Woodbury Mom: Dream Crusher

What do you tell your kids when they say they want to be a pro athlete when they grow up?

Not long ago, my 12-year-old son asked in which sport he should try to get a college scholarship. I paused, considered my reply and then crushed his dream:

“Why wouldn’t you choose to pursue an academic scholarship?”

His eyebrows lifted and his cheeks sunk into a wounded expression. “Are you saying that you don’t think I’m a good athlete?” he asked.

That’s when I doused him with another bucket of reality. “I think you’re a fine athlete. But I think you’re an even better student. Sports are something that we do for fun and fitness. Not something most people should aspire to for their future.”

When I shared this conversation with a friend, he was horrified. What kid doesn’t want to grow up to be a star athlete? How could I discourage that? That’s what most boys dream of, right? Well, that’s exactly my point.

What does it say about my parenting and our culture if sports stars are the most popular thing kids, especially boys, dream of becoming?

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy sports and sporting events. I encourage my children to participate in sports and see great value in doing so. But where is the balance?

That’s what a parent from Georgia asked at a panel discussion last spring when her high school senior (with a 3.9 GPA) visited 11 colleges, most of which were primarily focused on her son’s athletic ability.

Like that parent, I want my children to have big dreams. But how about spreading those dreams around a bit to include things like science, art or even ministry? Why not dream of helping make the world a better place?

In any event, college scholarships of any sort can be difficult to obtain. So my next bit of dream-crushing parenting (or realistic encouragement, as I choose to see it) is to begin explaining to my son how much effort goes into being really good at anything!

There seems to be a gulf for most people, both young and old, between what they say they want to achieve and how hard they’re willing to work to achieve it. Playing baseball in the spring and then not picking up a bat again until next spring is not going to result in any major league playing time. I don’t care how talented you are.

Talent is overrated, or so says author and senior editor at large of Fortune Magazine, Geoff Colvin. In his book, Talent is Overrated, What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else, Colvin points out that very accomplished musicians, athletes and chess players share similar things more important than talent. Those things include relentless and deliberate practice.

Or, as Malcolm Gladwell points out in his book, Outliers, individual success is based on roughly 10,000 hours of practice before becoming truly great. This is in addition to access and support that fosters achievement in any given field.

So here’s my deal.

I want to nurture a balanced view in my children’s minds that values more than only sports and fame. And I want them to understand that whatever dreams they choose to pursue, certain things need to happen for those dreams to be realized. None of it will happen by sitting around playing Minecraft. Although he may be nearing 10,000 hours...


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Kris Janisch July 31, 2012 at 04:11 PM
Hey HHF, I'm always looking for good stories. In what sport did you end up excelling in? Shoot me an email: kris.janisch@patch.com
Scott Reinhard July 31, 2012 at 05:42 PM
Regarding “realistic encouragement,” I respect the desire for aspirations that balance sports, academics, the arts, and everything in between. As parents, we don’t get to choose our kids’ dreams, and while our cultural orientation is sports and the proverbial athletic scholarship as “pinnacle achievement,” I believe most kids can process through those aspirations and come to their own realization rather than being told what is or is not a part of their future and the potential price to be paid for achievement. If we don’t allow our children to have big-highly-unlikely-one-in-million-type dreams, then they certainly will achieve what we are encouraging. It’s not so much the merit of dreaming to be an engineer rather than running back for the Vikings. It’s the process of dreaming, self-discovering what’s required to realize that dream, and then deciding if the end justifies the means. Experience, rather than be told. Dreams are a thread in our character, and even if the majority aren’t accomplished due to lack of talent, will, discipline, or opportunity, they still are a part of who we are. I believe we can build our children’s’ characters by encouraging aspirations, even if we know the odds are he or she will not become a famous athlete, musician, or even President of the United States. There’s plenty of time to find out what we can’t do, but what’s the rush to get our kids to that mindset so soon?
Angela Johnson July 31, 2012 at 06:51 PM
Well said Scott. Thank you for inspiring this discussion!
Nina Sackheim Badzin August 01, 2012 at 05:07 AM
Yes! Amen and so well said, Angela. And loved that last line--PERFECTION.
Kris Janisch August 01, 2012 at 01:49 PM
Yeah, Angela's been on fire of late for sure.


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