Exploring Optimum Learning Relationships
A virtual class based on
Magical Parent - Magical Child
by Michael Mendizza and Joseph Chilton Pearce
Lesson 9 - Following the Leader

Very few humans develop in adult life because their child development was too inadequate to provide adequate tools of development. Very few human develop sufficient mental tools in physical life to enter into the subtle realms successfully at death. So the subtle realm ends in a cosmic dumping-ground, a confused mess mirroring the physical mess. How could it be any different? 

Biology of Transcendence


From control through reward and punishment we moved to contest and focusing on the score as primary tools of enculturation. In lesson nine we continue to focus on sport as a metaphor for life, cultural life that is. If we expect the very best from our children we must model that in our relationship. In this lesson we look at how most of organized athletics (as a metaphor for the larger culture) truncate optimum learning and performance. Then we meet with leading sport and performance educators and from world-class LPGA and PGA tour players. No, we don’t ask them about how to sing a club. We ask the Pros how they were parented, coached and mentored. Here we provide some living examples of Optimum Learning Relationships in action.

Focusing On The Leader – Back to the Model Imperative

Children are compelled by nature to follow the model set for them by adults and the adult culture. A theme that we will return to again and again, especially in section two, is the need for adults to share optimum learning states with children. Optimum learning and performance have three primary characteristics: intrinsic-self motivation, love of the experience, and learning. None of these qualities are “modeled” when parents enroll their children in Little League.

Kids always wanted to play, they always got together¾in sandlots¾and formed groups and worked our their own rules. Now we’ve intervened as adults by saying, “No, no, no, we’ll work out the rules for you. As a result you don’t have to go to very many Little League games to see parents out in the middle of the diamond beating each other up or wanting to kill the ump because of a bad call. Parents are out there in the middle of the playing field screaming at each other, screaming at the kids, “Why didn’t you win?” as if the child didn’t want to win.

Personal Interview
Chuck Hogan
Performance Specialist

When we moved in on that play period, the sandlot baseball and football, and organized the activity for children, we upset the entire process and destroyed the purpose. If allowed, children will spontaneously get together, form sides, create their own rules and regulations, and compete. Only by forming rules can they have a game. Working out their own rules and calling their own fouls are the critical factors. When adults step in, as we have for the past fifty years with Little League enforce our adult rules and regulations, and set up teams, we steal from children the experience of creating self-regulated social organizations.

Insidiously, Little League targeted younger and younger children, until even little tots were dutifully marching out in full advertising array to do battle with the enemy.  Whatever might have been left of play after television was killed by Little League and other organized sports leagues, substituting deadly serious adult forms of win-or-lose competition for what had been true play.  Gone are the invaluable social learnings, self-restraint, and the ability to decide.

Evolution’s End

Little League

Little League has not given us happy, well-adjusted children. We have all seen parents and coaches at Little League games, shouting at seven and eight-year-olds who stand heads down as the coach calls them imbeciles and urges them to get out there and really put their all into it. The faces of the little children describe their confusion, guilt, and shame. And the parents are there, lining up on the side of the coach. The children have failed to measure up to the expectations and standards of their parents and coach, who are condemning them publicly. And the children don’t even know what for. This is a strange form of modeling, very far indeed from what we know of optimum states of learning and performance.

Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins, and thousands of other concerned adults see Little League for what it truly is: another adult agenda, not at all child’s play. In her column, Let the Little Kids Play Without The League, Sally describes how the Little League World Series was turned upside down recently when it was discovered that the star pitcher was fourteen years old, not twelve.

The original idea of Little League was merely to help the players do that thing children haven’t yet learned to do, organize, and through organization, learn a few simple skills and values. “Character, Courage, Loyalty,” says the Little League motto. But let’s review the events of the most recent Little League World Series and the values displayed.

