Preparing Boys for Life.
On Reading: Physical Education Department Chair Jeff Potter
Karen Suter, Middle School reading teacher

In this new series, called On Reading, Middle School reading teacher Karen Suter interviews Haverford community members on their reading habits and book recommendations. In this blog post, Jeff Potter, Chair of the Physical Education Department, three-sport coach, and parent to 6 kids, reflects on how he finds time to read in his busy household, and why he thinks it’s important to read about self-improvement and gaining self-confidence.

All of the books I read are about self-improvement: how to improve mentally, physically, socially. And then a lot of faith-based books as well. 

Reading is the first thing to go when things get busy. At night, once all the kids are in bed, there isn’t a lot of time left for reading. By reading during the middle school “read & prep” periods I developed the skill of sitting and reading for an extended period. I finally have time to do it. At home time is always filled with other things but having the school time helped me develop the habit. Having a dedicated reading time makes a difference. It’s practice time just like for music or sports. I wasn’t always like this. 

How do I find books? I listen to a lot of podcasts and the person being interviewed always has a book. Also, when I’m researching a certain topic like sport performance, I read through what books referenced look good, I look at their reviews and ratings. 

A vision for me is to be the best teacher/coach I can be. If I can help kids in that way - the mental edge,  along with fitness and nutrition, that’s my goal.  I didn’t have that kind of model growing up. The books I read are about self-improvement, getting over fears, and fear of other’s opinions.

I always had a lot of self-doubt and fear with sports. Practice was great but I felt like during game time I was letting down coaches, parents, teammates, and no one was able to help me out with that. A vision for me is to be the best teacher/coach I can be. If I can help kids in that way - the mental edge, along with fitness and nutrition, that’s my goal.  I didn’t have that kind of model growing up. The books I read are about self-improvement, getting over fears, and fear of other’s opinions. I wasn’t trying to impress anybody as a young athlete, but I didn’t want to let anyone down. I had two successful older brothers and I wanted to live up to being as good as they were. A lot of coaches put pressure on me to be like my brothers. It could have been more successful if I had gotten out of my own way. A lot of the books I read describe a “fear loop” that‘s hard to get out of. Having a growth mindset allows an individual to get past these things. Not just in sports but in education, music, and theater. 

I highlight and mark up books, and I journal in them, so I stopped giving books away - they didn’t always come back. I did recently give The Energy Bus by John Gordon as a gift to someone. His podcast is called Positive University. He has many small books that I read to my own kids that address everyday problems kids have and how to overcome them. They are fables with strong messages. 

Elite Minds: How Winners Think Differently to Create a Competitive Edge and Maximize Success by Stan Beecham stands out as a book I would recommend. It wasn’t too technical. The author goes through how to improve performance predominantly in sports but in any field. It’s about how to talk to yourself, to visualize, seeing yourself remembering a time when you were successful and using that to visualize success. Smell, remember, feel your best game, get all the senses involved. Stay focused and deliberate during practice. Instead of aiming for 10,000 hours, try 6,000 focused hours. You can’t be in the flow state if you’re in your mind. The research in the book shows that we have about 60,000 thoughts a day and 70% are negative. Unless we change that internal dialogue, we aren’t going to change anything else. This book would be appropriate for Form II and up unless it’s a highly interesting topic to a Form I or 6th grader. It would be great for parents and coaches. 

Pictured: Chair of the Physical Education Department Jeff Potter, and his current stack of books! 

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