Exploring Optimum Learning Relationships
A virtual class based on
Magical Parent - Magical Child
by Michael Mendizza and Joseph Chilton Pearce
Lesson 8 - Focusing on the Score


Somewhere after World War II, society suddenly had no room for children, our quiet childhood streets, filled with speeding autos, many new communities had no sidewalks; yards were status symbols, and children's play was relegated to playgrounds with professional playground supervisors. Child safety became a paramount concern. Supervised play replaced child play. Adult rules, regulations, and decisions began to replace our passionately defended personal criteria and judgments. The high point of this adult intrusion on childhood centered in Little League. Gone were the choosing up of sides, the striving for fairness, arguing the rules and infringements, the heated hammering out of decisions. Everything was managed by adults; They created the teams and provided the uniforms, which of course soon carried advertisements of “sponsors”; adults made the rules and relegations and enforced them; adults call the shots, children stood, grim-faced and serious while parents on the sidelines shouted invectives for victory at all costs. This new child carried the team, sponsor, parents, and social image on his or shoulders into every victory or defeat.

Evolution’s End


Lesson 7 was All About Control, Our Contest Culture, Approval of Others, What Will They Think of Me?, Play Deprivation & Violence. The basic idea is that culture, including parents, coaches and educators use contests and comparison, rewards, punishments and praise and shame as tools to insure complaisance and conformity to a rather limited set of beliefs and behaviors, limited, that is, compared to our unlimited capacity to learn. As children grow older the grade, trophy and score become the goal, displacing the inherent joy or love of the experience. In lesson 8 we will explore how contests turn love of the experience into competition. Authentic play becomes a battleground with approval of others and self placed on public display at every swing of the bat. Welcome to the world of soccer moms, Little League, and the near death of Optimum Learning Relationships.


Focusing on the Score
Something deeper and more fundamental is at stake than gold stars, M&Ms, blue ribbons, and report cards. We learn very early to identify ourselves with our performance, with the score. We’ve been praised and shamed into believing that great performances equal a great person. We feel good about ourselves when we hit a home run and lousy when we strike out. Relationships are mirrors. As we interact with the world we catch glimpses of ourselves reflected in the eyes of the people we love. Spilling our milk or wetting our pants gets a stern look, a “No! Bad boy or girl,” perhaps even a yank on the arm or a swat across the britches. World-class golfer Peter Jacobsen, discovered the meaning of “the score” from a child while coaching a junior basketball game.

I was keeping score and my son’s team scored fifteen baskets the first half and the other team scored two baskets. It was a whitewash. Our team was throwing the ball in, lay-ups, back and forth. The other team rarely had the ball and rarely scored. The buzzer went off for the first half. Kids come charging over to me and the coach is giving them high five, “Way to go, way to go,” and the kids come up to me and they say, “Mr. Jacobson, what’s the score?” And I say, “Well, it’s thirty to four,” and they said, “Who’s winning?” Now if you think about that, it was obvious to everybody who was winning, the coaches, the parents, because they were scoring so many baskets here and none there. But if you stop and think about the children, score had meant nothing to them. They were playing the game. The only reason these kids keep score in these games is for the parent’s and coach’s satisfaction. Who cares? They’re ten years old.

Personal Interview
Peter Jacobsen
PGA Tour Champion


Journal 8.1
What do you think was going on in the mind of that ten-year old boy who asked Peter, "Who is winning?" How much attention do you give to “the score“ when you are “playing” tennis or golf? Does any of that attention help improve your performance?


Whacking, Spanking & Corporal Punishment
Rewards and punishments, keeping score, tests and grades are all forms of behavior modification, social conditioning, and control. They have no place in optimum states of peak performance, learning, or wellness. The research behind this statement is persuasive. Yet old habits, especially those justified and defended by strong cultural or religious traditions, persist: “Spare the rod and spoil the child.”

In the United States almost 400,000 children are subjected to corporal punishment in schools each year in the 23 states that allow it: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and, Wyoming.

The federal government prohibits physical punishment to train animals under the Animal Welfare Act, the Horse Protection Act and other laws. The Attorney General, in releasing the latest statistics on violence in schools, said “all children should be able to go to school safe from violence.” Hitting children IS violence. Are school children any less deserving of protection than animals?

Not one country in Europe permits teachers to batter pupils. In recent months many places in the developing world have followed Europe’s good example. School corporal punishment is now illegal in Kenya, Punjab (Pakistan), Delhi (India), Trinidad, Tobago, and Thailand, to name a few.

The trend against spanking is extending even beyond the classroom. In 1978, Sweden became the first nation to give children the same protection against assault and battery that is enjoyed by every other class of citizen. Austria, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Germany, and Norway banned parental spanking. Movements in England, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand to prohibit parental spanking are gaining strength, and inevitably these four will join the others.

