How To Teach Kids Grit
Thank You, Sports Gods…For challenging my daughter more than she’s ever been challenged and pushing her harder than she’s ever been pushed and maybe, just maybe, helping her develop a little grit.
“Grit” is what experts, including author Angela Duckworth in her New York Times Best Seller “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” say is the highest predictor of future success in children and this magical “dirt” is hard to come by in today’s world.
Here’s the background: on a Thursday night she came down with a cold and bad cough that kept her from going to practice. Friday night she didn’t have the option of staying home. She had volunteered to be a ‘host’ for “A Night To Remember,”a free prom honoring students with special needs. Each guest has a host, and gets a dress or tuxedo, professional makeup and hair styling, a limo ride, a red carpet experience and an incredible dance party. Pushing through not feeling well, she hung out for two hours in the cold to escort her guest down the red carpet and then danced for three hours straight (an incredible and uplifting experience).
By Saturday she hobbled into her weekend water polo tournament. Up at 5:30 a.m. to head off to the pool, seven games of water polo awaited. They ‘rostered’ her for two teams. Meaning my 14-year-old played two games for her 18U-team and two games for our club’s 16U-team on Saturday, with very little downtime between.
We attended a family function on Saturday night. Then she was up again early for Sunday’s roster of three more games. If you’ve never watched 18- and 16-year-old girls play water polo, it’s one of the most intense and physically brutal sports you’ll ever see; punching, kicking, pulling – all while treading water. Needless to say, by Sunday night, my embattled kid was beyond exhaustion, red-eyed, cranky, and an overall hot mess. Did I mention she had final exams starting that week? Still, I couldn’t have been happier.
In this day and age parents, me included, over-coddle, over-worry about and over-schedule our kids, there is little to no time for work – real work – the grit-making kind that challenges them in ways they never want to be challenged. Challenges like we all had growing up. Not to sound like a cliche, but I actually did walk a mile or more to school in the Michigan snow EVERY DAY in elementary school. My brothers and I did all the yard work raking, bagging, mowing, and weeding of our lawn every month and we made our own dinners as my single mom worked to support us. Many of us have failed our kids in this area. We want to give our kids everything, including a perfect life that keeps them safe and happy and overprotected.
John O’Sullivan from Changing The Game Project, wrote about the problem of Affluenza;
“These athletes – many of them, but not all of them, coming from well-to-do families – display an apathetic, indifferent attitude toward challenging situations, difficult training, tough coaches, and most any obstacle that lies in their path toward their goals. At every obstacle, they turn back. They may have great talent and coaching, but they are missing the mental toughness that is required to be a high performer. Usually, this condition exists because the adult role models in their lives shelter them from challenges, swoop in before they can fail, and excuse entitled attitudes by blaming coaches, teachers, and other adults who are actually trying to teach their kids to be a bit tougher.”
Yes, our kids work hard at school and sometimes at their sports. But they aren’t pushed out of their comfort zones very often. Because quite frankly, we don’t give them time. Kids are so overscheduled that when they do have a free minute, we let them veg out; “they’ve earned it,” we tell ourselves. Even if there was time, most of the “work” in our family gets outsourced. I was doing my own laundry at ten; my kids complain about putting their clean and folded laundry in their drawers. We have taken away almost every opportunity for kids to work hard, really hard and push past their level of comfort in things they don’t really enjoy doing. They also want and get everything too fast and too easy; everything is a click away and kids can “Google up” anything they need to know. The average human attention span is now one second less than that of a goldfish! Yes, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information the average attention span of a human being has dropped from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2013. A goldfish averages 9 seconds.
Duckworth, the author of “Grit” explains it as a combination of passion and perseverance for a singularly important goal and says it’s the hallmark of high achievers in every realm. She also found scientific evidence that grit can GROW – great news for today’s parents! (Angela Duckworth’s Grit Test) I’m pretty sure my daughter’s singular focus was survival of the weekend, not exactly long term, but she was pushed way beyond her comfort zone. George Mumford, the Sports Mindfulness guru says, “athletes need to find a place right between comfort and discomfort and live there.” My kid lived there this weekend.
Reflecting on the experience (rest assured it wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine), I feel so hopeful, that this kiddo of mine, built up, even if just a little bit – of grit. At some point in her too near future, when she’s out on her own, she will be able to call upon the resolve and strength I hope she discovered she had inside her from this. She’ll draw on it. It will give her the confidence to try things she might not have otherwise and to get back up when things get tough.
And if it wasn’t for sports, I’m not sure where or how she would get it. Thank you, Sports Gods – and Coach Zach for double rostering her😊!