The Rolando Paulino All-Stars, nicknamed the Baby Bombers, became a sensation when Almonte threw the first perfect game in the tournament in 44 years and led his team to a 4-1 record and third place. But jealous parents began talking of rumored violations, and two suspicious adult coaches for New York area teams even hired private investigators — private investigators! — to look into Almonte and the Bombers. Next, acting on the rumors, Sports Illustrated — Sports Illustrated! — sent a reporter to the Dominican Republic and uncovered a document suggesting Almonte was really 14. Finally, Dominican officials yesterday determined that Almonte was playing under a false birth certificate obtained by his father, Felipe, who, it seems, is also here with his son illegally, since their visas have expired. Further investigation by the New York Daily News showed Danny was not enrolled in any school in New York. Nor was another player on the team, catcher Francisco Pena, son of former major leaguer Tony Pena. Which makes it look like the swell little Bronx fairy tale team was more like a nifty little shuttle service from the Dominican Republic for future major leaguers…

What’s more twisted? That an ambitious father doctored documents in the hope his son could pitch his way off the island and be noticed by major league scouts, or that adults hired private investigators to check birth certificates?…

Little League should be abolished for the simple reason that children and adults should stay out of each other’s circumferences when it comes to games. There should be a decent interval between the crib and the grim business of high school sports, at least one form of play in this world that is not managed by grownups to the point of corruption. What happens when adults manage the games of children is that they manage them the way they manage the rest of their lives—with strife and greed.

Washington Post, September 1, 2001

Optimum Learning Relationships unfold spontaneously when we feel safe, when we love what we are doing and learn from the experience (all intrinsic motivators). The moment an outside authority steps in and judges the experience, as is the case with all adult-organized athletic programs for children, the instant we introduce rewards and offer praise, approval, or disapproval, the Zone disappears. Learning occurs as it always will, but the lessons learned are not the Character, Courage, and Loyalty advertised by the promoters of the event. Children learn what it takes to win in a contest culture.

Journal 9.1

Sports and competition are not of themselves “bad.”  It is the value and public pressure to win instead of expand development through play. Can organized sports for children be salvaged? If so, what would you do to fix it?

Winning and Losing

Authentic play and competition are very different states. One involves a score: the other does not. A score is just a score, a measurement, neither good nor bad. Confusion occurs when we identify with the score, build an image upon it. It is the image that interferes with learning and performance, not the score.

We hear over the loudspeaker Saturday morning: “Will the preschool league please meet on the midget field and the kindergarteners meet over on field number two.” We’ve taken that original playtime and organized it into zero-sum games with winners and losers. The culture’s so focused on the winning and losing. There’s this great sucking sound, competition you know, that’s going to help kids get a head start. So we teach kids how to compete. They know how to cooperate but they have to be taught how to compete, and guess what they forget to do? They forget about the cooperation.

Personal Interview
Bowen White, MD
Author, Educator Clown

Right and wrong, win or lose is not part of nature’s scheme. Taking a highly stylized, rigid form of action, in which victory is everything and censure plays a heavy role, in which error dogs the child at every breath, and expecting that activity to make the child part of a social team is ridiculous. Competition is inappropriate during early stages of development. Children will never play in that fashion on their own. Competition isn’t play. Organized competition crops up around age eleven as a prepubescent form of activity. Before that age, children will participate in group activity, but it won’t be competitive. Competitive activity is an integral part of natural selection that begins to express through sexuality. At this age children can’t be kept from grouping together in some form of competitive activity, nor should they.

Playing in a contest culture ceases to be play. Attention shifts from the joy of learning to short-term results. Results are the consequences of learning, not the goal. When we place results before learning, learning becomes defensive, narrowly focused. We do only what is necessary to win approval, to pass the grade, to win the game. Winning is the highest form of security in a contest culture. Focusing on the score is aggressive.

My high school football practices were more violent than our games because we were killing each other to make the starting lineup¾wiping each other out. Wait a minute, isn’t this supposed to be a team? We’re only a team when there’s an opposing team. A team of Little League players is a team only vis-a-vis another team. If that other team is not present, what you’ve got is inter-team contest and that is as aggressive and hurtful emotionally and physically as the game against another team.

There was an article in the Times about the women’s Olympic crew. They do fine against another crew. Take that away and they beat each other up. We don’t really know what it is to feel real togetherness… The contest culture is designed to keep you on edge, always wondering whether you’re in or out. The moment you’re on edge your whole physiological system and entire immune system are not working at their highest levels. The whole thing is designed to work against itself.

