Unleasing Your Child’s Passion

One of the questions I get asked a lot by parents is something along the lines of “How do I create passion in my child to work harder at something” or “How do I get my child motivated to do x, y or z?” I hear that a lot because as an Olympic gold medalist, people come to me with their sports related questions and woes, and it’s most often about their kids. Parents probably get frustrated with my answer because I know it’s not what they want to hear.

As parents, we naturally want to help our kids do great and amazing things, and we will do whatever we can to help our children on their journey to greatness. But passion does not come from someone else, even a parent with great passion and enthusiasm themselves. Passion, drive and motivation come ultimately from deep within an individual person, not from someone else.

Yes, others can help inspire and stoke the fire of someone’s motivation and stir up their passion anew, but only if those key ingredients are already there in a person ready to be kindled.

Why? Because when the going gets tough, and it will when you’re trying to achieve anything worthwhile, that individual will be the one who has to choose to walk through the difficulties. That individual has to make the decision if this goal is worth facing the challenge, if it’s worth the sacrifice. Try as we might to encourage someone, that person has to be willing and determined to face what’s ahead.

My coach, Kenny, used to always tell me, “Laura, I can teach you everything I know. I can equip you to do every dive perfectly. I can hold your hand up to the 10 meter. But I can’t do it for you. You have to do the actual dive on your own.”

I don’t say this to discourage you. I’m telling you this so that you understand how best to bring out the passion in someone else. There are things you can do to nurture and mature that passion or find out if that passion you desire for them actually lies in something else altogether.

Here are some great ways to help bring out the passion and determination in your child:

1. Always be a support to them.

You don’t have to tell someone when they’ve done a poor job. They know. They’re coach has probably already told them or had a talk with them. You do not need to analyze everything that went right and wrong. That’s the coach’s job. However, they might need time and space to grieve.

You are there to show them that you love them whether they preform good or bad and that you will always be in their corner cheering for them. Sometimes saying nothing at all but just giving them a hug is exactly what they need. Or letting them vent while you sit, lips closed, and listen. Or remind them that this is not the end. There will be another competition, a new season, a new chance.

And if they do well, tell them how proud you are. Don’t assume they know.

2. Let them fail.

One of my favorite quotes is “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” Sometimes the greatest motivator and teacher in life is failure. In fact, I would go so far as to say that failure is NECESSARY for success. If you want to swing for the fences, you have to be willing to strikeout.

When a child first learns to walk, they fall… a lot. But they keep getting back up and trying again. Each time they get back up, they get a little steadier, a little more determined. The next thing you know, they’re running. Don’t pick your child up every time they fall. Be there for them if they need you, but give them space to get back up on their own. They need to decided on their own if it’s worth it to get back up and try again. That’s when you start to see what kind of passion is inside for what they’re doing. And if it’s in there, this will help it grow stronger.

3. Point them to good role models

There are plenty of celebrities that kids look up to today. Do you know anything about these people? I think it’s pretty safe to say that the vast majority of people in the spotlight, aren’t in the spotlight for the best of reasons. Do a little research. Find out who these people are that your kids are talking about and wanting to be like.

Need a new role model? Olympic athletes and hopefuls are a great place to start looking. Of course there is still drama and sub-par role models in that arena, but there are far more good ones than bad. And Olympic athletes generally have amazing stories of overcoming incredible obstacles and fierce determination that you can actually watch play out at the Olympic Trials and Olympic Games. Here’s a list of athletes to watch heading into Rio next year.

4. Encourage them to try something new

If your child is not at all excited about what they’re doing, maybe it’s not the right fit. Even if they are really good at it. I was good at pretty much every sport and activity I tried, but the passion and motivation wasn’t always there… until I found the right fit.

If they are stuck in a rut, trying something new could show them there might be something else out there that they like more or it could help them realize how much they really do like what they have been doing. But taking a break to try something different will not hurt them. It will likely help them so much more! Sometimes it’s just the break they need to rest and recharge mentally or emotionally.

5. It’s okay to start late

I don’t mean it’s okay to show up late to practice or a competition! I mean it’s okay to start something a later age than “normal.” These days, at least in our area, coaches are trying to get kids on a professional track in sports at the ripe old age of 6 or maybe 8.

I know some coaches will tell you it’s the only way. Or in this sport you have to be amazing by this age to have a chance. This bothers me, a lot. But that’s another post for another day. What I will tell you is I started everything “late.” When I finally found diving in high school, I was 15 and specifically told that I was too old to start a new sport. Within two years I was a national champion, a world cup team member and committed to a full diving scholarship to a Division 1 college.

I did lots of other sports that I could have excelled at but they weren’t the right fit. I wasn’t passionate about them. When I found my passion, diving, time did not matter or inhibit me.

This may not be what you want to hear, but it’s what your child needs. I was competing at the world level as an athlete for over 15 years, as a teenager and as an adult, and I have just about seen it all.

I’ve watched parents walk out of an Olympic arena because their child won a silver medal instead of gold. I’ve seen parents micromanage every aspect of their child’s training that just about every time leads to either burn out, injury, eating disorder or resentment and bitterness. But I’ve never seen it lead to success.

Fortunately I have also seen the parents that stand by and cheer whether their child gets first or last. I’ve seen the parent that doesn’t say a word, but holds their child as she cries through disappointment or embarrassment. And I’ve seen the parent who picks up their child when they cannot go any further and helps them finish.

Watch the unforgettable story of Great Britain’s 400m runner Derek Redmond, whose hamstring snapped during his event but was determined to finish the race at the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games here.

What did my parents do? They rarely came to practice, but always would if I asked them to. But they came to as many competitions as they could, nearly every one, and cheered me on whether I won or was at the bottom of the heap. I can only remember one time in my entire career that they made a crack about doing better, and I asked them not to do that again. They never did. They gave me space to learn on my own. They believe in the pursuit of my wild and crazy dreams, even if they never thought I could reach them. Although they’ll tell you they always thought I could.

My parents encouraged me to chase my dreams, whatever they were. They made me commit to see a season through, but they also listened to my reasons when I felt like I was done with a sport. They allowed me to try new things. They allowed me to fall and experience disappointment.

No parent is perfect. You and I, we’re not going to be either. But it’s important that we know what our role is to help our children become all that God made them to be.

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