Be Your Gifted Child’s Coach

I was reading this wonderful article by Atul Gawande about coaching, and it resonated with me because I believe firmly in coaching. If you’re really good, you get a coach. Think about it: what professional athlete do you know of who doesn’t have a coach? In Gawande’s article, he talks about getting coaching as a surgeon after observing effective coaching in a school.

For those of you unfamiliar with Gawande, he’s a surgeon cum author whose books Complications, Better, and The Checklist Manifesto are all must-reads.

In this article, approaches the idea of coaching in order to make us more excellent at what we do. He writes:

“The coaching model [is] what you think of with athletes and singers, who have someone who coaches them all the way through their career, even if they’re one of the best in the world. But violinists and surgeons — at least in our theory of how we’re supposed to do it — we don’t. You go to medical school, you go to Juilliard, and you graduate. You get a degree, you get in your 10,000 hours of practice, and then some cream [is] supposed to rise to the top.

“But I was really struck by how different these models are and tried to understand it … I had a fascinating discussion with Itzhak Perlman, the great violinist, and I said, ‘Why don’t violinists have coaches, but singers do?’ And he said, ‘I don’t know, but I think it’s a mistake.'”

The take away for me was that everyone needs a coach. And, because of who I am and what I do, I started thinking about gifted kids and how they could use a coach. So here’s why I think our kids need coaches.

So here’s why I think our kids need us to be coaches.

1. The coaching dynamic is easier for people to handle than many others. A coach can say something to you that no one else can say without causing (sometimes deep) offense. Why is this? Part of this is because we trust coaches to be people who have no agenda other than success – ours and/or our team’s. We believe in our coach’s knowledge of whatever game we’re playing, and we believe that what they’re telling us is correct.

If we’re honest with ourselves, that’s not always the dynamic within families. For myself, I do think I often have an agenda that may conflict with the direction my child wants to go. So the question here is, how can I make the dynamic within my family more coach-like? I can be honest, yet objective with my child when giving criticism, and I can refrain from giving criticism that will not improve performance, that is, avoiding pointing out the obvious mistakes my child already realizes he made just because they irritate me.

2. Coaches are more objective than the average bear. They observe the whole game, sometimes watching films of it over and over, and then they revise strategy based on that information. Now, I’m not suggesting we go around videotaping our children all the time and then watching the tapes as a family to identify errors, but the idea is the same. We can say to kids, “What worked here? What didn’t? What needs more practice?”

3. Coaches understand that the most important stuff happens outside of the game. They know that practice is key, that the game reveals the weaknesses from practice, not the other way around. As a parent-coach, I can identify what the “games” are and what the practice is. Coaches typically work on a limited number of things at practice, and they are clear with the players what those things are. I wonder if we too-often expect our kids to be working on being good at everything all the time, rather than identifying a few things they can focus on based on what they (not we) need to improve performance when it counts.

4. Coaches are on the sidelines. Sometimes parents see their children as their avatars and live vicariously through them, taking each slight personally, over-involving themselves in issues, and not allowing kids to work things out themselves. A good coach is yelling advice and encouragement, but he/she is doing it from the other side of the line, and the players know it. We can find our place as coaches and let our players play.

Ready? Break!


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