Tuesday, March 15, 2022

If your child really is talented, save your energy

 I almost never post here any more because I've been crazy busy, running the Growing Math Project but today I was answering an email from a parent of a talented little athlete and I thought my ideas might be of interest to other parents and coaches as well.

Dear Parent, 

From loads of experience seeing many, many kids - she is nine years old and kids pick up on what their parents think is good, right up until they become teenagers and think you are out to ruin their lives. Most likely, your child is working hard at their sport because she believes you value it.

I used to think it was a negative to start early but I started in my very unscientific survey asking people I ran into who were world or Olympic gold or silver medalists and there was zero correlation with how young they started from age 3- 12.  Very, very few started after 14 but I ran into people who started at 3, 5, 7, 11, 12 - there didn't seem to be any advantage or disadvantage in starting earlier. 

My 7- or 8- or 9-year-old child is an extremely talented judo player / martial artist. What should I do?

My 5 pieces of advice

1. Kids can burn out and parents can, too. Save your time and money for when she really needs to travel for competitions and training. I would not be driving an hour away for a child at 9. Save your energy because if she is really good, by the time she is 14, you want to have some left. When Ronda was 14-16 I was taking her to 9 practices a week, and that was on top of her going to school and me working and having 3 other kids. 

2. For a child from 9-12, if they can stay in good condition doing anything, they will be ahead of the game at 13-14 because most kids aren't in very good shape. Ronda was a swimmer from age 5-10 and then decided she didn't want to do it any more and started judo. Julia (my youngest) was in judo from age 4-11 and switched to soccer. Whatever she likes to do that is good exercise, do that, whether it is running in the park, swimming, playing soccer. Put her in a sport that involves running or swimming. It doesn't matter whether it is gymnastics or basketball or water polo.

3. Make practice fun, even the boring parts. Ronda hated running and you need to have good conditioning for judo. She did not mind conditioning drills in judo where you sprint between partners and throw them, so we did more of that. We did a lot of games  like tug of war, that make you work hard and build the grip and muscles you need for judo but are still fun. 

4. When you go to training camps, seminars or tournaments, make sure there is fun afterwards - team dinners, going to the aquarium or amusement parks - something your child likes to do.

5. A very wise coach once said, "You can buy your child skills but you can't buy them talent." Driving your child two hours round-trip to practice at the best gym in town might give them more skills than the other child has, but it won't make them more talented. Judo is not gymnastics. They aren't going to peak at 13. If you and your child like that club and you have the time, and it doesn't take you away from your spouse, other children and things you want to do, go for it. 

In the end, your daughter may decide she'd rather switch to cross-country or soccer or ballet, or she may stick with judo / BJJ/ MMA to become a world champion. Either way, she'll have had a healthy, happy childhood and you won't be overly stressed. What more could one ask?

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