Essential Books on How to Help Your Kids Excel
By Mike Bergin
As parents, we're all united in our fervent hope that our children will excel wildly in everything they put their minds to. And most of us share the wrenching experience of watching helplessly when our little ones (or big ones) fall somewhere short of the academic, athletic, or artistic finish line. Take heart, Tiger Moms and Dads! The experts, as I've learned in studies of peak performance, overwhelmingly agree on one fundamental, paradigm-shifting truth: Talent is not enough.
The road to excellence in just about anything depends on much more than the attributes our children are born with or the aptitude they display early in life. Most of the truly important qualities of excellence are entirely under our control. If you're curious about how to help your children develop world-class abilities or achieve elite levels of performance, you'll find the following three books and their core lessons fascinating.
W. Timothy Gallwey
- Even if, like me, you've never played a game of tennis in your life, you'll find The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey powerful and persuasive on the subject of pulling the best out of a person. This book's subtitle—The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance—says it all. When it comes to our kids, we spend so much energy focused on the "Outer Game" of building skills and knowledge. How about helping your child unlock his or her best by paying some attention to the Inner Game?
- If you can learn to accept the premise that talent is not all a child needs to excel in school, sports, or any other pursuit, the next step is to look at what is needed. In Bounce: Mozart, Federer, Picasso, Beckham, and the Science of Success, Matthew Syed deftly dismantles the myth of the child prodigy. Malcom Gladwell introduced his famous "10,000-Hour Rule" in Outliers (another essential read) and Syed further explores in a fun way the exponential benefits of a couple of hours of deliberate practice each and every day.
- One ineluctable element of excellence is laser-like focus; one simply cannot excel at everything. Furthermore, quitting sometimes serves as the best strategy. As I'm seemingly incapable of talking about books without eventually mentioning Seth Godin, I have to recommend his mini-manifesto on avoiding mediocrity. Godin's marvelous insight here is what he calls The Dip (both the concept and the name of this book), the long slog between starting and mastery. Once you learn about the Dip, you can consider when pushing through is worthwhile and when the best idea may be to pursue a different passion or goal.
For the right reader, each one of the books listed can be a revelation. For parents thinking about their children's long-term happiness and success, these books may be no less than life-changing. Enjoy!
(I'm always looking for more brilliant works on excellence and peak performance. If you have any favorites, I'd love to hear them!)
Mike Bergin, father of two, is the president and founder of Chariot Learning, a Rochester-based company specializing in expert, individualized SAT & ACT instruction and academic coaching. Mike has never had to navigate the local festivities without the capable guidance of KidsOutandAbout and would never want to!
© 2012, Mike Bergin