A growing number of experts believe that children, in general, and girls, in particular, should not be spanked at home or subjected to corporal punishment at school. Experts say such spankings can precondition girls to accept violence and boys to rely on it. All studies show that boys are spanked significantly more than girls, but there are special concerns with girls who are spanked. Of particular concern is the sexual aspect of spanking..

It’s important to acknowledge, say the experts, hat hitting a child doesn’t work any better than alternative methods. Corporal punishment has harmful side effects that can include juvenile delinquency, domestic abuse, and depression. “When you put those things together, you can see that corporal punishment should be avoided,” says Murray A. Straus, professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire and codirector of that school’s Family Research Laboratory. “It’s all part of a cycle of violence—loss of self esteem, accepting violent behavior,” she says. “The more children are spanked, the more likely they are to engage in digressive behaviors.”

Jordan Riak, Executive Director, Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education “Project NoSpank” (www.nospank.org) makes an analogy between domestic violence and spanking and urges the nation’s women’s rights organizations to take up the issue. “Just as we as a society no longer condone a man striking his wife,” he says, “we as a society should no longer condone the striking of our children, especially our daughters.”

Should corporal punishment should be allowed or banished (at home and) in schools? Ralph S. Welsh, Ph.D., and member, Advisory Board of The Center for the Study of Corporal Punishment and Issues in the Schools at Temple University, argues: “After 25 years of research into the relationship between corporal punishment and delinquency, the answer is a no-brainer.” Welsh found the following:

After evaluating thousands of delinquent boys and girls, and exhaustively Personal Interviewing their parents, I am totally convinced that no one can have a violent child without beating him/her.

· The degree of violence seen in delinquents is highly correlated with the amount and severity of physical parental punishment they received growing up. The recidivist male delinquent who has never been hit with a belt, board, cord or fist, is nearly nonexistent. All of the major assassins of the world were victims of the belt—Joseph Stalin, Adolph Hitler, Sirhan Sirhan, James Earl Ray, and Arthur Bremmer, just to name a few; Joseph Stalin, perhaps the worst butcher of our time, was a known battered child.

· Corporal punishment can only work through the inculcation of fear. When the fear wears off, anger is left in its place. Nearly every parent who hits was hit as a child themselves, and insists that a good old-fashioned whack on the rear doesn’t do anyone any harm; not true.

· Every whack results in sensory desensitization (partly through the beta endorphin system, and partly through adaptation to pain) and adds a little anger to the system; when the child becomes insensitive to the beatings (nearly all of my delinquent kids would rather be beaten than grounded), he/she becomes blunted to the hurt of others (including the parents) and needs additional stimulus input through the use of drugs or reckless thrill-seeking behavior.

· Hitting children in the school, to insure good discipline is not only idiotic, it is a dangerous example to others. It is no surprise that the states that held on to corporal punishment in the schoolroom the longest were those states with the highest rates of violence.

· The aggressive Type A (cardiac prone) individual is more commonly a childhood victim of the belt; high blood pressure is more common in those who cannot effectively control their anger, and we find they, too, are more often former children of the belt.

· Teens who threaten suicide are often physically mistreated kids who are unable to turn their anger outward, so they turn it inward on themselves; kids who are beaten, especially girls, are at high risk for making suicidal gestures.


Journal 8.2
How many times have you “lowered the boom,” as my father used to say, and used excessive force, the technical definition for violence, to get your way with a child? If state is primary, what was the real lesson the child learned through these encounters?


It is very difficult to see the connection between spanking a child and rewarding them with Gummi Bears, gold stars, trophies and graduate degrees, but the link is there. As we reach out and touch the world it slowly begins to tell us who we are and whether or not it approves of us by these measures. Day by day we accept the image we see reflected in the mirror of our relationships. People may talk about unconditional love and acceptance, but that’s not what children see. Children see our punishments and rewards, our comparisons, judgments, and contests. Rewards imply comparison and comparisons lead ever-so-easily to contests. Contests, like rewards, are a tender trap: they seduce us into compliance. So early is our identification with external values that few ever discover or identify their authentic nature, their true self-worth. They can’t take the time. They’re too busy competing in a contest culture.


Journal 8.3
How often do you find yourself in contests, where you are being compared, judged, and evaluated against others? What about at work? Do you feel embarrassed if your child does not make the honor roll? If your child acts out in public, do you respond with anger? How much of our corrective behaviors towards children is to insure that our self image is not tarnished by being labeled as an inadequate parent?


Athletics & the Intelligence of Play
The original play many adults remember as children has slipped away. Neighborhood pick-up games have all but disappeared. Front and center, everyone is watching, try-outs, uniforms, grown-up rules and regulations.

