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How to Raise an Olympic Athlete

By: Greater Good Science Center

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people playing basketball on the beach during sunset

Even though the Olympics are over, my kids are still whipped into a frenzy. Fiona has a new passion for volleyball, and Molly is signed up for gymnastics in the Fall. I know we aren’t alone; households all over the world are currently filled with children dreaming of gold medals. So what does it take to become an Olympic athlete? Researchers across disciplines have studied extensively what it takes to be an elite performer; I’ve blogged about their findings in detail here. Drawing on this research into what it takes to go from being good at something to being great at it, here are some things we can do to encourage our blooming Olympic hopefuls.

  1. Focus on their happiness. If we want our kids to be successful in their endeavors, we’ll do well to foster positive emotions. Happier people earn more money, perform better, and are more helpful to their coworkers. Most people assume that this link exists because people feel happy when they are successful. But research suggests that happiness usually precedes success.
  2. Foster self-discipline. Kids can’t gain mastery over anything if they don’t have the discipline to practice, and that discipline needs to come from within our kids (rather than from bribes, threats, or cajoling).
  3. Practice, practice, practice. Most of us assume that Olympic athletes have incredible innate talent. It bears repeating however, that researchers across a wide array of fields have shown that innate ability has relatively little to do with why people go from being good to being truly great. Instead, greatness is all about practice. Elite performers practice hard, in a really specific way, and they practice consistently. This posting goes into more detail about the type of practice that breeds success.
  4. Also practice dealing with failure. Winners know how to handle loss, and so they aren’t afraid to challenge themselves or “go for the gold.” Instead of fearing failure, we need to teach our kids to cope with it so that they can learn, grow, and focus on the future.
  5. Eat dinner together . Your family is the foundation for all of your children’s success and happiness, and a daily family mealtime can be a powerful foundation for your family. What do you value most? Is it their winning, or their trying hard? Your family or their performance? Show your kids at dinner tonight.

© 2012 Christine Carter, Ph.D.


We share this article with permission. This article originally appeared here on Greater Good Science Center’s blog.

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