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

The system is designed to create winners. That’s what competition does. But competition results in many more losers than it does winners. Figure it out mathematically. How many people can get on an NBA team, or an NFL team? All those who don’t make it are losers. Listen to football players. Nothing makes any difference unless they win the Super Bowl. A lot of people drop out because it’s so aggressive.

Personal Interview
George Leonard
Former Editor, Look Magazine
Author: Mastery, Education & Ecstasy

Journal 9.2

Parents feel that childhood is more dangerous than ever before. Childhood obesity is epidemic. Physical activity is critical. If not organized sports, then what?

Magical Parents – Magical Athletes

Concern over the score begins with adults, not with children. The pressure to perform in school is an adult concern, not the child’s. Are parents to blame for being concerned over their children’s future success? Children need boundaries. The world is dangerous. Children do need discipline. Most adults assume that the pressure they place on their children to conform, to knuckle under and “do it right” is “for their own good.”  Head Start, the name for our nation’s early literacy program, describes the race we are all running. What is a head start? It’s getting a jump on the competition.

Do the seventeen “no’s” to each “yes” have the desired effect? Does intimidation and control transform the average child into an elite athlete or prima ballerina? How were those who did manage to make it to the top parented, coached, and mentored? What can we learn from the parents and players who did succeed despite all the pressures to remain mediocre?

Yes, most people are driven to be ordinary. Culture strives for that which is common, average. It thrives on ordinary. Our top Olympic distance runners are mediocre compared to the Tarahumara Indians who run 75 to 150 miles a day kicking a little ball all the way. Extraordinary depends on what a culture considers normal.

Our goal is to take the lid off learning and performance so we and our children can become the miracles nature intended, in all aspects of our lives. We talked to over thirty world-class golfers and asked them how this could be done. Here is what some had to say.

I had tremendous self-esteem because of my father. It was always “Champ, nice going, champ.” If I hit it bad, “Let’s see what you can do on the next one.” He was never dwelling on the negative. It was always, always dwelling on the positive. Always positive. I had a very secure childhood. I knew he loved me and accepted me. He instilled in me that there’s no affirmation stronger than a father’s affirmation that you’re going to succeed.

Personal Interview
Johnny Miller
PGA Hall of Fame

My dad played golf and I learned to find a peace on the golf course at a young age and I think that’s what has helped me to do as well as I have because I don’t let things bother me out there. My dad always said it’s only a game and you want to enjoy it.

Personal Interview
Nancy Lopez
LPGA Hall of Fame

My dad was great at teaching me to learn from my mistakes and pick the good out of any round, no matter what it was. If I was ten years old and shot 95, he’d say, “but on #4 you hit two beautiful shots and on #16 you hit two beautiful shots, and if we can just get you to do that a couple more times a round...”  All the way up to when I was winning tournaments he would say, “All right, you were two or three swings away that day from playing about as good as anybody can play the game.” He was always positive. He would ferret out the positive, show it to me, and then show me how to fix what didn’t work.

Personal Interview
Davis Love III
PGA Champion

My dad had a refreshingly simple way of looking at the game. The object is to get the ball in the hole. If the ball isn’t going in the hole, you’re either aiming at the wrong spot or your mis-hitting the ball. So as I started to play the game, I became immensely curious about how to play it better and how to take strokes off my game. How can I do it better? Nothing related to score, competition, who I was beating, whether I could win a junior trophy or a college scholarship, the PGA tour event, none of that had anything to do with my love for the game. It was all driven by curiosity.

Personal Interview
Mike Reid
PGA Tour Professional

Slip into the Zone and championship performance flows naturally. Extraordinary just happens in optimum “states,” like breathing: without effort or control. If we assume that performance or results are somehow separate from our “state,” right here, right now, we miss the most important factor, which is the quality of our relationship to the challenge before us. Performance is a movement of relationship. That’s the basic idea. Look again at the “quality of relationship” described by our world-class athletes.

Feeling Safe, Unconditionally Accepted and Loved...
I knew he loved me and accepted me. He instilled in me that there’s no affirmation stronger than a father’s affirmation that you’re going to succeed. It was always “champ, nice going champ.” I found peace on the golf course at a young age. They let me play when I wanted to play. Nothing was related to the score.

