A respected colleague yesterday put out the statement that since a his daughter had missed two Sunday practices for her volleyball team in a month due to her “schedule”, that she was just “playing” at volleyball. Anyone who knows me or reads this blog has to know what I said next:
All together now: “What’s wrong with ‘playing at’ volleyball?”
Certainly, I was being a bit “cheeky” (a term I got from my British friends). I understand what he was saying. He was saying that in order to become great at something, one must commit fully. I agree with this in principle. I think we all do on the surface. But Move Theory always seeks to unravel, to look for the root when discussing child development.
Give 110%! Commitment breeds success! Drill, drill, drill!
But what happens when we look a little deeper? We are interested in children becoming good students, good citizens, good athletes, good friends, yes? We are also interested in our children being healthy. If we must give 100% to be good at something, and forsake other things to be good at something – what gives? Certainly, it is physically impossible to give 100% to each thing that is important in life. This is especially true during the delicate process of child development.
At some point, principle must meet practical.
Do we sacrifice academic development for athletic development, or vice versa? Do we sacrifice character for achievement? Do we sacrifice rest (and therefore long term health) for character and achievement? The fact is, teens today who are seen as “achievers with potential” are more over scheduled and over stressed than ever before in modern life. There is this whole dogma of “getting a leg up” as if everything in life is one big competition to win.
We have fallen into this trap of “creating greatness”; the trap that allows us to believe “All I have to do is X and Y, and this child will become great”. This is a fallacy. There are just as many who have become failures doing X and Y. No two paths to greatness are exactly alike. There are athletes and scholars alike that no one ever thought would amount to anything. There are “prodigies” who we were certain would be great that fizzled out completely. While focus matters, desire also matters. If an athlete does not have the internal desire to become great, trying to build it in them is often damaging. Desire comes from an internal, organic connection that says to a young person “This is the most important thing in my life”. We cannot force this.
All too often, we make the mistake of conveying to the child: “This important thing, this most important thing, should be the only thing in my life”.
Young people often obsess over things. Their frontal lobes, the part of the brain that helps regulate behavior and switch attention from one thing to another, is not fully developed. Yes, this has created some accomplished individuals. Unchecked, or worse yet, encouraged, this tendency to obsess can be quite damaging, and is more likely to lead to burnout and injury than greatness.
“Alright smarty pants. What’s your solution?”
It is our job as the supposedly wiser beings, with patience, to supply perspective. Create environments in which young people learn to play with the concepts of nuance and balance. Stop addressing them with feel good, sound good platitudes, like “110%” and “commit”. They don’t know what those things mean – because neither do we. Speak to them about reality. Ask them questions: “What percent of your life do you need to give to this to achieve mastery? What will you leave for the other important things?”
Don’t get it twisted. I believe in intensity of focus and practice. When you are at practice, commit fully to that practice. When you are spending time with family, commit fully to that. But at present, what we often term as encouragement is actually control and restriction of development. It’s time to let go a bit.
Sometimes, it is the lighter yoke that frees the climb…
Achieve Balance. Choose Life. Be Grateful.