Recently, I've seen a graphic floating around social media titled "10 Things that Require Zero Talent." It's a list of characteristics and actions that have little to do with any innate ability, but instead focus on choices that anyone can make to improve themselves. I'm a big believer that hard work beats talent every time, so the words on the graphic really resonated with me, and we'll be basing our character lessons next season off of this list. 

I've expanded on each item on the list below, and these are the ways I'll be talking to the kids about it in class. Parents, I want to encourage you as we prepare for and dive into this next season to really talk to your kids about these things at home too. When the lessons that you teach at home as parents are reinforced here at The Dojo, and vice versa, that's when they have real sticking power. Each week, we'll focus on a different item on the list, so there's no need to bite off a whole lot of it at once. We'll have specific tasks for kids to work on relating to each item.

  1. Being On Time - When class starts at The Dojo, it’s time to get to work. We think of what we do as “hard fun.” We have a great time in class, but at the end of the day, we’re there to get better and to make each other better. That means that as soon as we stand up and bow in, we’re all in. If you aren’t there when class starts, you’re missing out on valuable time to grow. Think of it this way: If you come to three classes a week, 50 weeks a year, and you’re 2 minutes late every time, that’s 300 minutes, or almost 7 full classes worth of missed time. Every action you make communicates something about your intent. If you’re late, you’re telling your instructor and everyone else in class that you had something more important to do with your time than to be in the room, mentally prepared when class starts. The ones who are there on time are the ones who will reap the benefits.

  2. Work Ethic - Ethics are a set of personal moral principles or values. They reflect the things you hold to be worthwhile and meaningful. If you think it’s important to be honest and kind and trustworthy and patient, those are your ethics. A work ethic, then, means that you believe that you can benefit from hard work. That’s all it is - a belief that if you work hard, good things will follow. That if you study for your tests in school, you’ll get better grades and that if you exercise hard, you’ll make your body stronger. Remember that if you have a strong work ethic, it has two sides: if you believe that by hard work, you’ll make your life better, then by not working hard, you will not get any of the benefits you would get from doing that work.

  3. Effort - Effort is putting your work ethic into action. When you make an effort, you’re actually doing the things that get you the results you desire. We talk a lot at The Dojo about setting goals for yourself - effort plays a role in that every single action you take in your life either takes you closer to your goal or further from it. No action is without consequences. Sometimes that hard work means making a hard choice, but discipline means choosing what you want most over what you want now.

  4. Body Language - The way you sit and stand tells me a lot about you. It gives me a picture of how confident you are, how much attention you’re paying, and how ready you are to give your all at any moment. 7% of any message is conveyed through the words you say. 38% is conveyed by the tone of your words, and 55% of any message is completely nonverbal. (Dr. Albert Mehrabian, Silent Messages) When you stand up tall and look people in the eye, when you keep your shoulders back and your chest out, you look strong and confident. When you slouch, when you look away when someone is speaking, you say the exact opposite.

  5. Energy - Energy is just our potential to do work. It’s how much we could do - it can be channeled toward bringing us closer to our goals, or it can be wasted on things that don’t bring us any benefit. Think about having a hundred dollars and how we can spend it - it can be spent on things that make our lives better or things that make our lives worse, but once it’s spent we can’t get it back. Here’s the cool thing about energy though - energy is never destroyed, even when it’s used. It’s only transferred. We take in energy from the food we eat and also from the people around us. When we surround ourselves with people who are active and on the move, that energy is contagious. When we’re around people who just want to sit and do nothing, we feel the same way too.

  6. Attitude - Just as contagious as our energy is our attitude. Our attitude is the lens that we look at the world through. If I put on a pair of glasses with red lenses, everything will have that red tint to it. If my glasses have blue lenses, that will show up in what I see. That’s how our attitude works too. If I choose to keep a positive attitude, I can even look at my struggles as opportunities to grow and improve. But if my attitude is negative, nothing seems like it’s going well. Even when great things happen, a negative attitude will keep me from appreciating them like I should.

  7. Passion - Passion is excitement that’s so intense we can barely control it! It’s when we’re in the heat of competition in a sport or game we love and everything else seems to disappear. It’s when we find the things in our life that make us act - and that’s something different for everyone. We hope for all of our students that no matter what their passion is that we help equip them with the tools to chase it full-speed. When we talk in class about things like discipline and focus and attitude, it’s so kids will have those tools at their disposal as they get older so they can go after the things that really matter in their lives. That’s central to the Dojo’s mission of Strengthening their Future!

  8. Being Coachable - Being coachable means being humble. It means realizing that there is always more to learn. We challenge our students at every level to approach each class like a white belt. That means having an open mind to learning, improving, and accepting coaching. My job as a coach is to get the absolute best out of my students. When they are of the mind that they have nothing else to learn, it doesn’t matter what I say to them - they aren’t going to hear and apply it. But when even the highest level student realizes that they can always improve, always grow, and always learn, that growth never stops.

  9. Doing Extra - It’s amazing how much little things add up. Imagine how much better you’d get at a side kick by throwing 1000 of them. It seems like so many, but let’s break it down. To do 1000 extra kicks in just one month, it only takes doing 32 kicks a day. How long would it take to do just 16 side kicks on each side? Not long, right? But by a month in, you’re 1000 kicks ahead of the people who didn’t spend just that couple of extra minutes getting better. If you apply that same thinking to your schoolwork, to your housework, to your exercising, imagine how much benefit you could add up with just a little more work!

  10. Being Prepared - Success is the place where preparation and opportunity meet. So many times, we have opportunities arise that we just aren’t ready to take advantage of. When we know what our goals are, we may not have an opportunity to act on them right away. But we always have the opportunity to prepare for the time when they do come to our feet. Most of the time, that just means making the choice that we believe will bring us closer to our goal. We start with “why.” We define our goals and with the realization that every action either moves us closer or further away from that goal, we act in a way that brings us closer as often as we can. When all those choices add up, the result is a preparedness for any opportunity that arises. The best preparation for tomorrow is doing your best today.