It’s a tough balancing act for parents, and one that often comes with guilt. My son is only 6, yet the range of after school and weekend clubs he wants to be involved in is broad and time consuming. He loves sport, and wants to play as much as he possibly can, he’s still discovering himself and his passions and so for now, it’s limited to the hour slots of the clubs he goes to. But what happens next, what if he makes the team, or wants to play more seriously? One one hand we’d be delighted, we want to support and encourage that growth and commitment as far as we possibly can, to help him achieve his dreams, his aspirations and follow his heroes, be they local or global. But realistically, how far can he take it? Can our children be the next Rory McIlroy, Andy Murray, Laura Trott, Jessica Ennis-Hill? Also, not to be overlooked is the financial consideration these activities can take. 2 or 3 classes a week can really add up, and if it's more, as things start to get more serious, it can start to be a real commitment on a family's part.
Long hours, late nights
We’d like to give him every opportunity to try but what does that mean for school? Speaking to many parents with children who are succeeding in sport, it’s long hours, late nights on a school night, weekends, travel and so on. All of these often lead to a tired child. Does a child who is tired succeed at school, do they get the most out of their learning, do they give their all in class? Is this more important? But a child who doesn’t have enough stimulation and release outside the classroom can get bored and frustrated as well. How do we as parents know when enough is enough and to call time on too much outside the classroom? But yet how do we know what could have been if we let them take everything to the max. It’s easy to say that pure talent is identifiable from an early age and if they’re going to make it, it’ll be clear, but much evidence suggests that it’s not always the case and practice will ultimately prevail. Malcolm Gladwell has done extensive research around the fact that 10,000 hours of “deliberate practise” are needed to become world-class in any field. So let’s break that down, 10,000 hours starting at the age of 6. Given a relatively small window of time after school, let’s say 2 hours, 5 days a week, plus say 3 hours each day on a weekend. That’s 16 hours a week, so 625 weeks so that’s 12 years. They’ll be ready by the time they’re 18. That’s every week, every year for 12 years, no let up. Where do we fit that in, with homework and the need for some very important downtime, there aren’t enough hours in the day! And do we/they really want to be in the world-class field in today’s world with all of the pressures on and off the “field”?
Post training concentration
OK this is an extreme example. Let’s take it down a notch, how about just 2 nights a week of swimming training plus 2 hours on a Saturday and Sunday. 10pm bedtimes on a school night for a 9 year old are pretty draining. But they love it, they love the spirit of the team, the (hopefully) success and the fitness. Next day though, they’re finding it harder to concentrate and their mind wanders from the Geography lesson and they miss something important, and slowly their school work takes a small dip and that continues to a bigger one and all too soon their performance is radically affected.
The perception of the increasing importance of outstanding grades
Do grades really matter post university? I was speaking to a friend this morning and she wanted to have a career change into midwifery after an arts based career. She was told she'd need to resit her GCSEs (1 year), after obtaining a very respectable 10 GCSEs (A-C), 2 years higher education conversion course and then 3 years midwifery degree. She otherwise has 4 A-levels and an arts degree. She said to me, just think what I could have done if I hadn't spread myself so thinly at school and really focussed on one or two things including studies, are C's good enough in today's world or do we have to sacrifice something? More and more people look for a career change further down the line, particularly after having children or other significant life events. Is it becoming more important than ever to secure those outstanding GCSE results to pave the path for choices you can’t even know about yet?
Traditional Vs. soft skills
Also, with the way work is changing, are soft skills and being able to learn to learn and adapt more important than demonstrating that we can retain knowledge? Especially with now we have Google. What is the best way prepare our children for adulthood? Is it a trade off between traditional vs. 21st Century skills, or can we have both? And can we throw sport or music or any other committed extra-curricular activities into the mix as well?
To me, there is no one size fits all answer and the best thing to do is listen to each individual child. No one knows them quite like their parents, so together working out the best path to success, and determining what success for them looks like, has to be the right place to start?