Lighting Fires

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Check out the above photograph from the Kenyan town of Iten, just sent to me by Dr. Randy Wilber, a senior sport physiologist at the U.S. Olympic Committee Performance Lab. In it, two elite Kenyan runners trailed by a little kid who’s running to school.  It’s a tiny moment, and yet one that helps explain why this relatively small place produces the vast majority of the world’s great runners. As Wilber writes,

…it captures the “passing of the torch” from one generation of great runners to the next.  The little boy is serious and working hard to keep in contact.  The older runners are holding back just a bit so that the young one will stay relatively close and not get discouraged.  They are sending the message, “Yes, you are the next in line.  Someday you will be as good as we are.  Believe in yourself and grow in confidence.”  Please be aware that this is not an isolated image.  You see this same “passing of the torch” scene all over the streets and roads near the tiny town of Iten (pop. ~4000), both boys and girls.

Passing the torch is a nice way to put it. It’s the same thing that happens in Brazil in halftime of a futsal (indoor soccer) match, when flocks of four-and five-year-olds zoom around the court, pretending to be Robinho. Or at KIPP schools when inner-city fourth-graders travel to Ivy League colleges to visit KIPP alumni. It’s a simplest of connections; no words are required, no expensive facilities, no “development programs.”  Just two dots connected by a powerful idea: you could be them.

Let’s set all the psychology aside, and ask a question: where else can this kind of connection happen — in education, sports, art, in music, business? Where else are the opportunities to create this kind of identity-electricity?