Developing a Proper Mindset in Raising Gifted and Talented Athletes
I'm going to be honest, I tend to have red lights go off in my sports medicine specialist brain when I hear phrases like "she's the best athlete in her school" or "he's the superstar of the team."
Not that I can't handle bravado or a bit of embellishment.
I am genuinely excited to share the accomplishments of many of my young patients, but also do get worried about what the "gifted label" means for the athlete and just as importantly, for those around him or her.
Human nature tends to draw us closer to those who are physically gifted- we admire their talents, rarely tire of seeing them perform such wonderful feats, and often want them to be on the best teams and in the star positions. It can be a the stuff that is seen in dreams: to be asked to play "up with the older kids", frequently get asked to play on multiple teams, and often get the ball in crunch time.
However, this seemingly gratifying situation can quickly lead to bad dreams when we also realize that overburdening our most talented young athletes can possibly deter if not destroy their future sport and exercise ambitions. In his moving piece Are We Destroying Our Biggest Talents?, prominent sports research scientist Roald Bahr laments the consequences of such overload and quite eloquently advocates for extra caution in managing expectations and workload for our most gifted athletes.
Dr. Bahr's work centers mostly around repetitive jumping and hitting in volleyball (a shared passion) but also cites examples of frequent throwing in baseball and cricket as additional evidence of the propensity of excessive overload in star young athletes.
The development of pitch counts in baseball is but one effort to objectively measure and hopefully limit cumulative overload, and similar possibilities including jump counts and monitoring the number of hours per week in sport activity are sensible avenues to consider. Sufficient rest, attention to proper nutrition, and adhering to the principles of periodization which include coordinated, individualized, progressive changes in training intensity, frequency and volume are all necessary components of a comprehensive sport program for all young athletes, particularly those perceived to have the most talent.
I also will bring to your attention a summary of the seminal work of Carol Dweck, a prominent psychologist who developed a comparison between the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. All credit for graphic below to Ray Lokar from the Positive Coaching Alliance.
Many have seen gifted young athletes perceive their talents to be innate and developed from birth leading to diminished effort, avoiding of challenges, a fear of failure, and eventual early plateau. Combing early success with a growth mentality that embraces challenge and growth, even through failure, may lead to unprecedented levels of future success.
So if you are one of the best or a parent/coach/instructor of one of the best our there, I offer both my sincere admiration and professional reminders about certain responsibilities:
- Take extra care of the talents
- Seek out qualified professional assistance
- Don't forget importance of rest and nutrition
- Look at the long-term big picture
- Don't let ego focus on immediate gratification and potentially destroy future goals and aspirations
- Always be growing and learning- never become complacent
My best wishes to keep young athletes playing at their best!