal accomplishment she had made that year.
“I have become so much more confident in groups of people I do not know.”
“I have learned how to take responsibility instead of blaming others when things don’t go well.”
“I am a great performer.”
“I am a good listener.”
I was blown away by how well these young women were getting to know themselves and also surprised that it only took one athlete complimenting the team for none of them to feel comfortable giving themselves personal credit for their accomplishment.
When I saw them the next week I told them how much I loved reading their notes. I told them I noticed something funny about what was written and what they had shared in the group. They laughed a little and many of them nodded.
“Why would that be?“ I asked.
They shared how they didn’t want to be seen as bragging and they worried that someone may not agree that they had improved.
So much of the great work we do in this world is done when no one is watching. I want these young women to know that it is okay to tell themselves or the people close to them when they really do something fantastic.
I made a new team rule that day. Each of us is now mandated to share our strengths and accomplishments without adding a qualifier, deflecting, or diminishing.
We practice like this.
“I feel so proud that I improved my strength this season.”
If they feel uncomfortable, like they need to add a disclaimer like, “oh, but I still know I have so far to go. I am not the strongest on the team,” they are encouraged to add just one word. “Period.”
“I feel so proud that I improved my strength this season. Period.”
This always gets everyone giggling, but IT FEELS SO GOOD for all of us. It feels so good to be the person sharing and actually speaking truthfully about your strengths and improvements. It feels so good to witness a young woman learning to own her awesomeness.
Through this exercise the athletes have gotten much more comfortable giving themselves credit for good work and much better at recognizing the strengths in others. They are in the habit of giving their teammates credit for improvements. When they hear a teammate diminishing their accomplishments, they speak up, they encourage, and they empower each other.
Through this, I have found one the most important gifts you can give a young woman is this:
Give her permission to identify her strengths and encourage her to verbalize them without apology.
And she will get better and better at it. Period.