Never allow the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.— Babe Ruth
This is an exciting time. First, many of us are glued to our televisions laptops, and smartphones to watch our favorite baseball team play with such skill and passion. And second, high school seniors are in the thick of preparing college applications. It’s not much of a stretch to see the shared elements of these two situations. For both baseball players and HS seniors alike, what’s involved right now is pulling together many prior experiences that have led up to this special moment, and then capitalizing on them through careful planning, practice, and execution. I can’t help but wonder what lessons can be gleaned from the field to help students get through this point in their educational lives with more confidence and self-management know-how that can be called upon in the future.
In my practice, when I discuss with students their developing and submitting applications, managing ongoing academic and extracurricular demands, and juggling their social lives and trying to be supportive friends (while often competing with those same friends for spots at the same universities), it’s clear that I am just scratching the surface of an enormous load. Parents also report that their regular routine of professional and personal obligations are upended by last-minute visits to schools, acting as sounding boards for their children, and trying to let their children take the lead while also being ready to be called into action at any moment.
With the admissions season in full swing, Ivy Prep has already lived through many Common App essay drafts and application checklists. But when it all started months ago, we front-loaded our stressed-out students with talks about how cross-training for writing applications, managing stress, and executive function strategies will yield a better outcome, and we assisted them in strengthening techniques for high school that they can later take to college. In my 30 years of coaching students and their families in developing writing and executive function techniques, I have found to be true what the popular press now reports with increasing frequency: high school is the best time to develop techniques for managing the stress of multitasking, fine-tuning executive function, and honing writing skills. It is the best time and way to anticipate the greater expectations of college.
Psychologists and counselors offer myriad cognitive-behavioral techniques for students and their parents, and research now shows that the more these techniques are broken down into manageable units and practiced, the better a student fares on campus. Some of the strongest findings in this regard come from the world of sports and performance. I knew I was onto something, watching these playoff games and thinking about my students at the same time!
For this reason, Ivy Prep partners with sports and performance experts to bridge our techniques with strategies for stress management and goal-setting. Dr. Jonathan Fader, clinical psychologist and team psychologist for the New York Mets, shared some of his techniques at a 2015 Abraham Joshua Heschel High School Sabermetrics Club Night and in response to a New York Times article last spring about how we can help students prepare for anxiety they may feel at college:
“What teenagers can do to improve their performance is to realize that they can get better at managing their anxiety through practice. Using the same performance psychology skills that elite athletes, performing artists and even soldiers employ—such as arousal control, imagery and other forms of relaxation—teens can better prepare and inoculate themselves against the stress that comes with testing, interviewing, and applying to top schools.”
Teaming Up: Sports Psych & Ivy Prep Executive Function Training:
[I]t takes a ton of concentration, and self-belief, to stay in the moment in this way and not let the highs and lows mess with your psyche.―Mariano Rivera, The Closer: My Story
In partnering with sports experts and cognitive-behavior specialists Ivy Prep helps students and parents maximize the learning strategies being developed as part of the application process and the stress management techniques that sports psychologists use. For example, a student may procrastinate around rewriting multiple drafts for an essay prompt because organizing the content, managing the steps, and refining specific language is anxiety provoking. Applying Dr. Fader’s CBT lingo, this “exposure” to the stress of working with uncertainty for an extended period of time can result in a degree of innoculation to the anxiety that adds to the student’s burdens.
In this situation, Dr. Fader (or another expert) and I might consult about specific strategies I have designed for the student based on his learning style–e.g., dictating ideas into a text to speech app, or using a graphic organizer to see his ideas and color code them before putting them in sequence. Dr. Fader may then develop voice recordings that remind the student of these strategies (and why they work) and specific visualization or relaxation strategies he can employ when working in the Ivy Prep study space in advance of a writing session with me. This team approach gives the student a fully reinforcing experience, where the instruction for executive function work and stress management enhance one another, create an envelope to contain the range of tools he has, and provide an overall experience that is attuned to our understanding of the adolescent brain and to the particular goals of the student. In sessions with Dr. Fader and me, this student and we can then step back to assess the benefits and drawbacks of whatever strategies he is using, which in turn enables us to fine-tune our coaching and provide further supportive opportunities for increased self-reflection.
Project Management: Executive Functions and Self-Awareness
It gets late early out there.—Yogi Berra
Self-awareness (also referred to as metacognitive awareness) is a key area of growth for adolescents and young adults. The region of the brain that mediates the skills underlying self-awareness—the frontal lobe—is the one that develops last, from the teen years through the mid-twenties. A recent study involving close to 2,000 European college students found a strong correlation between the students’ awareness of their attention, planning, controlling their actions, and self-monitoring, and the number of credits they successfully completed by the end of their freshman year. These are the components of executive functions, and they can be directly taught and practiced so that students can then transfer them to new learning experiences (just as Fader’s stress management techniques can be practiced and transferred to new situations). Honing stress-management tools in tandem with learning techniques for handling actual coursework sets up students to be more self-aware of their thought processes during learning and to regulate their feelings in real and successful ways.
We owe it to our kids to make them aware of these tools and strategies. College can, and should be, a time for personal enjoyment and growth. For parents, it should be a time to watch their children successfully experience this new milestone. While there are bound to be moments of transitional stress as children adapt to campus life and the different patterns of studying that college demands, they can weather those blips with the stress management and executive function techniques they used while in high school. As graduation time becomes sharper in its focus, and we can soon begin to see the light at the end of the Common App tunnel, have your child take some time to practice these techniques. Entering this new life stage with confidence and awareness will help ease many of the anticipated (as well as unanticipated) bumps in the road.
Rebecca Mannis, Ph.D.
To learn more about Dr. Rebecca Mannis & the Ivy Prep Approach to school admissions and executive functions strategies, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ivy Prep has proudly entered its 31st year providing customized educational remediation and instruction to students– in New York and across the globe.
Images: Wikimedia Commons and Rebecca Mannis, PhD