By Mai-Lis Bahr
My husband and I took our nine and eleven year old to see the movie McFarland, USA, which is based upon a true story that took place in 1987. If your family has not seen this movie, I highly recommend it. McFarland, USA gives you a great opportunity to generate dialogue about important character traits with your kids (and yourself).
The overarching theme was the reminder not to underestimate the power of the human spirit when combined with the power of persistence. Kevin Costner plays a cross country coach at the high school in McFarland, CA. McFarland is a Mexican-American farming community where many of the kids are “pickers” (migrant workers who subsist on harvesting crops) prior to and after school. He is blown away by the commitment, speed and stamina of the students who run from school to the fields. While the school does not have a track team, he sees an opportunity to make in impact in their lives, and unknowingly his own. After recruiting an eager runner who then helps recruit six more, a cross country team is formed. The team faces immediate ridicule from more experienced and better funded teams and has a challenging start. What sets them apart from these other teams is their persistent desire to want to do better individually, while wholeheartedly supporting one another and their coach. Even when they are met with prejudices, they cross the finish line each time with determination and faith and are met by a coach who supports them on and off the course.
We spent some time afterwards talking to our kids about persistence and working hard, while working with intention and vision. Did the team or coach quit when they faced ridicule and lost their first race? No, they worked together with resiliency and problem solved. A mantra in our household is “the harder you work now, the easier it will be later”. Our kids saw that statement actually played out in McFarland, USA. We are daily coaches in our kids lives. Just like Costner’s character, we also have to own up to our own failures with our kids. By doing so, we build up their self esteem and their trust in us.
McFarland, USA has many other underlying messages that will resonate with you as a parent, as a coach, and as an individual. The sense of community, that they are all family, is inspiring and real. While it is harder to have a strong sense of community in a city like Charlotte, we all live in our own smaller communities within Charlotte. It is important that we teach and show our kids the importance of teamwork and family and the power that they have. And that also ties into the importance of making everyone on the team (or within a family) feel appreciated. No one is better than the other. The benefits of a team far outweigh the individual.
Inspirational sports movies have been pulling on our hearts since Rocky. Although many of the movies have predictable outcomes, we find comfort in knowing our hearts will be filled in a sometimes unfulfilling world. We are thirsty for and drink up messages of inspiration and hope. It is why we lean in more towards TV, movies, and books that take us on that bumpy, unlikely journey of a nobody who became somebody. America was built upon the promise of opportunity.
McFarland, USA has rightfully earned a spot in the top sports movies of all time: We are Marshall, Million Dollar Arm, Hoosiers, The Blind Side, Rudy, and Remember the Titans. After all, who doesn’t appreciate an underdog story? Now, take your kids to the movie and use the opportunity to dig into conversation with them afterwards. I promise you will not be disappointed.