The secret to raising successful athletes
Former bodybuilding champion John Brown has the winning formula for raising great athletes. All three of his sons earned Division I football scholarships (to Notre Dame, Stanford, and USC, no less), and the oldest, Equanimeous, plays for the Chicago Bears, while the youngest is a star for the Detroit Lions. On top of that, all three of them carried 4.0 GPAs through high school, and they all speak three languages. We took the time to talk to Brown about raising his phenomenal family earlier this year in a podcast, and he opened up about his secret to success.
It’s like pushing a car up a hill.
When Brown talks about not being lazy, he’s not only referring to his children. Brown believes that most people, most notably here – parents, are inherently lazy, and that is one of the most telling factors as to if your child will succeed or not. He likens raising children to pushing a car up a hill; you can push and push and push and get it pretty high on the hill, but as soon as you stop, that car will roll back down. The same goes for children; if you stop pushing them, they won’t progress and will instead choose to spend all their time on video games and their phones and hanging with friends.
“As a parent, you get tired of saying, ‘make your bed, do your homework, go to practice, eat your food, do the extra work.’ There’s a lot of things you have to remind them of,” Brown says, but he believes that pushing your kids is a key part of good parenting.
Both Brown and his wife Miriam are no slouches. Miriam is a German immigrant who insisted on communicating exclusively with her children in German and made them go to a French school so they could be fluent in three languages. All three of their sons have taken the SAT in English, French, and German.
Hard work outweighs loving what you do.
“I think loving what you do is overrated,” he says. “Do you brush your teeth every morning? Do you love doing that? No, but you do it. It’s not something you love. It’s not fun, but we do it every day. So, it’s okay to do things that you don’t really love every day. You know you don’t have to be really passionate about it.”
While it may be common knowledge that you should have a passion for your life’s work, Brown agrees that it is ideal, but he also has a different take on the matter. He feels that while it’s important to let children choose what they do and have a passion for it, hard work is more important. “I think loving what you do is overrated,” he says. “Do you brush your teeth every morning? Do you love doing that? No, but you do it. Do your kids do math and English homework every night, yes? It’s not something they love. It’s not fun, but they do it every day. So, it’s okay to do things that you don’t really love every day. You know you don’t have to be really passionate about it sometimes for it to be meaningful and important.”
For Brown, putting in hard work means going above and beyond what is expected. Not only would he hire specialty coaches, but he would film their sessions with his kids, study the tapes, and then re-create the specialized training with the boys on his own. They also take regular trips to the gym together, and John provides them with specialized weightlifting routines designed to bolster their strength and muscle mass.
He also insists that parents need to take some of the mundane tasks off their athletes’ hands; for example, he’s big on always having food ready for their kids, so they can focus on what is important.
Feeding the machine
The other point that John emphasizes is nutrition. He is surprised at how little nutrition figures into the routines of today’s young athletes. Armed with a background in bodybuilding and years of being obsessive about weight gain and loss, John developed his own protein powder brand, Cane Protein. He started making it after seeing what his kids’ schools were serving for lunch, and he was appalled and decided to supplement his kids’ diets in a way that would help their bodies develop.
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At home, at the dinner table, John packs his kids’ meals with protein, especially red meat. The kids are expected to eat until they are stuffed. Portions are doubled when cooking to have the same meal ready for them at breakfast the next morning. Protein shakes are doled out twice a day, and lean meats like chicken and fish aren’t regular occurrences in the Brown household, an arguable practice that he swears by. He also says that it is essential to let them sleep and adds that he will almost NEVER wake a sleeping child.
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‘Everyone puts their pants on one leg at a time’
Conventional wisdom regarding how to raise a successful athlete is that you want to stay away from one-sport specialization and try not to have a single sport consume your life. The idea is that there should be a level of balance in a child’s life so that they can flourish in their sport instead of getting burnt out. John Brown’s boys did play plenty of sports when they were younger, but once high school rolled around, it was full-on football at the Brown household. While some may see his methods as overbearing and too intense, you cannot argue that his methods haven’t worked! But as John reiterates often, people always ask him how his sons were able to achieve so much success. And he always replies, “Everyone puts their pants on one leg at a time. My sons are just like everyone else out there.” The only difference, they outwork everyone. And as John Brown has explained, unfortunately, parents, yes, this will have to involve you as well.