Fanned by the television images of professional ball players reaping multi-year, multimillion-dollar contracts and fear of unsupervised neighborhood activities, today over 200 million moms, dads, kids, and coaches are involved in adult-organized athletic programs. The pressure to join a team is immense. To not participate means not being a member, a heavy price to pay in a contest culture. Most do so because athletics holds the promise of enriching and expanding human development, developing self-discipline, team spirit, cooperation, loyalty, and self-esteem.


Sports are a western yoga. At its core, when pursued with passion and for its own sake, sport becomes a transformative practice. The problem is, for most athletes in the West, there is no philosophy, no psychology, no context in which to understand sports in this larger dimension. We’re like the little Lilliputians who have chained the Gulliver in us down, and in sports; Gulliver gets loose for a few minutes. Our challenge is to bring sports into alignment with this larger being in us that’s trying to manifest.

Personal Interview
Michael Murphy
Founder, Eselan Institute, Author, In the Zone, Future of the Body


This larger context is overshadowed by the contest culture. For the vast majority the promise of optimum development is broken very early. Few ever experience the Zone. A recent headline in USA Today, “Tiger Woods Wins the War,” tells the story, not of personal transformation, but of the lessons most young players learn in organized athletic programs: conflict, comparison, win-lose, less for you means more for me.

Many have heard the famous phrase, “On the playing fields of Eton Britain’s battles were won.” Eton is the premiere private school of Great Britain (where “private” schools are known as “public,” founded in 1440. On its playing fields Britain’s elite young men were trained in rugby and football. The character formed by this experience was given credit for victories in battles waged for the Queen, principally Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo. Myths aside, athletics teaches young people how to compete.


Schore describes, over many pages, how each prohibiting NO! or shaming look brings a shock of threat, interrupts the will to explore and learn, and produces a cascade of negative hormonal-neural reactions in the child. Schore describes at length the infant-toddler’s depressive state brought about through these episodes of “shame-stress.” The confusion and depression in the child comes from two powerful encoded directives: First, maintain the bond with the caretaker at all costs. Second: explore the world and build a structure of knowledge of it, also at all costs. Throughout history the caretaker was the major support, mentor and guide in the toddler’s world-body exploration and learning. When the child, driven by nature’s imperative to explore his or her world, is threatened if he does so by the care giver - with whom he is equally driven to maintain the bond - the contradiction is profound. The resulting ambiguity sets up the first major wedge in that toddler mind, a wedge that finally becomes a gaping chasm.

The Biology of Transcendence


I played Little League baseball, high school football, college crew, amateur ski racing. I competed as a university person and never knew there was anything else. The whole world seemed that way.

When I looked at the wildlife programs on National Geographic, and they said baby lions were playing in order to become predators. I said, “Yeah, that makes sense.”

Had I not played with wolves and cheetahs, I would never have understood that animals know another kind of play. They know contest, but there’s another dimension that I call original play that most of us never see. It’s invisible in a contest culture. We have been programmed for so long, not only as Americans, but as human beings, to believe that fight/flight, survival of the fittest, and competition is the only way to be.

When you experience that love and belonging are the most important things, not just as an idea, not just to be nice, but in a very tangible way, the question becomes, how do I live that way, moment by moment? That experience changes everything. Once you’re safe and not dissipating your energy in self-defense, then it’s much easier to communicate, to love, to be kind and do all those things that we’d really rather do than hurt and defend. This is what original play is all about.

The most important thing I’ve experienced through play, over the past twenty-five years, is that I “belong” to the universe. It is that sense of belonging that I’ve learned. And that has allowed me to learn the essence of all the things that we think of as separate, like the essence of a lion, or a child, or a Zulu person, or a flower, all of that. By learning that we all belong, I’m no longer afraid of the differences. Differences are there for me to learn how to be fully human and to share that with every other form on earth. That’s very powerful and it literally places me in the midst of the universe.

Personal Interview
O. Fred Donaldson, Ph.D.
Author, Playing by Heart


Journal 8.4
Do you think that children would belong to Little Leagues if they were not seeking adult approval? What impact does having adults supervise, coach and umpire childhood play have on the child’s “love of the game”?


When asked why children should participate in athletic programs, adults often say that sports is a metaphor for life, that it teaches children how to be team players and how to win and lose gracefully. Many believe that competition builds character. Contrary to popular belief, amateur athletics does not often lead to optimum learning or performance.


A Lewis Harris poll showed that 50 percent of American kids experience their first major failure in life in sports. Some kids can climb the ropes. Some kids can’t. Climbing the rope is a public event and if you can’t, there’s a humiliation factor, which can affect a child for the rest of his or her life. Some kids get what I call the Wednesday morning disease where they just don’t want to go to gym class. I used to think they all had dental appointments. In reality, they were scared to death of coming to that class.

