My son is an excellent athlete. From a very young age he was always considered a real talent. No matter what sport he played, he soon won tournaments and was invited to the national team. Now he is 15 and there is a major change – it’s as if he is afraid to compete. It’s gotten so bad he is thinking of quitting sport altogether. It’s a shame to see all this talent wasted. What should we do?
Having a talented child in sport or music or anything else is a real challenge for parents. From a young age it is easy for the talented child to perform well and surpass all his peers. And we reinforce him by telling him how talented he is and how proud we are. But what often happens is that the talent is not translated into daring confidence. In fact sometimes the opposite is true. The talented child is afraid to try new things that he might not easily succeed at because he is afraid to fail. If things don’t come easily, he gives up quickly.
In recent research it was discovered by psychologist Carol Dweck, that when we praise children for their intelligence or their talent the message we give is “look good, don’t risk making mistakes and being embarrassed.” The child doesn’t understand the importance of effort in order to succeed and instead participates only in the things he is good at.
In sport this may work in the early years but quickly the less talented hard working athletes catch up. All of a sudden the talented player is being challenged and may not be the best. When he no longer receives praise and feels he is disappointing his parents and coach, his natural solution is to quit.
What I recommend is to praise your child for his “process” and not his talent. Comment on his concentration, on his getting back quickly for defense, on his generosity as a team player. In this way he will begin to understand that in addition to talent, effort and practice are what’s needed to succeed.