By Michael A. Taylor
“It’s too bad when parents think their children can do no wrong – but it’s better than thinking they can do no right.”
– author unknown, from the Albert W. Daw Collection
In a recent article, I wrote of the many benefits of participating in a Gymnastics program. The skill development, physical benefits, social improvements and cognitive development of young athletes was outlined. Signing a child up for a Gymnastics class is a major first step toward a healthy lifestyle. What happens then? Research strongly suggests that parents play the largest role in influencing the development and healthy socialization of their children involved in sports. Selecting a Gymnastics program that provides a safe and nurturing environment is a primary concern but a parent’s responsibility does not end there. What are the next steps a parent can take to ensure a positive experience for their child?
A study led by Benjamin Bloom in 1985, Developing Talent in Young People, looked at how talent manifests and is developed in young people. The study divided the careers of talented young people (in art, music, mathematics and sport) into three stages: early, middle and later. Using terminology from Alfred North Whitehead, we call them the Romantic, the Technical, and the Mature stages.
A too-early focus on technique can drain the enjoyment that fuels the drive for excellence. A parent should provide their children with a variety of opportunities and multiple chances to achieve success in the early years of sport participation (McCullagh, Matzkanin, Shaw & Moldanado, 1993). Parents need to offer lots of positive feedback. There are drawbacks though; research indicates that as peer comparisons become increasingly more important to the young athlete, by about the age of 9, children become more evaluative of parent feedback. If positive feedback is not accurate, does not match performance, then the parent’s involvement could actually be detrimental to the child’s perception of their sport competence (Horn & Harris, 1996). Parents must give encouraging but honest and accurate feedback.
Talent is not often obvious at an early age. Bloom stated: “One of the most startling discoveries of our study has been that it takes a while to recognize swimming talent.” Only 10% or less of the athletes could be confidently identified as gifted by the age of 11 or 12. One coach didn’t recognize how talented a swimmer was even after working with her for five years (she went on to make the Olympics). Remember, Kathy Johnson (bronze medalist on floor exercise, 1978 World Championships and team silver medalist and balance beam bronze medalist, 84 Olympics) did not begin her gymnastics career until she was 13 years old – fairly late considering the talent he subsequently demonstrated.
Many kids have great potential. Support makes the difference: Perhaps the most interesting assertion Bloom makes is most children (95%) have the ability to approximate the achievements of the talented youth with proper encouragement. What is the difference between the children who reach the stage where their talent blooms forth and those who don’t? These children experienced something from their parents that seemed to make a huge difference.
“So far as we can tell, this willingness to give encouragement and support on the part of the parents (and siblings) is one of the major distinctions between the families of these Olympic swimmers and other families.” “no matter what the initial characteristics (or gifts) of the individuals, unless there is a long and intensive process of encouragement, nurturance, education and training, the individuals will not attain extreme levels of capabilities in these particular fields.” The research is very clear – what a parent says and does have a tremendous influence on their child. The more you as a parent support your children, the more your children will reach the highest level of talent development possible for them.
About the Author:
Michael A. Taylor is a USAG Kinder Accreditation for Teachers (KAT & MELPD) Instructor, serves on the USA Gymnastics PreSchool Advisory Panel, is a USA Gymnastics National Safety Instructor, serves on the USA Gymnastics Safety Review Board, is a USAG PDP I Video Clinic Administrator, an American Red Cross CPR/First Aid and Sport Safety Instructor, and an American Sport Education Program Coaching Principles (PDP II) Instructor. Michael is a Certified National Youth Sports Administrator; an Instructor for the Stanford University based Positive Coaching Alliance, a long-time member of the United States Elite Coaches Association and a former gym owner. He is currently a Senior Recreation Supervisor for the City of Menlo Park that includes the 1600 student Gymnastics program in Menlo Park, CA. A Certified Pool Operator and a licensed National Playground Safety Inspector, Michael is also the owner of Gym.Net, a Gymnastics Professional’s Network of Educational, Business, Consulting, and Internet Services specializing in Gymnastics oriented businesses.