Personal Interview
John Douillard
Author, Body, Mind & Sport


I played sports as a kid. I had coaches humiliate me in front of my teammates and reinforce my feelings of inadequacy. That did not help me access and express giftedness. I don’t think I was nearly as good as I could have been if someone would have been more supportive of me and less critical. That would have been wonderful.

Personal Interview
Bowen White, M.D.
Author, Educator, Clown


People get uptight because they are afraid of failing. They’re afraid of what folks are going to say, of being criticized. My dad was a perfectionist. He was very critical. If I could do anything over again I would have him be more supportive so I’d feel like it was okay to go out and make a mistake. I didn’t want to come home from a basketball game and hear how I didn’t do this or didn’t do that. It’d be more fun to be able to play and not worry about being criticized when you got home. I always liked other kids who would go out and just play freely with no fear of making a mistake and I’d say man, I wish I could play like that. It wasn’t until the last three or four years that I really started to overcome what it took all those years to build up. It’s a tough barrier to overcome.

Personal Interview
Tom Lehman, PGA
Winner, British Open


Intrinsic (Inside) vs. Extrinsic (Outside) Motivation
It is not the activity, but the motivation (why we do what we do) that determines the meaning of an experience. Swinging a bat to see how far a ball can fly and swinging to “beat” another person or group are very different motivations, very different states of relationship. Motivation affects the state, which alters the meaning of the experience. Motivation shapes content; it shapes what we see and learn and how we relate. When adults transform child’s play into contests they alter the reason children participate in the activity. They change the meaning of the experience.

The vast majority of learning occurs naturally each time we interact with the environment. We don’t interact to learn. The interaction is the learning. Eating and breathing are part of our nature. So is learning. The motivation for this natural (primary) learning is intrinsic. It comes from within.

There is another motivation for learning: Extrinsic motivation is that which comes from outside. Winning parental approval or the approval of others is an external reason to learn or behave in a certain way. Being popular is an external motivation for wearing designer jeans. Getting straight A’s in math, if we hate math, is externally motivated. Getting straight A’s in math because we love the challenge of solving problems is intrinsically motivated. If we love an activity we do it because we love doing it, not because we are going to get good grade. It is not the behavior or the activity that matters; it’s why we do what we do that counts.

The motivation that leads to optimum learning and performance always comes from within. We excel because we love to do what we do. We love the learning that is the activity. Optimum learning is optimum performance. Optimum performance is optimum learning. Performance and learning are two ways of describing the same action. Here are some other reasons parents believe competitive sports are good for their children (beyond sports simply being a metaphor for life). Note if the motivation is intrinsic or extrinsic and who benefits the most from the list.


· To keep them occupied, off the street, and away from drugs

· Because it is safe. I know what they are doing.

· Athletic programs are supervised by adults.

· Socialization; children learn how to be part of a team.

· So he/she can make it in life, be successful.
(External/Fear/ Competition)

· I loved sports as a child; he/she will too.

· He/she needs to develop their natural talent; starting early is better.

· Being a winner means being popular.
(External/Comparison/ Competition)

· It is better than television and video games.

· Kids need exercise¾it gets them outside.

· Everyone else is doing it¾he/she will be left out.
(External/Comparison/Control/ Competition)

· His/her older brother/sister was a great player.

· Kids are lazy¾they need discipline.

· Kids need strong male role models (the coach).

· It teaches them how to follow rules.

· Look at all the money and attention athletes get.

· It builds self-esteem.


Each item draws attention to a concern parents have about their children. As we discovered with rewards and punishments, these motivators are deceptive. By talking about the child, we lose track of the simple fact that these are adult issues. The list would look very different had we asked children to share what they think.

When intrinsically motivated, love of the experience and learning are their own rewards. Attention is so complete and “in the moment” that there is no energy left over to create an image of self, good or bad. When externally motivated, which implies being judged, we fail to achieve this complete entrained attention. The judgment¾the score¾demands its own attention. It is the attention given to the score that creates the image.

Good self-images and poor self-images are equally defensive. We tend to believe that good self-images are desirable, like rewards. Rewards imply punishments. A good self-image is as defensive as a bad one. Maintaining any image, good or bad, demands energy, and it is this attention that separates the truly great performers from the rest of us. Great performers meet the moment with complete attention. The greater the energy with which we meet the challenge, the better the score. Defending a self-image, good or bad, is a waste of energy. If adults are preoccupied justifying and defending their self-images, that is what children will do. If adults are externally motivated, children will be externally motivated. If adults are experiencing and expressing joy in the moment, so will children. That’s just about as complicated as it gets.

Carl Jung spoke of the child living in the unconscious of the parent. The parent’s implicit beliefs and expectations are decisive factors in the formation of the child’s world-self views, even when not spoken or expressed (by the parent) in any way.

Evolution’s End