Push and pull

Parenting / Thursday, May 16th, 2013

I was listening to Q for a bit as we were driving around today and he had on a guest, Rasmus Ankersen, who was talking about how parents help their children when it comes to creating skilled athletes.

This former professional soccer player has written a book about high performance athletes and he and Jian Gomeshi were discussing how parents involve themselves in the activities/careers of their children. Now, I’ve heard more than once that an NHL player would have quit hockey after his first practice if his parents hadn’t made him keep going. I’m sure there are similar stories in other sports. Ankersen’s thesis is that ambitious, committed parents play a vital role in creating great athletes, and that parents can push kids to excel in other ways in life as well.

Part of his thesis stems from Malcolm Gladwell’s theory that you need 10,000 hours to become proficient at something and that young children will have to be pushed to train that much before they develop a passion for something.




We are a household that loves hockey, my husband is also a musician and we both want our daughter to learn an instrument. Since she was born I have put her in different activities to keep her active and see what she likes. I’m hoping she’ll find a passion. She’s done swimming and gymnastics, skating and dance. We let her play often enough, with us and by herself, we try to get her around other kids, but activities are important and her Dad got a lot out of his time in hockey and playing in a band.

I have often thought about how much pushing is too much, what’s encouraging and supportive and what’s overbearing?

When she didn’t want to go to dance class should we have made her? She still says she wants to be a dancer and I’ve tried to explain that it will take a lot of practice and classes, but we’ll support her if that’s what she wants. Being a dancer will certainly take going to classes without her parents, when she doesn’t feel like it, eventually when something hurts.

But how do I know when she’s choosing and what we’re choosing for her? What does she want with that 10,000 hours?

2 Replies to “Push and pull”

  1. That really is a tough one. My oldest son was okay with organized stuff but he never loved it. He just did it because we wanted him to. It took me a while to realize that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't pressure my middle son into those types of classes. Now finally at 8years old he is finally interested in sport and he works hard and practices of his own volition. Oh and my oldest picked up the guitar this weekend. My DH gave him a quick and dirty lesson and he has been practicing too. I think what i have learned is that as parents, we can't force our kids to do stuff, but we can give them the opportunities and they have the options of taking them or not. I have always told the boys that if they sign up for something and decide they hate it they have to follow through till the end of the session. It isn't always fun. But sometimes by the end they realize it wasn't so bad after all.

  2. I struggle with this one too – mostly out of envy. When I hear of the son or daughter of friends who is super into a sport or activity – racing through the levels, practicing hours per week, obviously passionate and on their way to excellence – I feel like I should be working harder with my kids to find something they can excel at, too.

    But then, part of me wants them just to be a kid, and to have fun. And a lot of me wants us to have time to do stuff as a family, to hang out and play board games and push each other on the swingset and maybe take a picnic to the park.

    I had to work hard to get my mind in a frameset where I was okay with them just being normal, average people. To discover that having them be excellent at something – while *possible*, with lots of pushing and hard work on both our sides – was not my top priority. To let them try stuff if they wanted, and practice stuff if they wanted, but not to pressure, and instead to focus on fun experiences we can all share.

    But I still have the envy.

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