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Deliberate Practice

Developing Passionate Kids

Anyone who knows how to walk has gone through the steps of mastery: See a skill, try it, fail at it, try it again with adjustments, and repeat the process until successful.

That’s how people learn to walk, talk or play the violin. Trouble comes from the third step: fail. People don’t seem to mind the failure when it comes to walking and talking.

But when it comes to playing the violin, shooting free throws or learning to juggle, failure becomes so painful that people would rather not try. They give up. The frustration outweighs the fascination.

So if, for example, you’re a parent trying to develop world-class performer, a key question becomes: How do you find something the child loves so much that their passion outweighs the problems? Or, more simply, how do you develop passion?

Turns out that there’s some science on this. In an article headlined “Want Passionate Kids? Leave ’em Alone,” Michael Torrice of LiveScience.com tells parents to let kids find and pursue their own interests.

It sounds like pretty obvious advice, except that many parents impose their own interests on children. I remember years ago in my sports writing days, seeing a national level speedskater throw her equipment against the wall, yelling, “I hate this.”

Whether it was from momentary frustration over a bad race or from emotion that had been pent-up too long, this young woman indicated that skating was something her parents really wanted her to do.

Torrice quotes Geneviève Mageau, a psychology professor at the University of Montreal. “Passion comes from a special fit between an activity and a person. You can’t force that fit; it has to be found.”

According to the article, Mageau and her colleagues did studies focused on what psychologists call autonomy, the basic need to feel like you’re acting based on your own values and desires, not those of others. Results indicate that kids who were passionate about music scored higher on the autonomy scale than the non-passionate kids.

Naturally, there is some need for balance. Parents can’t let kids do exactly what they want. They can guide and suggest without intruding.
“I’m not telling parents to let their kids do whatever they want without limits,” the article quoted Mageau. “The most important message is to focus on the child’s interests and not to impose one’s own on them.”


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