But do kids need some pressure from their parents? In his parenting book, Positive Pushing, Jim Taylor, Ph.D., an expert in performance psychology, says that parents often struggle here, knowing that if they push kids too hard, they may rebel and achieve neither success nor happiness. If they don’t push hard enough, their kids may be unmotivated. “Popular sports-development culture tells us that if our kids aren’t specialising early, they will be left behind,” he says. “(But) if they are under 12, they are still figuring out whether they really like a sport and want to commit to it. They need to own the sport and find their own reasons to want to work hard,” he says.
While fun is the ultimate goal, it’s also okay to develop skills and aim to be the best you can be. It's all about balance – we don't want to push too far, and give kids a sense of failure or resentment. We also don’t want them to give up too easily, because there are benefits in doing something hard and coming through the other side.
Back to Tokyo; a thought-provoking question to ask our kids is “How do you think your sporting heroes got to where they are today?” Goal-setting, training, teamwork – these are all good things when balanced with a love of the game.
Likewise, it’s healthy to acknowledge the mental challenges of high-performance sport – especially for those kids who happen to have the natural talent and ability to compete at top levels. Sports psychologists tell us that the mental aspect (nerves, stress, negative self-talk, anxiety) is an integral part of any competition. It makes sense that we have some honest conversations with our kids about this and help them navigate their own emotional struggles around competition.