Balancing act: Choosing extracurricular activities for kids – Part 2

I have started discussing the subject of choosing extracurricular activities (further – ECA) for kids in one of my previous posts (see here). In that post I talked about the practical aspects of making a choice, like time, costs, balance with household chores and homework. Today I intend to start talking about a substantial aspect of this choice. In other words, how to choose which ECA kids should actually follow. The simple answer would probably be – find out the talents and preferences of your kid and find the respective ECA. Ha! Easier said than done. Moreover, I cannot help but wonder if talent is something that you are born with or something that you can train with the right focused effort.

If we look at the biographies of some of the famous athletes, we see an interesting pattern: the father of the famous Williams sisters chose that his daughters were going to play tennis. All family efforts, all money, everything was put on making them famous tennis players. Same story for Tiger Woods. His father was a well-performing amateur golfer who introduced his son Tiger to golf before the age of two and ever since pushed him forward. There are two things here. First, the question is whether these stories are the stories of a talent perfectly spotted by parents, or these stories show that with the right effort you can achieve excellence at anything irrespective of natural inclination. Another question is – even if for example Tiger Woods had a talent, would this talent truly manifest itself if he would have been born into a different family?

In his book “Outliers” Malcolm Gladwell popularizes the 10,000-Hour-Rule coined by Anders Ericsson. The essence of this rule is that if you invest 10,000 hours in training whichever skill you want to train you will get to professional perfection which roughly equals talent and success. The examples he uses range from The Beatles to Bill Gates. Without neglecting the skills, Gladwell nonetheless emphasizes the effort above all and introduces a range of other criteria for success which are much more circumstantial, like the date and place of birth, the family and so on.

All that to a certain extent makes perfect sense. But what about talent then? What does all this mean to finding the right ECA for your kids? Does it mean that you can pick anything and just invest the proverbial 10,000 hours (roughly 5 years full-time) and you will become the next Tiger Woods? The answer is like with a lot of things: it depends.

Talking about sports, I never wanted my kids to go into professional sports mainly because of all the health implications that brings. Doing sports as a recreational activity doesn’t require that much time, gives flexibility of choice and overall rather contributes to health than deteriorates it. How to choose a sport for me is a matter of kid’s own choice based on trying. Luckily there are different “try-outs” available for kids to see if that is something they would want to do or not. And if it doesn’t go or the preference changes – so be it. Let him or her choose again.

One of these days I watched a TED talk by Josh Kaufman (link is in one of the latest posts on my Facebook page) entitled “The first 20 hours – how to learn anything”. The talk denies the 10,000-hour-rule as a ground rule for learning any skill and proposes an alternative of just… 20 hours. Kaufman claims that to get on top of the learning curve you need just 20 hours and all the rest is already perfecting the skill to the level of becoming a professional. Thus, it all starts with defining your goals. If your goal is to have another creative hobby you need 20 hours to head-start and then you can just perfect it as you go.

So coming back to the question of choosing ECA for kids I would focus on trying different activities and then just following the choice of the kid. I don’t see pushing and forcing as a method which I am comfortable with. This, mainly because I believe that if later on our kids decide to learn Chinese or aikido or tango they will still be able to do so with the right effort. Besides, I believe that they need to make their own choices for their lives from very early on.

By no means have I completely covered this subject by the two posts that I have written. The choice of ECA is an important decision in kids’ lives thus it warrants more reflection. What I would like to reflect upon in one of my future posts is how can we teach our kids to make their own choice, not just go with the flow, as well as whether it is actually that bad – to sometimes follow others if you haven’t yet decided for yourself. Stay tuned!



3 thoughts on “Balancing act: Choosing extracurricular activities for kids – Part 2”

  1. Interesting and relevant debate, for sure. What age is too early for introduction? I’m not sure that there is really a good answer given natural variation and exposures among children. I appreciate your thoughts here and personally dread the making of these kinds of decisions (even if it means the crazy toddler years are over).

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