Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Coach Character

While we're on the subject of the county fair...

I think we need to discuss something. 
Just you and I. 
(In between your fifth load of laundry and calling the extension office to confirm:  does the actual show start at 2:00 or does showmanship start at 2:00? Anxious grandparents must know.)

Anyway, back to you and I. 
And our chat. 
Go refill your coffee. 
I'll wait. 

I witnessed something this week. 

Within an hour of arriving to the county fair I saw an adult completely humiliate a child showing livestock. 

Their tactic:
Stand ringside, verbally (and loudly) critique the showmanship of the child and wrap up the disgusting  charade  by visually displaying disappointment in the kid. 

I wanted to throw up. But I had just eaten a $6.50 Kemo sub and I couldn't waste that kind of money. Then I saw something I'd never seen before: a broken heart with a buzz cut, pig whip in his hand and tears on his cheeks. Unbearable. 

Let's chat. 

Showing livestock is about building character. 

It's about learning responsibility and working hard towards a goal and also understanding what makes sheep bloat. 
Which is, apparently, everything. 
Showing livestock is not about the adults' financial investment, the adults' prideful reputation or the adults living vicariously through someone a quarter of their size. Showing livestock is not about last names. 

Showing livestock is about building character. 

This isn't the National Western Stock Show, it's the county fair. 
And even if it was Denver, scolding - rather than coaching -  your child in front of a national crowd isn't going to help in any way. This is where your child will meet the friend that they'll go on Spring Break 2023 with. You'll approve the trip because they're "in 4-H together". This is local. This is your back forty.  These people - the ones gauging how you react to winning or rejection - are their village. 
**By the way: One of the young men your daughter is showing against will probably take her to prom in five years. Brace yourself. 

Showing livestock is about building character. 

Your kid isn't going to make a living precisely parading livestock, keeping the flawless stock between himself and the judge. 
Your kid may go on to make a living breeding and selling sought genetics, building relationships far and wide, developing a brand and cultivating a passion which generations to come will benefit from. But perfect showmanship tactics? They come and go. The county fair is the place to cultivate those interests and polish those talents. No one becomes famous here. Calm down.

Showing livestock is about building character. 

It's also about displaying character. 
They're watching.
And when you scold them in public? You're breaking their confidence
And when you throw a fit? You're giving them permission to do the same. 
And when you return to the stalls or the show box and bad mouth the judge? You're teaching them how to discount anyone who ever offers them constructive criticism.

In a world where kids get trophies 
for showing up to three practices, 
constructive criticism is crucial!

Little Eyes Upon You

There are little eyes upon you
and they're watching night and day.
There are little ears that quickly
take in every word you say.

There are little hands all eager
to do anything you do;
And a little girl who's dreaming
of the day she'll be like you.

You're the little angel's idol,
you're the wisest of the wise.
In her little mind about you
no suspicions ever rise.

She believes in you devoutly,
holds all you say and do;
She will say and do, in your way
when she's grown up just like you.

There's a wide-eyed little girl
who believes you're always right;
and her eyes are always opened,
and she watches day and night.

You are setting an example
every day in all you do;
For the little girl who's waiting
to grow up to be like you.

Kimberly Sedlacek

Showing livestock is about building character. 

Trust me. No one comes to the county fair and expects to lose. No one puts their family through the familiar hell that is the week before the county fair for the heck of it. You've worked hard to coordinate. The kids are tired. The stock is ready. You're fixin' to hide in a closet and shut off your phone. I get it. But everyone - everyone - comes to compete and do their best. Their very best. Your kid included. 

Showing livestock is about building character. 

At the end of the day - or the auction - showing livestock teaches kids how to win graciously and lose gracefully. 
Appreciate the blue ribbons. 
Accept the rejection letter. 
Balance a check book. 
Read a feed sack label. 
Find confidence in a flood of embarrassment. 
Fail the interview but dominate the closure handshake. 
Sincerely thank the judge that buried the best steer that will ever come off of the farm. 
Because - who knows - that very judge may hire her right out of grad school, a decade later. 

I'll let you get back to your coffee. And laundry. 
(If you don't want to have to iron your underwear, now might be a great time to get the clothes out of the dryer, by the way.)

Remember: This week is similar to vacation for your kids: 
A week of sunshine, sno-cones, 
their favorite stock, 
long lost friends and 
way-past-bedtime nights. 

If you must coach from the sidelines, 
coach character. 

Oh, and I absolutely think the same can be said for sports. 


  1. We have three more weeks until our county fair. I always think to myself when we are doing chores, that we are building character and raising our kids in the barn. This is fine with me. I grew up that way, too.

    1. The very best way to grow up, Crystal! Though it may be hard to convince an 11-year-old. Thanks for reading!

  2. One of the most well written things I have read in a very long time! Love it!

  3. Well said.. I worked livestock control at the Iowa State Fair for 10 years .. That's behind the seans to the general public . Saw enough of this behind and in the barns... NOT ,,,, fun .... On the other hand,I saw family members pull together as a team that would humble any one with a heart ... The ones the had the rough ego "RING SIDE KNOW IT ALL" for a **%#@ coach were in trouble before the Fair was over ... Water finds a crack when under too much presser .... This author is spot on....

  4. Greetings from rural north central Oregon! I'm the 4-H Youth Development Coordinator in our county and would love to have permission to reprint all or part of this blog post in our upcoming July newsletter (our fair is in August). May I?

  5. YEA you!!!! Thank you from a 4-H Livestock leader and 4-H/FFA Mom of 4 boys and now grandchildren showman.

    1. Thanks for raising your kids in a barn! I'm glad you enjoyed this and can relate. Thank you for reading!

  6. Such a great article! We just came off a couple weekends of junior shows and have a little break before our fair in August. I can relate to so much of this and love how you put it into words!!

  7. Thank you for sharing. This was excellent...wish you could print it up and hand out flyers to everyone there!

    1. I agree - I wish every parent or mentor could keep this message in their back pocket. It would make every livestock show and sporting event much more enjoyable!

  8. Thank you for much for the excellent post. You should print up flyers and hand to everyone there!

  9. By working the swine shows, I witnessed the same thing and thought where is the fun in 4-H? It's one thing to be competitive but we need to remind the adults involved that these showmen need to have fun and enjoy what they are doing. I would love to remind parents that they need to smile and "enjoy the ride" also. Great blog!!