One of the most powerful ways to support the growth of confidence and belief in our children is to simply give them the ball. This is a silent form of an enabling question that asks, “How will you make this happen?” using actions rather than words to create the opportunity at the subconscious level. By giving children the ball to carry an activity or idea forward in their own ways, we breathe great faith into their hearts while immediately challenging them to become fully associated, creative, and solution oriented. We not only put them in the game, we let them know it is their game.
Years ago, I heard a marvelous story about the tremendous enabling power of giving the ball. An experimental weekend camp had been set up for physically and mentally disabled children at a rustic retreat center in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. The concept behind the camp was to bring these children together and give them each the responsibility for some important tasks, either in helping prepare and serve meals, cleaning the dorms and meeting areas, or setting up all the necessary equipment and materials for the meetings. It was a chance to break the pattern of dependence and learned helplessness. Normally these kids were not given the opportunity to do these things for themselves. They were terribly slow and inefficient at these daily tasks because of their physical or mental challenges, and lived under constant care, growing increasingly dependent upon others to help them with even the most basic of activities like getting dressed, eating, and bathing. By the end of the weekend retreat the creators of this breakthrough program hoped the children would discover a new level of belief that they could successfully do far more than they previously had been conditioned to think.
On the last night of the retreat the kids joined with the counselors in preparing a special celebration turkey dinner. They had set the table, mashed the potatoes, decorated the dining area, and dressed themselves for the big evening. The table was spread with heaping bowls of delicious food that for the first time in most of their lives, they had personally prepared. It was truly a triumph of spirit. All that remained was for the turkey itself to be carried into the dining room. The children could hardly wait!
Without really thinking, the head counselor set the prize bird on a great serving platter being held by one of the smallest children. This tiny girl was severely palsied with very little control of her balance and dexterity. Practically buckling under the weight of the turkey, she nevertheless held the platter firmly and began wobbling and teetering her way toward the dining area. For one uncertain instant the counselor stood frozen, gasping as he realized that the little girl could not possibly make the long trek into the dining area successfully. Automatically he began to move toward the child to rescue her and dinner. But just as he was about to reach around her and lift the platter, he stopped suddenly as he looked ahead into the dining room at all the other children who stared wide-eyed at their tiny teammate inching forward with the huge turkey. All of the children seemed to be with her, sending her their complete support, love, and belief through their smiles and almost electrical attention. She was so completely intent upon her duty she hadn’t even noticed the counselor speeding up behind her. All that mattered to her was bringing the turkey to the table.
She kept edging forward, almost losing control of the massive platter many times. Once she nearly toppled over, but managed to right herself as she leaned against the wall regaining her balance. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, she wobbled into the great dining room. As she set the turkey down safely on the table all the children let out a roar of approval, applauding joyously at her incredible accomplishment. The counselor stood stunned, tears streaming down his cheeks, crying and laughing at the same time. In that moment he discovered the ultimate reward of truly enabling another. How close he had come to taking away the turkey, and with it the little girl’s chance to embrace a greater spectrum of possibility for herself! But, instead, by simply giving her the ball he had not only created a breakthrough moment for that little child, but also for every other person present that day, most especially himself.