Play as Learning…
Driven by curiosity. Refreshingly simple, the object is to get the ball in the hole. I learned how to pick the good out of any round, no matter what it was.

Love of the Experience, Intrinsic Motivation…
It’s only a game and you want to enjoy it. That gave me my own self-pride, my own self-discipline.

Journal 9.3

Remember our earlier discussion regarding praise? “Nice shot, champ.” Way to go, champ.” Is it possible to praise or share in another’s experience without criticism or analysis? Is feedback the same as praise?

Watching with Wonder

Formulas and rules may serve as a guide, but no more than that. We respond to our children and the world the best we can, and then we watch with wonder. We watch and learn from our gesture, be it the fly of a ball or a look on our child’s face. The looking is the learning. Each moment becomes a learning moment. How the world responds to our behavior is feedback. Did the ball go in the hole? If not, we adapt; learn and hit the ball again.

If you think playing championship golf or soccer is challenging, try being a parent. Children are infinitely more intelligent and unpredictable than balls. Imagine how parenting would change if we “played parenting” as carefully as some “play golf.” Consider how we observe the fly of the ball, its position on the green, the slope, and distance from the cup. We select just the right club (which is a whole different matter); we ponder and approach the ball with such care. We take a practice swing or two and position ourselves just so. How many people give this quality of attention to their children, partners, and to nature? What if the ball had a mind of its own? What if it moved when it wanted, had likes and dislikes, preferred this green to that and communicated these preferences by laughing or crying? If you think golf or tennis is tough, try being a parent. 

We asked Chuck Hogan, considered to be a coach’s coach, how instruction would change if we were play-based, rather than focusing on the score?

If we can’t have fun, children aren’t going to have fun. If we’re bored, they’ll be bored. If we’ve got to win to prove we’re having fun, they’ll have to win to prove they’re having fun. The question isn’t “what do the kids need to do?” “What do we need to do?—that’s the real question.” Is it fun or do we have to win to have fun?

On the average we get a whole lot of “no, no, no, no,” about 17 to 1 on the no-to-yes ratio. Let’s reverse that. What if we simply affirmed the positive and let the negative feedback take care of its self? It would sound something like this:

“All right, you do your stance, Yippy-Skippy, yes, you did it! Way to go! You did it!” “I did?” “YES, you did!” Very quickly the brain gets the idea, Wow! This is kind of fun. This takes a lot of heat off. This is a pretty safe place to be.

Now it’s time to take a swing at the ball. They swing and miss. Hey, that’s okay. That’s just fine. It was a perfect example of swinging right over the top of the ball. No problem there. Let’s take another swing and see if we can adjust that experience. Now the ball gets hit. Way to go. That’s great. That’s wonderful. Huh?? Yes, that’s wonderful.

Well aren’t you going to show me what I’m doing wrong? Why would I show you what you’re doing wrong? Whatever you offer the brain is what you’re going to get out of the brain. Let’s pay attention to what you’re doing right, not only at a cerebral, analytical level, but emotionally. Why don’t we just go Wahoo!!, until you find out that it’s okay to feel that way.

Pretty soon you’ll get up in the morning and your brain will automatically say Yippy-Skippy. Let’s go throw the ball, kick the ball, hit the ball. I can’t come in for dinner mom I’m having too much fun. That’s the way we would do it.  It’s got to be fun.

Personal Interview
Chuck Hogan
Performance Specialist

The Coach

Parenting, like childhood, is a process. It unfolds. It develops. Parenting is relationship. Relationship is learning. Learning is play. Intelligent parenting is playful parenting. The same is true of our coaches. Coaches are role models. Are they controlling children through rewards and punishments or are they evoking and eliciting optimum learning and performance from the inside out?

Great coaches love to coach. They love to interact. They love to play and they don’t ever want to stop playing. Good parents can still play but their means of play might have been in business or being a mom. But the key is not to lose that fun, that light, that happiness, that joy of your life in whatever the activity is. To be an example, it first has to be in our lives. And then a good coach, a good parent, fuses that experience, that joy into every aspect of their child’s life.

