top dog: competition + gender

One of the great things about alumni groups are the events offered all over the country for former students. Georgetown University has one of these amazing programs – GEMA: The Georgetown Entertainment & Media Alliance. This group organizes events and facilitates lectures open to all Georgetown graduates in major cities like New York and DC. Last Wednesday, February 20 I had the pleasure of attending a book signing and discussion of the book Top Dog, co-written by a Georgetown alum, Ashley Merryman.

Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing

This discussion was absolutely fascinating and I found myself translating everything to apply to a coach’s perspective. The book involves sections explaining the competitive nature of humans and the difference in the way boys and girls deal with this force. This element of the discussion on competition was eye-opening and basically suggests that coaching should take on different styles depending on the gender of the players. In a nutshell here is a general snapshot of how boys and girls approach competition:

BOYS
  • Work better in groups
  • Generally overconfident in own abilities and skills
  • Join competition despite low probability of positive outcome
  • Excel more at finite games – sports

GIRLS

  • Work better in pairs
  • Competition becomes personal, based on comparison
  • Generally underconfident in own abilities and skills
  • Assess risks involved in competing and choose to enter competition accordingly
  • Excel more at infinite games – education, careers

So in other words, while boys may seem more competitive, their attitude isn’t driven necessarily by the desire to win but merely by the desire to participate in an attempt to prove their strengths. In the meantime, girls carefully choose competitions that suit their style and may not enter into a testing situation if they don’t see a chance of success. This behavior unfortunately becomes stereotyped and generalized and brands girls as less ambitious and less capable of competing. But that simply isn’t the case. Boys and girls just exhibit different priorities when approaching competitive environments

maré em foco videos

After 2 months teaching the youth media course, we ended up with some amazing documentary videos! In late July, we held a film screening for the community where we screened 7 short films documenting the lives of each student with an emphasis on an aspect of play in their life. Each kid filmed most of their material and directed the structure of the film, while the teachers came in at the end to do the editing.

The idea of play takes on many meanings – from its literal definition in boxing and judo, extending to theater, video gaming, religion, and more. In these videos, it becomes very clear how sports can change a person’s life and how it provides strength and hope in times of difficulty and stress.

Check out our students’ documentaries and the work we did with them this past summer on the Maré em Foco Blog page. Most of the videos are still in Portuguese but will be subtitled in the very near future so stay tuned!

 

JOGAR = to play

This summer, I’m working with other students in the International Field Program from The New School in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. One of our projects is conducting a youth media class in the favelas, to teach media/filming skills to the kids of these communities. My group is working in the community Nova Holanda, in the Complexo da Maré. It is about an hour van ride from Copacabana, and is a fascinating favela, still un-pacified.

We are working with youth (13-17 years old) who are part of the organization Luta Pela Paz. We have met with our students about three times now, and there is a lot of potential there! Our objective in this program is to teach them the basics of shooting and editing  documentary films. Throughout the course, they will watch clips from documentaries, learn how to use the equipment, and have a chance to make their own mini documentary.

In this final video, we want them to work off of the theme “JOGAR” which means “to play”. In the first lesson, we workshopped this word, to explain that it can have many interpretations. It is our hope that these students take this idea and explore what it means in their lives in a way that is transformative and thought-provoking. Already we have started to see how different forms of play have affected their lives – judo, boxing, theater, etc.

youth documenting / documenting youth

An important part of a youth media program is media literacy – the goal isn’t simply to have kids make movies and documentary films, but to have them consciously choose a technical style and to form a plan of how to transmit their message. Likewise when adults make films about youth, the style chosen becomes the means of representation. In Introduction to Documentary, Bill Nichols lays out various documentary modes that can guide a documentary film.

An overarching theme in the work with youth is participatory media – in that the kids are doing the filming, as a form of citizen journalism. This type of media is extremely eye-opening because it is made by the people as an alternative to the dominant mainstream media. This is how someone can take control of their story and tell it exactly how they want, rather than having a film crew decide what to film and how. Youth media programs like the ones at Reel Lives aim at equipping students with the technical skills and vocabulary for them to then navigate the world of media.

A few traditional documentary styles are observational, expository, reflexive, and performative. Any subject can be filmed in any of these styles and more, but there are definite benefits to some over others. As I work on a mini-documentary about a youth sports program, I’m taking a mixed expository/reflexive approach. This means my film will have a narrative voiceover commenting on the action and arguing in favor of sports as a positive force for youth development. Meanwhile, since expository styles are more manipulative, I want to balance it out with a reflexive component in which I recognize the filmmaking process as a barrier between myself and the action. From the start of the planning process I knew I wants to have my “voice” come through in the film, literally and figuratively. When working with youth, I think media needs to go beyond the observational format and be more engaged with the subjects.

