The Power of Ownership


I love this video. It’s about a group of Thai kids who wanted to play soccer, but who didn’t have space in their coastal village — so they built a small, floating soccer field.

It’s a parable about an increasingly rare quality in our world: ownership. These kids succeeded not because they were provided with facilities, but because they seized the opportunity to build one. In doing so, they created their own micro-culture, their own rules, their own space.

It’s a recurring pattern. This summer, a Little League baseball team in San Clemente, CA had a problem when no adults volunteered to coach. So they found two kids (14 and 15 years old) to coach them —  and won the league championship.

Or there’s Vermont’s Burke Mountain Academy, which started in 1970 when a teenage skier named Martha Coughlin wanted to train and study on the slopes. She found other kids who were interested, and, with guidance from a far-seeing educator named Warren Witherell, turned a farmhouse into a small school. When they needed a dormitory a few years later, students pounded the nails and put up the walls. Burke has gone on to produce more than 50 Olympians.

As coaches and parents, we instinctively think we need to provide great facilities, and to direct the action like an orchestra conductor. But often it’s exactly the opposite: the smartest thing we can do is to step back, in order to allow the learners the freedom and pleasure of solving problems and building something they truly own.

(Big thanks to Casey Wheel for sending this video.)

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4 Responses to “The Power of Ownership”

  1. Coach Mark says:

    This is great Dan! The head coach of our USA Swimming club and I were just having one of those archetypal “motivational” meetings with our elite teen-age swimmers (that you would likely advise against), to explain this very thing. We like to put it like this: at younger ages you typically swim for Mom and Dad, and as you mature you become accountable to your Coach; however, after a lot of stress, strain, difficulty, “reaching,” and learning to frame success and achievement, you learn to be accountable to yourself and to use your coach as a facilitator and a resource to help you get what you really want. You also learn to use your teammates in a symbiotic manner the same way, mostly on an emotional level.
    It really comes down to the concept of a “big enough WHY?” Why are we doing what we are doing? What “need” does this fulfill (to use a Duhigg idea). It’s amazing what happens when that concept becomes contagious within a group of people with a common goal.
    Thanks for the post. I’ll be sharing this with that same group, this afternoon. It’s perfect!

  2. djcoyle says:

    Hey Coach Mark. That’s tremendous; thanks for sharing it. Have you checked out the new book, “How Children Succeed”? There’s a great section all about navigating that moment when kids step up and get serious. The example the author uses is a chess team, but it might connect with some of the questions you’re facing. Take care, Dan

  3. Doc says:

    WOW!!!!!Should be viewed by all coaches, parents and players.

  4. caroline says:

    great a table tennis player and coach i was touched by your story.just goes to show if you want something so much its amazing what can be achieved,especially by young determined children 🙂

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