by Dr. John J. Franey, CEO/Founder of Developing Difference Makers
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As a collegiate baseball player at Harvard University, I relished the opportunity to play games at our home field, O’Donnell Field. This was a comfortable environment for our team to play in, a place where our team was familiar with our surroundings and were fully supported by our fans. Our fans, coaches, and teammates provided constant support by cheering for us in our greatest moments and supporting us in our toughest days. I can still clearly remember a game where I had given up a home run and cost us the game. I was dejected, crushed, and embarrassed. When I returned to my dorm room that afternoon, I found a note under my door that read, “Keep your head up, everybody fails at some point, but it is what you do the next time that tells who you really are. No matter what, we will all support you.” There was no signature, no affirmation of who had given me this, but instantly it consoled my deepest fear of failure.
We all fear failure, but a home-field advantage can minimize these fears. Home field advantage is not a myth, but rather a storied aspect of sports at all levels. The research of Steven Dubner at nfl.com shows that home teams have a higher all-time winning percentage than visiting teams in all five major professional sports: MLS = 69%; NBA = 61%; NFL = 57%; NHL = 56%; MLB = 54%.
As a teacher and coach, I wanted to bring that same home field advantage to my students and athletes as they pushed themselves to excel without the fear of humiliation and failure. To do this, the environment centered on the concept of respect and I expected my kids to respect each other. It was also about cheering each other on towards accomplishments and supporting each other in our times of sorrow, fear, and struggles. This meant the environment was a ‘boo-free’ zone where only positives were allowed, and negativity was left at the door. It meant taking the time out of our busy schedules to sit and talk out our issues and console our teammates who were struggling. As a teacher and coach, it often meant providing to students a safe haven from the issues they faced at home and in their personal lives. Home field advantage meant that no matter who we are, where we come from, or what our home life is like, we are all on the same team, working towards the same goal – an inclusive, positive learning environment where we all can succeed.
The key to creating a home field advantage in classrooms or on teams is in the precedent that we set from the very beginning that bullying, name-calling, and rooting for someone to fail are not welcome. As leaders, we must strive to provide opportunities to build up rather than tear down our teammates. This begins with respect for each other, for our shared vision, and for our path to get to that vision. As teachers and coaches, we must focus our efforts on not allowing negativity to creep into the classroom, but rather implement positivity in a manner that continues to support growth and learning. The goal should be to constantly inspire, motivate, and cheer on our teammates in the home field. This home field advantage will make a difference in the lives of our kids, and as they grow more comfortable in their home-field, they will extend this home field advantage into their other endeavors.
So the question remains for each of us, what steps are we taking to create a home field advantage in our classrooms and on our teams?