Parents often wonder what their child will be when the child grows up. As a parent, I know we have run through several different ideas by each of our children as to what they will study in college and what they want to do with their life. Parents are often willing to put money into dance classes, athletic programs, and training to help their children become the best career person or student of a particular field of study. Often though they forget one critical area that every career needs for success. It is the one thing in which all fields rely on and what every successful individual in whatever field they choose needs to possess. What is this "one thing" you may ask that crosses every career and discipline? It is the ability to effectively communicate. Communication is not just public speaking. It is the day to day exchange of ideas and concepts between co-workers, management, the public, and the many other people we come into contact with each day. Whether your child is a doctor explaining a diagnosis to an anxious family in a waiting room, or delivering a speech at a medical symposium, or an IT professional working with colleagues to solve a programming problem, or musician trying to organize a concert, they will be using communication skills.
Communication skills are more than just talking. These skills include listening, processing, verbal and non-verbal skills, deciphering, organizing thoughts and ideas, presenting, and understanding who they are speaking with regardless of the situation. In today's world, these are skills most teens are lacking and they often do not understand the value of them. You will often hear a teen say, "I don't need to take a communications class because I won't have to give a speech in the career I am going into." Well, that is just an assumption that can not be made. We need to drop the idea that a communications class or speech class is just about giving speeches. Yes, that is a component but the major idea is teaching students the different aspects of communication whether those are with them and one other person or within a whole group of people. In fact, "Some experts have estimated that the average business executive spends 75 to 80 percent of the time communicating, about 45 minutes of every hour."
As our technology progresses, information is readily available at our fingertips. The future of successful people and leaders will depend on their ability to communicate this information and how it affects those around them and what actions steps are needed to utilize the information. If there is one skill every student should spend some time learning it is how to communicate effectively - from active listening to following directions, to talking about their ideas. As Lee Iacocca once said, "You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can't get them across, your ideas won't get you anywhere." Make sure your students have opportunities to learn and practice communication skills to become effective communicators!
In today's world, we often lament the state of the world and criticize the youth and young adults of our society. We clamor about racism, economic inequity, misguided and self-centered politicians and yet we are no further in solving the problem today as we were 10 or 20 years ago. We can look at many different people and ideas to blame but there is one thing we need to acknowledge as an issue and a possible positive direction we can head to start to change things. There is a verse in the Bible in Matthew 6:21 that says, " For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." This is a powerful verse because it talks about the things you treasure being your focus. If we look around in society today it doesn't take long to see what society, especially American society, treasures. We focus on media and sports. I won't even go into the disparity of pay for professional athletes and entertainers because I want to go a little deeper than that. If we want to be honest about the state of our world it is because we gave up substance for the superficial.
In reality, this often starts in our children's educational and extracurricular pursuits. In America, according to the annual High School Athletics Participation Survey conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), " The number of participants in high school sports increased for the 25th consecutive year in 2013-14 with a record total of
almost 7.8million."(http://www.nfhs.org/articles/high-school-participation-increases-for-25th-consecutive-year/) That is right - almost 7.8 million high school-aged students participate in sports. This number has steadily increased over the past several years. While this appears to be a good number of students, let us look at another number. Currently, the National Speech and Debate Association has around 140,000 high school students as active members. Let us look at these numbers - 7.8 million compared to around 140,000. We can definitely tell where our treasure or focus is as a society.
While I in no means want to disparage participating in sports because there are many benefits to playing a sport, I want to draw attention to the fact that this disparity reflects many of our disparities in society. If we want to change societal issues it is not going to be done in a sports arena or playing field. This is done through stimulating and intelligent discourse and debate about the issues. We have decided that it is more important to entertain ourselves and our children than to give them a voice to make a change.
For many parents and students, you will hear them say but there are scholarships to be had in sports and then there is the possibility of a professional career. I think we need to take a look at the sobering numbers. According to CBS News, "Only about 2 percent of high school athletes win sports scholarships every year at NCAA colleges and universities." (http://www.cbsnews.com/news/8-things-you-should-know-about-sports-scholarships/) Also, according to the NCAA, "only 460,000 of them will compete at NCAA schools. And of that group, only a fraction will realize their goal of becoming a professional athlete." (http://www.ncaa.org/about/resources/research/probability-competing-beyond-high-school) This fraction that will realize their goal of becoming a professional athlete is even smaller. While there are benefits to playing sports and I am not saying we should forgo sports for academic pursuits, I am saying we need to reevaluate the priority we place on them. The benefits of a speech and debate program for high school students and the future opportunities to use the skills they learn are limitless.
Speech and debate training will give students the ability to consider all sides of an issue while forming their opinion or learning to defend theirs. It will give them experience in thinking critically and solving problems. In fact, learning communication skills is beneficial in every aspect of life from getting a job to relationships, to becoming involved in a community. The benefits of learning to communicate effectively help students regardless of economic situation, race, or ability. John F. Kennedy once said, “I think debating in high school and college a most valuable training whether for politics, the law, business, or for service on community committees such as the PTA and the League of Women Voters. A good debater must not only study material in support of his own case, but he must also, of course, thoroughly analyze the expected arguments of his opponent. … The give and take of debating, the testing of ideas, is essential to democracy. I wish we had a good deal more debating in our institutions than we do now. ”
Students need to know how to communicate effectively whether it is for normal everyday conversation, public speaking, listening, or relating to others. It is through effective communication that change is possible. We need to let students discover their voice. Give them the skills to consider issues, think through them, respond in a logical and mature manner to opposite viewpoints, and listen to ideas, without interrupting, to such a level that they are comprehending what is being said.
If we truly desire change in our nation, then we have to refocus our priorities. We have to give the youth of our nation a voice. A voice that will take them through life and lead them to paths that will strengthen them and our nation. We can get injured and not have time later in life to play a sport and eventually we will not due to age. However, every day of our lives we communicate.
This isn't a debate about how much more important learning to communicate is over participating in sports but really a call to find more balance and keep our focus clear. In the upcoming years, our nation and the world is going to need better leaders and communicators. We cannot continue to stay strong as a nation with a crumbling foundation and focus on the superficial and short-term such as entertainment and pro athletics. We need to give our youth the skills to go beyond where they are and to make positive changes, we need to give them a voice. It may be the last Hail Mary pass we have to succeed.
Founder of Intrinsic Echo
© 2015 Natalie Dyess