There’s a major New York Times best-selling book that was published about two months ago, and it has the simple title of GRIT: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.
The author is Dr. Angela Duckworth, a professor of psychology at the Univ of Penn who has studied this trait – grit — for several years.
Her book’s basic thesis –which clearly has great application in the world of sports, competition, and winning in both athletics and in life – is that those individuals who succeed in sports and in the real world have developed, or are blessed with, a sense of grit….and grit is all about Passion and Perseverance to make your goals come true.
To me, grit is defined as having that inner desire or drive to work ever harder at achieving one’s goals; to put more effort into succeeding than perhaps one’s peers, even if that means overcoming major adversity.
Now, I don’t think that there’s any doubt that we all want our kids to have a sense of grit in their lives, especially if they are aspiring athletes, or want to do well in school, or to succeed when it comes to their careers.
But I worry that the overall takeaway from the bestseller GRIT might be somewhat misleading. That is, that if your youngster is told that he or she needs to develop this sense of overachieving drive, then he or she can – and will — succeed in sports.
QUOTING DAVID DENBY OF THE NEW YORKER
I have touched on this point before. While developing a sense of drive, or grit, is certainly a positive element in one’s youth, I become concerned if a parent or a child buys into it to the point where:
- it becomes the overwhelming force in their child’s athletic development, and
- they truly believe that by simply working harder at their sport, they will go on to earn a college scholarship and play pro ball.
In short, it just doesn’t happen that way in the real world. And that’s why grit and its role needed to be clarified for sports parents and youth coaches.
Ironically, I was reading a critique of GRIT a few days ago by David Denby of the New Yorker, and he picked up on this troubling takeaway as well. Denby, too, doesn’t buy into this pop psychology premise that if your child show some athletic promise — and if he or she works their tail off — then they ultimately prevail in sports.
Denby notes a letter to the editor to the New York Times Book Review which had given GRIT a positive review. I quote from Denby’s thoughtful column:
And what if a child has only moderate talent for her particular passion?
That’s the ultimate question every sports parent has to keep in mind. Mike Egan, a former member of the Marine Corps, wrote a letter to the Times Book Review in response to a positive review of Duckworth’s book. “Anyone who would tell a child that the only thing standing between him or her and world-class achievement is sufficient work,” Egan wrote, “ought to be jailed for child abuse.”
Well, that’s perhaps a little extreme, to be sure. But it’s an important point: That just having grit, and a desire to overcome adversity, and even to commit 10,000 hours to practice, is just not enough.
What an athlete needs beyond grit is actual, God-given athletic talent. Without that key ingredient, grit and hard work will only take your athlete so far.
And the vast majority of the callers on my WFAN radio this show this morning also agreed that the gift of grit, like pure athletic talent, is something a child is born with in their DNA. Like being born to grow to a certain size, or having a certain eye color, grit is part of that inherited package. True, as a parent, you need to explain to your child the importance of grit and the drive to succeed. But as so many parents have asked me over the years, “My kid has great natural ability…but doesn’t seem to have the inherent drive to push himself. What can I do?”
In my experience, there’s not much you can do. Great talent without an innate drive will only get your athlete so far.
LIVING UP TO ONE’S POTENTIAL
What’s my take? Yes, you let your athlete know that in order to master and perfect skills, they need to practice, practice, and practice….BUT that the overall goal is not necessarily to play pro ball, or to play college ball, but to play to the best of their God-given abilities.
That’s a big, big difference.
In other words, their God-given abilities may take them only as far as the local HS varsity….or a club team or intramural team in college….And that’s fine.
And it’s up to you, as their parent, to truly accept that….to be supportive and proud….and not to be disappointed.