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Can You Locate the Sweet Spot on the Edge of Your Student’s Ability?

“Coaching is a long, intimate conversation, a series of signals and responses that move toward a shared goal. A coach’s true skill consists not in some universally applicable wisdom that he can communicate to all, but rather in the supple ability to locate the sweet spot on the edge of each individual student’s ability, and to send the right signals to help the student reach toward the right goal, over and over.”

Coyle, Daniel (2009-04-16). The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How. (p. 178). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

When we speak of coaching, it is normally referring to someone who is helping your young person get good at one or more of the particular skills that make up his talent. He’s the man on the sidelines who gives encouragement and direction. He’s also the one that knows how to blow that whistle when there is too much playing around and not enough focus. But with the idea of the traditional coaching, I think we should include the parent who has a conscious desire to act on behalf of his child.

The “coach” parent acts on behalf of his child to create the strategy and the conditions in his life that makes the pursuit of talent possible. That parent may not how to teach a particular skill, but he knows to find the coach who does. That would be you, dear reader. That parent coaches his son or daughter to appropriately manage all the other important aspects of his life in a balanced way. He’s also there to make sure the talent doesn’t inadvertently destroy the rest of the child’s life outside of his talent pursuit (health, marriage, etc.). The coach parent recognizes the edge where the sweet spot is.

The alternative to being a “coach” parent is to simply let a boxed curriculum tell you what your son or daughter will doing on a daily basis, in the same way as it is telling a thousand other children to do on the same day for the same age. As the coach in your child’s life, you can avoid his fate of looking like those thousand other children. As the coach you tell the curriculum when and how much of it can be used. As the coach, you can and should use your whistle on any curriculum that oversteps its bounds.

Be Steadfast for Them Until They Are Ready

Personal interests are good to have and they will bring great added-value by incorporating them into your child’s talent. However a young person’s personal interests are not enough to provide him with all the direction he needs to create something amazing.

What he also needs is the strength of character from his parents to support him as he works through his short attention span in his adolescent years. He needs your strength to navigate the highs and lows of short-term failures and successes in the pursuit of real talent. Very often, parents will be frustrated by their offspring’s desire one day to pursue one interest and then another day to completely change their enthusiastic focus to another interest. Today it is collecting coins. Tomorrow it is scuba diving at the local YMCA. You must stay engaged to help him interpret whether it is an opportunity or just a distraction to his real goals.

The fact that there are so many things that grab their attention is not wrong in itself at all. Their curiosity is high and their desire to make friends is high. This is partly what makes it possible for our young people be so fresh and open to the new things that need to get done. But if they keep switching their minds and their focus to many times, they will never gain enough traction to find joy in performing beyond the beginner’s level in any field of human endeavor. That is where you come in as a parent and where they depend on you to not be caving in on every new change of heart. By strength of character, I mean you must sometimes say ‘no’ to the request for participating in a new youth group activity or in starting up a new hobby. Some tears, some pouting, some sullenness, some confused looks might come your way, but so be it. Your son or daughter might resent you at first that you do not agree to their changing emotions, but you must be steadfast on their behalf until they are able to grow into their own complete vision for themselves.

Gradually, Not Immediately

Building talent in children requires a belief in the parents that it is the sweat, and the focus, and the attention to the skills involved in a talent that will gradually, not immediately, ignite the fire within each person.

Imagine if you approached teaching the skill of reading or the ability to do math in the same manner as the typical person manages the talent discovery process in their young student. “Here son, here’s a college textbook on calculus. Browse through it over the weekend. If it clicks with you and you can solve a few of the problems on your own, then it’s a good sign that we have found your true talent. We can sign you up for the introductory algebra class at that point. If not, that’s okay; we can skip algebra and not waste any more time on math. We’ll keep looking for a talent for you.”

If talent discovery is managed in that same manner, then the child is doomed from the outset at having no real talent in their life, just hobbies that look like talent. And if you ask your child to wander from extra-curricular activity to extra-curricular activity in the hopes of finding their calling in life, then they will be body-snatched into long-term worthless group sports that will do nothing to change their lives.

Instead, become engaged as a parent in the talent discovery process. Find first one thing, then find several things that can be weaved together from their already rich environment into something unique for their future. A personal interest is just one thing and not enough to build a meaningful talent. They need several things and they need your broad vision to put those several things together. They absolutely cannot see all their options at their own young age of twelve, but you can. They need your experienced imagination and they need your boundary setting authority to say ‘yes’ to real opportunities and to say ‘no’ to irrelevant activities.

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