Encouraging Talent Development

Water Break by Nazareth College Many parents wonder about the kind of encouragement that will help their kids to develop a talent. Should they be pushed to practice the piano, or enrolled in extra soccer practices? Deirdre Lyons and her colleagues interviewed elite athletes about the factors that encouraged or inhibited their progress in a study published in The Irish Journal of Psychology.

Most athletes were introduced to their sport by a family member, saying that their parents or siblings were enrolled in the activity first. Clubs and coaches provided important encouragement as well, and some athletes were introduced to their chosen activity by a friend. But what did they say was most helpful in encouraging them to continue to the elite level?

Parents and family members were the most important factors in encouraging athletes to develop their talent, acting as sources of both financial and emotional support. One cyclist said, "The support that I got from my parents was a great help. From the time I got into bike racing they backed me the whole way." It seemed that the athletes weren't talking about being pushed to practice, but valued positive reinforcement, encouragement, physical support (such as transportation), and the funds required to enroll in the activities. The support of a knowledgeable coach was important as well. Athletes also cited their own determination and drive to succeed as being key factors in their development.

What does this mean for parents of talented kids? More research is needed; it would be great to follow talented youth over time to determine factors that actually predict who will be successful; tracking children over time could provide helpful information about how they were encouraged. Based on Lyons' interviews with athletes, parental support appears to be extremely important, along with their personal determination to succeed. Parents and family members can provide encouragement and emotional support to help children overcome challenges as they progress. This might be especially important for artists and performers, who will invariably have to deal with negative reviews. Similar to the suggestions that parenting coach Barbara Desmarais talked about in Episode 49 of the podcast, encouragement is not about pushing, but about facilitating youth involvement in extracurricular activities. The financial factor is obviously an important one - if families are unable to sign their children up for lessons, or if they can't afford equipment, their children will be unlikely to develop their talents. Luckily, many schools and community agencies offer support for families in need, and equipment can often be bought second-hand.

We'll be talking about encouragement and talent development on Monday's episode of the podcast!

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