Swagger Vs. Humility

Via Whitney T, here's a thought-provoking blog from Ravi Gupta of Nashville Prep. He writes:

Nashville Prep's parents are constantly telling me that they fear they are losing the war of values. Their children -- our scholars -- are barraged by competing messages from television, music, and older kids in their neighborhoods. One of our primary responsibilities at Nashville Prep is to combat these forces by introducing a competing cultural force.

This competing force must be overpowering. It's not enough to constantly remind scholars that they are on the path to college, or to reinforce a strong ethical framework (we spend a colossal amount of time teaching and reviewing both). We need a stronger force.

I tend to agree. Most teenagers want to build an identify of strength. Academic prowess is not usually linked to self-perception of strength. In fact, some evidence of an inverse relationship.

But what's the stronger force? Ravi suggests: academic swagger.

One recent exchange with Darius, a Nashville Prep scholar, illustrates the point:

Me: How are you going to do on that unit test in math tomorrow?

Darius: I'm going to dominate that test.

Me: What will domination look like?

Darius: I plan on getting 100% of the multiple choice correct, and my open response will be the answer key to that test. Mr. Richards (math teacher) shouldn't bother making his own.

This is what motivation looks like at the highest levels. A future MIT student doesn't walk into a high school exam expecting an A-. The highest achievers are only satisfied when they cannot find a single person who will outperform them.

Some will recoil at this level of confidence. Humility is, no doubt, an essential trait. That's why we also emphasize the flip side of (Muhammad) Ali's swagger -- his relentless training regiment. Ali was ferocious in the gym.

I like the general theme here. It leads me to some questions.

1. Does academic swagger generate the relentless training?

I.e., is Darius so confident because he studied his butt off?

And more specifically: did he talk big (like Ali) in part to "trap himself" into needing to study his butt off?

2. How did Darius do on the test? What was the conversation afterwards?

3. I think of some of my favorite athletes:

Kevin Garnett has on-court swagger but off-court humility -- always harping on what he needs to do better.

Same with Tom Brady; here's this morning's version.

Their confidence comes from out-working other guys with similar athletic gifts. Their out-working everyone else comes from drive to be the best. (Note that this desire to compete positively affects their teammates' desire to compete).

However, I'm not sure how to generate that drive to be the best, and how often cultivating swagger is better than cultivating "humble public self with private self-confidence" helps some kids develop the work habits they need to succeed.