Tripping the Confidence Switch


Young Robbie at the summer camp had a real problem with self-esteem and confidence. Ten years old. Thick glasses. Son of a prominent dentist. Younger brother to an athletic prodigy. Long-faced and disparaging any chance of success in the various skills tests facing the new camper.

Robbie was particularly haunted by the prospect of swim tests for boating privileges. Get fully clothed. Jump in. Two lengths of the swim area for canoeing. One length for the row boats.

Fateful day came. I was in the back of the lifeguard boat. Robbie was struggling from the get-go. Dog paddle of sorts. Determined not to put his face under. Sputtering. Quick to cry out, "I can't". I tried twice to encourage him farther but to no avail. Reach pole extended. Game over.

How pathetic he seemed over the next two days. But Jack, the Program Director had an idea: "Robbie, these aluminum row-boats need some enamel painted on the side panels to show the camp colour - orange. Would you like to help me this afternoon?"

The boy was surprisingly interested and spent the next ninety minutes with Jack. "But Robbie which one is yours?" He looked up puzzled, shrugged his shoulders and pointed to one of the boats. "O.K. now help me turn it upside-down. Get the paint brush and sign your name in large letters. That way up on the racks at free boating time you will know."

R--O--B--B--I--E

A transformation occurred the next day as Robbie paced the perimeter of the smaller bay. He asked me for a swimming re-test, and this time he lacked nothing in determination or power. Form was another matter but I knew that he would come along now.

Many evenings thereafter in the pleasant quiet and colour of near sunset, I could find the boy covered in life preserver and happily plying the waters in his row-boat. Jack would look at me and smile broadly.

There is something about knowing that a dream has been set aside with your name on it, and that others respected by you share in your blossoming confidence. It obliterates fear and self-pity and stirs to greater, nobler endeavour.

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