"Average performers believe their errors were caused by factors outside their control: My opponent got lucky, the task was too hard, I just don’t have the natural ability for this. By contrast, top performers believe they're responsible for their errors. Note that this isn't just a difference of personality or attitude; the best performers have set highly specific, technique-based goals and strategies for themselves. They have thought through exactly how they intend to achieve what they want. So when something doesn’t work, they can relate the failure to specific elements of their performance that may have misfired." — Geoffrey Colvin, author of Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else

Shit. This is a cry for help. Make no mistake about it, I am seeking advice and input from you.

I’m worried, worried about our young athletes and scholars. More specifically, I’m worried about my own children. I don’t want them to make the mistakes I’ve witnessed (and some of the mistakes I’ve made myself). Yet, how do you get them to avoid the pitfalls without coming across as a drill sergeant? How do I persuade them to harness all their talents to the best of their abilities?

At Beast, while training a group of football players:

“Man, if Johnny trained here, he would be an All-American,” the young athlete suggested.

“Why doesn’t he train here?” I asked, with honest curiosity.

“He’s too lazy, I guess,” the athlete replied, as he fell back into the line for pre-training agility drills.

“That’s too bad,” I said, perplexed and mildly disappointed.

Johnny’s no All-American. Such wasted talent.

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We all have goals, many of which we express verbally. But words, without the corresponding and required actions, are meaningless. It’s so incredibly competitive today, in athletics, in academics, and in the working world. How do you best get an athlete (or oftentimes your own children) to work as hard as possible to achieve his or her stated goal? How do you best convey that both youth and opportunities can be fleeting and that if you don’t do everything possible to maximize your chances for success, you’re going to have regrets?

To be clear, I’m not talking about doing the work under the careful supervision of a trainer or tutor. I’m talking about doing the work, putting in the extra time, when no one is watching. Anyone can do the work under a good trainer. The Beast Training facility once presented me the unique opportunity to have my two sons work under some of the best trainers in the state, utilizing programming that I either completely designed or assisted in designing. It worked well for all involved, but the situation has changed.

In many instances, at least in the case with my own family, children don’t want to be trained by their parents. Pushing them outside of their comfort zone can be perceived as somehow too personal; there can be a lot of sensitivities around it.

Lamenting lost opportunities

Many years post-graduation, I spoke with one of my best friends from high school. Back in the day, he played third base and was captain of the varsity baseball team our senior year. The following conversation really forced me to deeply consider the situation with my own children:

“Man, I wish I practiced more. I should have practiced more,” he said. “I really could have played in college.”

“I know,” I replied. “From what I remember, you were an outstanding player.”

“I never practiced on my own, only with the team. When I arrived at college, they didn’t know anything about me. That was another problem. They gave me three grounders and a handful of swings at bat, said ‘Thank you,’ and promptly cut me from the team.”

“That’s rough,” I agreed.

“I look back and really wish I worked harder.”

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What I'm doing at present

These are some of the methods I’m attempting with my own children:

  • We openly discuss their stated goals in the context of the actual work required to attain that specific goal (i.e., the optimal path to maximize their opportunity to achieve that goal).
  • Subsequent to the initial discussions, I come back to them to solicit where they think they stand in terms of performing the necessary work to attain the specific goal.
  • I continually share my own life experiences, specifically instances where I fell short because I failed to apply the effort that was required; I want them to understand that they aren't alone in these struggles.

What is the solution?

If you’ve made it this far, you may be thinking, "If they aren't driven to do the extra work when no one is watching, they probably don’t have the drive to reach their respective goals."

I don’t buy it. We’re talking about children who only in their mid to late teens are developing the ability to imagine the future consequences of their actions.

I consider myself a very driven person—now. But back in high school, I was essentially a moron. I never applied myself in high school. Quite literally, I never studied. I didn’t understand the cause and effect relationships. I didn’t understand that what I was doing at the time would impact me later in life.

In my case, the exception was in the gym. I was very driven to push myself in the gym. My mistake was that I focused on the training I was good at instead of training the areas that would have had better carryover to my chosen sports.

As a teen navigating my way through high school, I was forming adult cognitive abilities, but I didn’t have the life experiences necessary to guide me to make the optimal choices. Hell, even as an adult, I’ve struggled with this at times. I think we all do. Even when we know the right thing to do, oftentimes the pleasure center in our respective brains wins the proverbial battle and serves as a catalyst in making the wrong decision.

At the beginning of this piece, I said that this was a serious cry for help. I'm utilizing this platform to solicit opinion and feedback, hopefully enlisting some of the thoughtful elitefts™ army to help guide my sword in this battle.

So what do you think? Am I on the right track here? Can you share any techniques that have proven successful in your respective situations?