With sports, however, a documentary film could also be more performative in nature, especially if the focus is on the physical action and the game preparation. My focus is more on the transformations that comes about by being involved in youth sports programs, so a commentary is very useful in analyzing the images. The Media That Matters film festival is a great place to see some youth media and the work of young filmmakers who experiment with various documentary styles.

empowerment through participation

This week we read Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks and connected her objectives with those of Paulo Freire’s from a couple weeks back. They both emphasize the need for participatory education. There needs to be a moment where students can be vulnerable and honest when sharing their personal experiences to connect with the larger pedagogical model. hooks and Freire mention the need for desocialization, the breaking down of dependencies on traditional authority and power figures. By giving a voice to each and every kid, and valuing what they contribute, we as educators teach them that they control their education. Participation is key.

Meanwhile, youth educators hold an extremely important position in that they can ignite the curiosity in these kids. The joy of learning follows the joy of teaching so the students look to their teachers as role models. We need to love what we’re doing and to have a passion for it. In sports, it goes beyond the intellect, we are responsible for teaching the student as a whole – mind, body & soul. Education is about being, physically in the world, not just thinking about it. As Freire agrees, theory is useless unless accompanied by action. Education is about liberation, about having the access to materials and skills to achieve this change and social transformation. If the youth of today aren’t impassioned to pursue anything or to change their situation, then progress isn’t possible. Coaches, teachers, mentors – any role model – they all need to care for the child and genuinely want to see them succeed.

 

This attitude is clearly reflected in the Girls Rock Camp in Portland, OR. The women use music to connect girls and to reach them. They use the power of being in a band, of working together writing a song, and of performing as a method of empowering young girls to develop into confident women. This rock camp is a safe environment for girls to be expressive, to be themselves, and to not apologize for anything. This program, like many others focuses on an all-female group to bring forth this notion of a “safe space” to encourage uninhibited participation. In the same way, PowerPlay NYC empowers young girls through sports and works to make each girl feel competent, confident and connected. These educational, active environments take  an affirmative approach to youth education, starting with a positive element – “the right to rock”, “the right to play” – and through these activities, they bring up larger issues at play.

heroes to fight violence

Violence is a very serious and prominent issue plaguing the youth of today. It is a national crisis. In Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun Geoffrey Canada talks about his childhood growing up in the Bronx in New York and the constant presence of violent confrontations. Canada states that violence is a learned behavior but it serves as a coping mechanism. From a very young age, kids in dangerous neighborhoods all over America learn to depend on fights and guns to gain status and respect and ultimately to survive in a harsh, violent world.

To get a sense of the dire situation, one need just look at the violence surrounding the  New York public school system – where security has increased drastically since 1991 transforming the school space into a prison-like area. This security culture has since brought upon several consequences such as issues of representation, liability, and changes in behavior by the teachers and the students. What has happened is a sort of school lockdown where the freedom of movement and ability to be social has been stripped away from every student. During this time, the teachers changed. They were no longer interested in teaching the whole student, but became solely focused on the mind – the cognitive faculties. In order to not get involved in fights, teachers started depending on security guards and police to deal with the physical, aggressive side of things. This disconcern for the body and for the physical development created a big void in youth education.

Transformative projects are attempts at bringing back the magic into these kids’ lives, to fill the vacuum left by the inadequacy of the educational system.  Since nothing is actually happening in the schools, kids need other spaces for learning – which can be found in youth media projects, arts, sports, music, most anything really. Education needs to become holistic once again and treat the child as a whole being – body, mind and spirit.

Geoffrey Canada realized that one need not completely dismiss the aggressive, physical reactions that surface in fighting but rather to use those instincts in a more productive way. He began to teach martial arts to kids as a way of defense and discipline. His goal was to steer these youth away from the danger of weapons and guns and to instil in them a sense of confidence and pride. Martial arts has been used all over the world to promote social change – like this collaboration between the UK and Brazil in their initiative Fight for Peace / Luta pela Paz. It has been argued that one of the reasons why violence has grown exponentially is due to the loss of neighborhood mentors, of positive role models on the streets. Which is why coaches and mentors can become influential individuals in the lives of young boys and girls. Canada ends his book by saying that “If we are to save our children then we must become people they will look up to. Children need heroes now more than ever because the poor children of this nation live with monsters every day” (178).

Anyone can be a hero in a child’s eyes – athletes, coaches or teachers – they just have to be there and show they care.

transformative media

We often underestimate youth. We underestimate the power of self-mobilization and self-education that they possess. Kids are very much aware of what is going on and many times they can understand and articulate these experiences better than adults. For this reason, youth media projects can be liberating and empowering because they instill some trust in this power, in this ability. When watching a media project directed by youth, we can begin to realize just how much these kids are engaged in society.

Reel Lives is a non-profit organization based in New York City that aims to educate marginalized youth through filmmaking. This youth-based production center focuses on teaching foundational technical skills to these students who then create documentaries from start to finish. These films are their stories, many times starting as personal narratives and expanding out into larger world issues. Many of these stories revolve around topics of immigration, self-identity, and interpersonal relationships. Karim’s story involves his passion for soccer and how that has shaped his integration into American society.

The concept of giving youth a voice through a lens is a powerful medium for youth development. Film has tremendous transformative power and can help children express themselves in creative, alternative ways. Give a camera to a child, give a little guidance, and see what happens…