Personal Interview
John Douillard
Author, Body, Mind and Sport

Keep out of the way, that’s the best thing a coach or instructor can do¾just allow the learner to do what he or she is going to do. And once in a while - you’re there. Some of the greatest lessons I’ve ever seen were when a word or two made huge changes. We have computers that read out milliseconds of weight transfers. Give a person a different thought, you’ll see them change immediately, but start to get into mechanical data and it won’t change the person at all.

Personal Interview
Randy Henry
Founder Henry-Griffith Golf Clubs

The real challenge for a coach, which is no different from the challenge we have in education or in business, is to help young people, adults, and parents see through the invented meanings that have been attributed to winning and losing. And then to create with the individual a meaning that makes more sense, a meaning that will still allow them to benefit from the activity without getting involved in the great false hopes and false failures. Those who do this not only stand to enjoy their job much more, but will bring a dignity to the profession that doesn’t exist.

Personal Interview
Tim Gallwey
Author, The Inner Game

Journal 9.4
List the invented meanings that have been attributed to winning and losing. And then describe a meaning to participate in sports or any competitive activity that makes more sense, and as Tim suggested, still in-joy the play.

Expanding Our Boundaries

The potential connections and information exchanges pulsing between the neurons in our brain and body are immeasurable. Most human beings barely scratch the surface. Something is holding us back. There is a great weight, a powerful field called “belief” holding us hostage, compelling us to behave in predetermined patterns. For years it was thought that human beings could not run a mile in less that four minutes. Roger Banister broke the myth. Optimum Learning Relationships do for parenting and for education what Banister did for runners. It expands the boundaries, opens the door to new patterns and possibilities.

Sports and athletics is one environment which offers a view of supreme examples of the human system in the “zone” and also examples of evolution on a compressed, accelerating and observable stage for everyone to witness. Bannister’s mile, thought to be so stunning and abnormal at the time is now mundane. Breaking records is not exceptional, it is expected. Professional golfers shoot 59, dunking a basketball is ho-hum and 960 on a snowboard is done regularly (If you don’t know what a 960 is then you simply are not paying attention).Today’s X-games make the Roger Bannister or Wilma Rudolf records look rather pale.

We all have the greatness of the athlete built into every cell of our body. What is very, very interesting is that all of these record-breaking athletes will tell you that their best and most supreme performance was “easy”. the challenge was in the preparation. The actually doing “in the zone” required but very little energy from the brain. This is documented by EEG and MRI readings of brain wave activity and topography. In the most literal sense, child’s play is where the best happens. John Jerome concludes his book Sweet Spot In Time (Sweet Spot being his name for the ‘zone’) by saying:  “About the only thing that can be concluded from all the scientific study of extraordinary performance is that the harder we push the cell the more it will respond. There seems to be no end.”

Personal Interview
Chuck Hogan
Performance Specialist


Enculturation; parenting, education, the myths, rituals, beliefs, ideologies, customs and their associated behaviors, create our boundaries. The weight of tradition and today the pull of mass-media marketing prevent all but a very few from reaching beyond tightly prescribed limits. The web is both intensifying and narrowing. 

A long-term German study has shown that overall sensitivity to environmental signals has dropped 1 percent each year. Thirty years represents a thirty percent decrease in environmental signals reaching our awareness. Subtle impressions simply don’t make the cut. The intensity of environmental stimulation is going up our capacity to experience subtle sensations is going down. Our experience is being homogenized, controlled, shunted into predetermined grooves, and we can’t even see it happening. Everything looks so normal. So intense. At home, in the movies and at school.  

The United States Congress recently approved sweeping educational reforms clearing the way for “high stakes” uniform testing at all grade levels. The ideal is to standardize the national education system under a “master plan.” The goal is to ensure that each child, in each classroom, is turning the same page in his or her book on the same day throughout the land. Why? So we can compete in the global economy. Or so they say.

Anxiety is always the enemy of intelligence and always blocks the biological plan.  The minute anxiety arises, intelligences closes to a search for anything that will relieve the anxiety.  This might lead to a street-smart mentality or to precocity along narrow culturally approved lines, but the biological plan will have been aborted. 

Magical Child