How do you cultivate the talent of athletic children?

The topic of kids with talents (athletic or otherwise) and how to get the most out of it has been a lot on my mind the last years. The reason is obvious. I am the father of an obviously athletically gifted child.

He rode a balance bike from when he was one and a half years old, was really good with football from two and now at the age of four is outperforming those of his age. If I do my job properly and do everything I can he is doomed for stardom. He can become the next Alistair Brownlee, Roger Federer or Lionel Messi.

He was riding his balance bike long before he was two
Jonas had great foot/ball coordination from the age of two.
Today he just finished his second triathlon and improved hugely from the first time leading the race until a few meters from T2.

Do I sound insane? Hopefully, this did not resonate very well in your ears. It’s because it is total BS.

Nr. 1 – There is no way to tell if your child is going to be the new Brownlee, Federer or Messi at the age of four, seven or fifteen for that matter. So don’t believe any coach who tries to convince you otherwise. I know it’s well-meant, but it does not make it more true. If you do the number game and calculate the chance of that happening it is extremely unlikely no matter how big talent you see in your child.

Nr. 2 – The dream of achieving your athletic potential is probably (as in my case) your dream and not your child’s dream. If I ask the 3-6 years old in Jonas’s nursery of what they want to become I have heard everything from firefighter and police to a flying fairy and a dangerous shark(!). I never ever heard any of them dreaming of athletic careers. My opinion is that parents do not have the right to dream anything for their child. It’s not fair to put that burden on their tiny shoulders, even if I know most parents only want the best for their children. This includes dreams in sports, academics, art etc.

Nr. 3 – Focusing on performance early does seldom lead to great performance. Counterintuitive as it sounds, doing focused and specific training from an early age does not yield the best results. Sure you have the Tiger Woods, Williams sisters, Ingebrigtsen brothers and the Polgár sisters. The child prodigies who have been on their one and only path to success from the day they could walk. In most cases, world-class athletes have been «all over» the place in terms of athletic before settling into specific and structured training from a more mature age. This study was done on German National Team football players and the result went straight against «common sense». The did less organized practice in their youth, more engagement in other sports and later specialisation.

Nr. 4 – It’s not about winning. It is about having fun with friends. That is the ultimate goal of children sports. I also believe that’s the only way to true athletic success. If it doesn’t lead to sports performance written in history books (which you remember is highly unlikely anyway), at least you had fun along the way.

A recommended book which touches this topic is «Range – by David Epstein»

I have no ambitions for Jonas athletic achievements and don’t believe I have the right to either. My aim is only that doing activities that bring him joy. And what can beat a medal, bun and a pack of raisins when it comes to bringing joy? 😉
Doing the race with his big hero, his ten-year-old cousin was a huge bonus 😀

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I am a 33 year old PRO triatlete. My goal is to swim, bike and run as fast as possible, and enjoy the journey. All my adventures and triathlon related stuff is well documented on this blog.

2 kommentarer til “How do you cultivate the talent of athletic children?

  1. Helt enig, Allan! Jeg tror det er kjempeviktig at barn opplever glede og mestring når det gjelder aktivitet i barndommen. Da vil de etterhvert få en indre motivasjon til å fortsette med aktivitet etter hvert som de blir eldre. Som foreldre kan vi legge til rette for at de får prøve aktiviteter som passer i.f.t alder og interesser😊

    1. Mitt inntrykk er at barn er født med gleden av å være i aktivitet. Jeg tilbringer mye tid på diverse lekeplasser i Oslo og jeg kan ikke huske å ha sett barn som ikke «gidder» å leke når de er på en gøyal lekeplass. Som du sier, så kan vi foreldre legge til rette for passende aktiviteter.

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