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Nana korobi, ya oki. (Fall down seven times stand up eight)

Do your words, prime young people, for success?

The pen, they say is mightier than the sword, I would argue that the tongue is more potent.

The words we say may only waver through the air for a second, but the impact of that thought floating audibly to the ear of another can last a lifetime. Think of a phrase that you find hard to shake, find hard to erase from being deeply connected to your identity. Did that phrase come from someone you respected? Was it negative or positive? Has it been replayed in your mind when things got tough? Do you reflect on the words you use when talking to students?

Teachers, coaches, parents, and trusted adults often forget the impact they have upon a young person.  They may never realise what they said to a student can linger for decades to come. This reigns true for negative and positive words and phrases, throwaway comments, and misplaced humour.

My personal experience of one interaction with a coach is still crystal clear in my mind. It was when I was warming up for a state gymnastics competition. I was on beam and my routine had a double cartwheel in the mix. You may or may not know but you lose points if you fall off the beam, falling off twice for each cartwheel was 1 whole point out of 10, a big deduction and a big deal.  I would mount the beam, set myself up, and I would fall, I’d get up again and … fall again. Each time my hope and confidence whittled away, and I felt defeated. The worst part was, despite my own failure, my loss of points in the real competition would have a negative effect on my team’s score. We were a strong team and team medal hope.

My coach quietly came over and said to me, “How many times have you fallen?” Me “I’ve lost count.” Coach “What do you say to yourself before you approach the cartwheel?” Me “don’t fall off.” Coach “try, I have done this a hundred times in training I’m going to stick it.” With no fabrication, I got up and stuck both cartwheels, in the warmup and then again in the competition. We came third overall as a team, which would not have been realised if I kept falling off!

From that time on I looked at my coach as some sort of guru.

Now I know she primed me to succeed, not to fail.

Language is powerful and those words have remained a part of who I am for decades, not that I’m cartwheeling on a beam nowadays, but when I fail, I rephrase my thinking. When we talk to students, our lesson in reframing can be a gift they can carry throughout their lives, and they will never forget who said it to them.

The old Japanese saying “Nana korobu, ya oki” translation… Fall down seven times and stand up eight is a beautiful message. However, it can be more positively primed when coupled with the phrase, “tell yourself to stick it and don’t fall in the first place!”

Thank you, Mrs Dykes. (Gym coach and priming guru)

Check out other articles Sheila has written here.