When I was an athlete I used to do a lot of public speaking at schools, sports awards, clubs etc, and I would often get one of two questions from parents:
1) What did my parents do when I was a child to encourage / nurture / push me towards becoming an Olympic athlete.
2) How do I know if my child is talented?
I see where they are coming from. They want their precious child to become the next big thing, so why not ask someone who has been there and done it to get some inside knowledge. But do you know what a real indicator of your child’s future success, at anything (not just sport), would be?
If your child had come and asked me that question.
Think about that for just a moment. In the modern day of parenting, why do we feel like we must do everything for our children? Have you actually checked in with your kid if they want more? Or do you just make an assumption and merrily drive them to training, pack their bags, do all their laundry because you see it as your job as a parent?
My parents were never the loud ones on the sideline at Saturday sport. They rarely yelled, but they did pass me looks of direction or encouragement during a match if I glanced over at them. They would often position themselves at half time so they could offer me a tidbit as I walked off the field, if I threw them a certain look asking for it. They never told me what to do or were pushy, but they had sporting minds and understood concepts for my position. They restrained themselves because they knew this:
If I was going to make it, I had to want it for myself.
When I was at high school, I took up football as a casual sport because both my mum and dad were involved and I needed to play something where there were no expectations on me. One Sunday after a game, I remember dad asking me if I was aware which side of the goal was the opposition goalkeeper’s weak side ( I played a Striker). I had no idea, I hadn’t thought about it. So he said that for the next game, he was going to stand behind the opposition goalkeeper at the point he thought was her weak spot. All I had to do when I got in front of goal to shoot, he said, was pass him the ball.
Next game, I kid you not, I scored 4 goals! The lesson from this exercise was way more valuable than those 4 goals. If I knew what the opposition’s weaknesses were, then I could use my skill to exploit it. I unwittingly became a student of the game and it was MY DECISION. My dad planted the seed that day, but allowed me to let it grow. He couldn’t have forced me to do extra work if I didn’t want to do it, I had to be committed.
My parents were both heavily involved in sport themselves and so I spent my Saturday’s and Sunday’s following them around and watching them play. That’s how I learned to be competitive, to be tough, to want to win, to be a team player and that’s how my passion for sport developed. I learned to appreciate players that were better than me and more gifted than me so I could work hard to match them. They didn’t have to yell any of that at me, I absorbed it and it became part of who I was as an athlete.
As an adult now and with my own 3 kids – I am the opposite of mum and dad!!! I am the loud (but supportive) parent. I cannot NOT yell support to my kids, to the opposition kids when they score a great goal against us, to my kid’s team mates. I want my kids to learn how to win, I want my kids to learn how to be competitive. I want them to understand that if they want to be the best at something in life, then they must practise, practise, practise. But I won’t try and give it to them.
Because there is no substitute for hard work and commitment.
Which brings me to my next point:
Don’t worship physical talent in your kid.
Newsflash – and you may wanna brace yourself for this: There is no such thing as an elite 8 or 9 or 10 year old or a professional 11 year old – it doesn’t happen!
Wayne Goldsmith (who was a talent identifier for Australian athletes leading up to the 2000 Sydney Olympics) believes that there are two indicators that will determine if your kid could become a world class athlete. And more importantly, it is the mix of those two things that will determine if he/she will succeed as a world class athlete. I 100% agree with his matrix and explanation. In retrospect I can see which box I fell into and I can also see it in my kids and in the other kids I see playing sport.
Below is the matrix, take a moment to read it before moving on.
For more info, I suggest you watch the following clip of Wayne Goldsmith presenting his ideas: Watch Here
Basically if your child is in the green or orange box then they have a higher chance of becoming a high performance athlete in whatever sport they’ve chosen. More athletes will fall into the green box where they will have some talent for sure, but they are super committed. What they lack in skill they make up for with hard work, passion and dedication to their team, respect for their sport and all involved. This was me.
However, at school age level, you may recognise the kids in the purple box. These are the ones we all sit back and admire while muttering “This kid could do anything he wants. He could make the best teams and be the best…..if only he would……..”.
This kid is in my 6 year old’s rugby team. He is a very gifted player and makes everything look easy. But he throws tantrums if he is substituted during a match. He kicks / pushes other kids in the team if they make mistakes. He gets lazy when the team starts to lose. But all the parents want him on the field because he helps the team win games and his dad is one of the coaches. To be honest, I feel a bit sorry for him and I have to wonder how committed he is to playing rugby at all.
Now, back to my parents. Here’s where I think they got it right with me and as a result this is what I naturally do with my kids:
They NEVER forced me to go to training or a game – I wanted to, even when I didn’t want to.
They NEVER cleaned my boots, unpacked my bag or prepared my bag for training or competition. If I forgot something once, I didn’t forget it again. If I didn’t unpack my clothes and throw them in the wash, I wore a wet, stinky uniform next time.
They NEVER packed my food / water. They may have told me what to pack – but it was my job to learn how to look after my body.
They NEVER told me off, reprimanded or yelled at me during / after a match. EVER
They DID tell me that if I signed up for a season, then I had a responsibility to my team mates to turn up to everything or risk letting them all down.
They DID teach me that just because my team is losing doesn’t mean I stop trying.
They DID encourage me to practise more if I wanted to be better.
They DID teach me to appreciate those more talented than me but to work harder if I wanted to be better. This I think is a really tough one and it took me well into my career to get it. It’s hard not to let envy creep in sometimes, especially when kids in the purple box seemed to have it so easy…for now.
At 6, my son packs his own rugby bag, makes his own snack bag and fills his own bottle. After training or games, he unpacks everything and cleans what needs cleaning. He is learning to respect his tools and his body. Don’t get me wrong, some days he moans about it, as I did, and forgets things or I have to yell at him to grab something as we are flying out the door – but he always does it…..
Because he wants to, not because I want him to.
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