Jason “JJ” Vold

As a lifelong learner and school leader, I am always trying to absorb information and experiences that can in some way improve any learning environment. Given all the dynamics of education, I believe that the most important aspect of a young person’s learning experience is the relationship-building that occurs between the young people and their teachers, coaches and advisors.

As the parent of a six- and eight-year-old, I have been observing the interaction that occurs at the activities in which they are currently participating from the perspective of a parent. We do all we can to give our children and students as many opportunities as possible, but my observations through the lens of a parent this summer have really convinced me that the most important factor to the young person’s success is the program leader’s effort to make a personal connection with the youth.

It was my six-year-old’s tennis lesson recently that inspired me to write this article. We were running a little late for his first tennis practice of the season, and he did not know any of the other kids in this particular tennis program. My six-year-old is generally confident, but upon our arrival at the tennis courts, I saw his bottom lip quivering, so I knew he was a bit intimidated to run out and join the others on the court. I assured him he would do great and that he was there to have fun learning tennis, but as he headed toward the court, it was obvious that he was hesitant to engage in the practice.

As he slowly and reluctantly headed toward the court, the head coach immediately met him, looked at her chart of names, and greeted him by name. She welcomed him personally, told him he’d do great, and encouraged him to run out to the tennis court and join the others. He looked up, smiled, sprinted to his assigned court, and started to mingle.

This personal greeting by the coach was indeed the key factor to the success my son experienced that first tennis lesson. It set a positive stage for future practices and inspired him to do his best. The extra time and effort, albeit brief, taken by the coach to personally greet and encourage my son by name meant so much–not only to him, but to my wife and me as well.

That couple minutes lessened his anxiety and brightened his outlook on this new endeavor.

This experience reminded me of how important it is to take the time and effort to reach out to others; even the smallest gesture of welcoming someone can mean so much. It is this relationship-building that is key to success in all aspects of our lives – from the home-setting to the school-setting and the community-setting. This observation served as a simple reminder that a positive uplifting greeting by name can have a game-changing impact for our young people and the success they experience in school and activities.

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