There can be a myriad of factors as to why some kids excel in sports and why others never achieve the greatness that’s within them. Since 2007 I’ve been working closely with kids between the ages of 4 and 24. You would think that the age gap is wide as it pertains to learning but in fact, there are a lot of commonalities. If you dig deep into the literature, kids and adults actually yearn for the same things in a teacher-student environment. Studies show that both children and adults are both:
Internally motivated and self-directed
Want to be respected
Understanding these similarities, I’ve been able to use this as a baseline to deliver technical information to kids at all levels. More importantly, I’ve deduced that there are some innate and environmental factors in a child’s life that make them prone to working extremely hard on their game.
The phrase “hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard” has been exhausted to the point that kids don’t even think it applies to them. There are naturally gifted or talented kids everywhere; kids that are blessed with height, speed, strength or IQ. However, their gifts can only take them so far. For kids to continue to maximize their talents, they will eventually have to put in some good ol’-fashioned hard work. Hard work is something that cuts across all socio-economic and racial barriers. Rich-poor, white-black and everything in between, hard work is available to everyone who wants it.
Where does a child's motivation come from to want to put in said work?
Parents in my opinion are the single most influential factor into how motivated a child is to want to put in the necessary work. I’ve seen both rich and poor parents create a home environment of accountability and high standards. This type of environment sets the tone for children not to settle for mediocrity and always push themselves towards excellence. If a child makes excuses or blames others for their shortcomings, they’re met with a swift reality check from parents and or family members. If it's the parents making excuses for the child, it's an entirely different conversation. Whatever form the attitude or behavior adjustment comes in doesn’t really matter, as long as it’s swift and consistent.
Trauma is often a huge motivator for how hard a child works. Kids that go through traumatic situations can become hyper-focused on becoming great. What constitutes trauma can be somewhat subjective or blatantly obvious. The death of someone close to a child can be a huge motivator. The “survivor” will work incredibly hard on their game to honor the life of the person that has passed on. This survivor is working for a cause that’s bigger than themselves; a higher purpose so to speak. This type of player will go the extra mile in the gym because they feel fortunate to still be on this earth to have the ability to achieve their goals. Addiction, mental illness or the disability of a family member can cause enough trauma for a child to understand the amazing hand they’ve been dealt.
A child that has been marginalized or bullied often has an extra motivation to prove others wrong. These kids believe that their detractors or “haters” want to see them fail miserably and they vow to never let that happen. They spend an exorbitant amount of time thinking about their haters; to the point that it encroaches on the precipice of paranoia. Kids in this group will be obsessed with getting to the top in order to get the last laugh.
Children quickly recognize their economic situation as soon as they go to school and begin to meet other kids. They realize that their parents don’t have the means to go on vacations, to the cottage or have disposable income to spend. Kids in this group often see household bills go unpaid and utilities being shut off. The food supply is inconsistent and will often lead to poor eating habits. Many of these children crave fast foods because it tastes so much better than the staple, starch-filled foods being served at home. Kids in this group understand the importance of “making it”. Their success can drastically change their lives and the lives of an entire generation.
A hyper-competitive child never wants to loose at anything they do on or off the court. Their classmates, teammates or even soulmate isn’t spared when the competition begins. They view the world as one gigantic race and they have to finish first. This child will fear loosing to a point that they will experience micro emotional breakdowns when it occurs. They simply don't have the experience and maturity to deal with defeat. Sometimes a child's hyper-competitiveness is learned from older siblings or a parent that may be living vicariously through this child. Kids in this group may be socially awkward but they’re laser-focused on success and rarely take days off. Michael Jordan, arguably the best player of all time, would fall in the category of hyper-competitive. When questioned about his gambling habits, Jordan said “I have a competition problem, a competitive problem” (The Last Dance Netflix).
The categories that I’ve described are by no means homogeneous in nature. Kids are often a mixture of groups or don’t fall into any of the groups at all. Regardless of the which category a child falls, their work-ethic is the same. Relentless, intense, fearless and focused are all adjectives that describe how this child approaches the game. These children slowly begin separate themselves from their counterparts as it relates to skill acquisition and performance. Their hunger for knowledge is insatiable and they're never satisfied with what they did yesterday. Whatever the source of a child’s motivation, the ones that continuously put in the work will maximize their potential.