Monday, February 4, 2013

Does Your Child Understand How to Succeed in Sports?

   Success in sports comes in different forms. The most obvious one is derived from your child's ability to play a sport well. He or she wins. The team wins. Everyone wants to play with your son or daughter.

Sounds good, doesn't it. But how does your child become one of these players?

The best players, of course, are usually gifted with “natural” athletic talent. They've got good genes. They typically have physical attributes (size, strength, speed) that set them apart from others. They may also have exceptional motor skills (hand-eye coordination).

Qualities Other Than Natural Talent

But here’s an essential truth you and your child need to understand: natural talent alone does not determine success in sports. Although it often accompanies success, it’s only one ingredient in the mix of qualities that define a winning, competitive athlete. Hard work (practice and preparation) is also necessary to shape one’s talent into effective play. Likewise, good coaching and instruction help transform raw talent into a more refined product. Other more intangible qualities also play an important role. The “will to win”, ability to learn, leadership qualities, and tactical intelligence all help define an athlete’s prospects for success.

Success is Often Relative to Context and Circumstance

You and your child should also appreciate that talent isn't absolute—it grows or shrinks relative to circumstance. In youth, it’s often relative to one’s physical development. Your child may physically mature earlier or later than others his or her age. “Stars” at the youth level may dominate because they are bigger, taller, or stronger. But like runners who charge to the front at the start of a long race, only to quickly fall back into the pack, their advantage is frequently short-lived. No longer tall or strong for their age as they and others mature, their talent (in this case a physical advantage) disappears.

The measure of one’s talent is also relative to the level of competition. Middle school stars who possess outstanding skills may find that this talent alone isn't the path to success when they graduate to high school. Many others may now have similar abilities—ones that were regarded as exceptional at lower levels.

Consider professional athletes. At lower levels, most were exceptionally gifted athletes. But at the elite professional level, many are now viewed as having limited athleticism. Their talent is less remarkable.

The Ability to Adapt

Yet despite their diminished relative ability, many of these professional players still enjoy great success. For example, from 2006 through 2008, a decidedly non-athletic Jason Kapono found success in the NBA because of his ability to make 3-point shots. Tom Brady did not become one of the best quarterbacks of all time because he is a physically great athlete. (His NFL combine results, including a 5.28 40 yard time, were some of the worst ever recorded for a quarterback.) Instead, he adapted his play at the professional level to counter the quicker, faster, and stronger NFL defenders. He learned how to more quickly process patterns of play and make the right decisions.

These players all find other ways to play their sport well; their path to success changes. They may excel in one area of play—possibly one that is crucial to the success of their team. They build upon their experience and countless practice repetitions; their minds have a fuller grasp of how to play the game, enabling them to more quickly take advantage of opportunities that present themselves during a contest. They may also have greater mental discipline to both prepare and persevere. They’re better conditioned. They work and play harder. Their will to win is strong.

Help Your Child Find His or Her Unique Path

If your child wants to play competitive sports, his or her path to success will likely resemble the one just described. Few athletes consistently win throughout their career by relying on their athletic talent alone. Instead, hard work and the other qualities described above come into play. And this is good news for your child and every young athlete. He or she can develop and control many of these other qualities. Make sure that you communicate this message to your child.

Copyright © 2013 Jeffrey S. Rhoads. All Rights Reserved

If you enjoyed this article, you may like my book:
The Joy of Youth Sports: Creating the best youth sports experience for your child (Amazon $8.95)

(Kindle Edition $2.99)

Copyright 2009-2012 Jeffrey S. Rhoads; All Rights Reserved


Jodi Murphy said...

Although kids with "natural" talent do have a leg up, I think as players get older coaches notice the kids who maybe aren't the superstar but have the heart and dedication of a great athlete. Natural talent can carry you pretty far but if you aren't pushing yourself to get better the kid who does push himself might one day be better than the superstar.

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