True Grit and Early Sports Specialization: Are They Related?

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It takes grit to become an elite-level athlete. Not every athlete has it. And it can’t be developed without internal motivation.

Both of my kids began swimming at a young age. My daughter began swimming with a year-round team at age five, while my son began swimming at age eight. (He’s three years older).

They did do other activities for a few years before they decided to specialize. And that is the key: they decided. My son was running between t-ball, tennis, karate and swimming and felt like he wasn’t making progress in any of them. He got the swimming bug and wanted to compete. So, we dropped the other sports.

My daughter was being shuttled between the ballet studio and the pool. She honestly thought that ballet was some weird form of punishment — especially putting on pink tights and a black leotard in the 110-degree heat — while her brother got to dive into the pool!

 

 

I listened to a podcast by Ritter Sports Performance on early sports specialization and the main thing I took away was that an athlete has to be internally motivated. They can’t be putting in the hours and training to please their parents or their coach.  If they have the passion and are hardwired to compete at their sport, then they will reach the elite level regardless when they start.

In swimming, two examples are Rowdy Gaines and Ed Moses, who both started late in high school. They did a lot of other sports before they found the pool. Once they started swimming they excelled and loved it.

So, why do we insist on sports specialization a young age? It’s because some sports like swimming take a lot of time to develop technique. Parents naturally want their kids to have a head start.

Then there’s the 10,000 rule from Outliers: The Story of Success that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to be good at something.  But, an interesting theory is that it’s not the quantity, but the quality of practice. You can’t be looking at the clock waiting for practice to be over. You have to be in the moment giving it your all.

There are certain guidelines that kids should do a lot of different activities before they specialize, but that by the time they turn 12 or 13 years old they need to focus on one sport.

I say, follow your kids’ lead. They will know what sport ignites their passion. By allowing them to follow their passion, they can develop the grit it takes to be successful.

What sports are your children in and at what age did they specialize?

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When Your First Race is the Boston Marathon!

 

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Brett (right) with her siblings and mom and dad. (From left) Romy, Allie, Christy, mother Cathy, dad Andy, Andrew, Maggie and Buff. 

Brett Simpson, age 24, is running in her first race, the Boston Marathon, on behalf of her father and raising funds for kidney disease research. What a race to start with, right? A graduate of Princeton University and a four-year collegiate athlete, Brett was on the rowing team which won the Ivy League Championship in 2016 and she earned a top academic award from the Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association (CRCA). Although she hasn’t entered a race before, she said she’s been running as cross-training for rowing.

A college teammate who lives in Boston gave her the idea about the Boston Marathon. This teammate asked Brett to run and pace her for part of the New York Marathon since Brett lives in New York City. Her teammate from Boston, said, “I don’t know anyone else in NYC.” Brett said her friends from crew are “teammates for life and she’d drop anything in a moment to support them.” Later, her teammate suggested Brett should try the Boston Marathon. Brett explained that although this is a race with qualifying times if you represent a charity it’s possible to enter the race. Of course, since it’s her first race ever, she doesn’t have a time! After she looked through the listed charities the kidney disease research “jumped out at her.” She’s raising money for the Center for Kidney Disease Research at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, which is the Harvard Medical School Teaching Hospital.

I was surprised to learn that you can’t just sign up to represent BIDMC and raise money for them. Brett had to submit an essay and eventually was selected as someone who the hospital would want to represent them. Most of the team members are in Boston and there are two in NYC and in California. Brett said although she hasn’t met her “teammates” in person, they are a “virtual team with a coach that sends the workouts.”

Many collegiate athletes feel a loss after graduation when they no longer have their team to motivate them and be a part of their daily lives. Brett feels inspired by her father who is into athletics and would call her and ask about her running and workouts. Since he experienced kidney failure in July 2016, Brett’s inspiration to workout has come from her dad. She has to run for him.

 

 

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Sisters (from left) Maggie, Christy, Buff, Brett, Romy and Allie (seated).

In July 2016, Brett was far away from her dad, mom, and six siblings. She was with her Ivy League championship rowing team in the United Kingdom competing in the oldest rowing race in the world, the Henley Royal Regatta. She likened it to a big social as well as athletic event, similar to our Kentucky Derby. She said it was a unique and great experience, but she was worried about her dad. He’s been in and out of the hospital and on dialysis since.

In addition to academics and athletics, Brett is an accomplished bass player and was a member of the San Francisco Youth Symphony. In college, she couldn’t row and play in the orchestra, so she decided to pursue athletics. With five sisters and one brother who are gifted athletes and musicians, I asked her how they became such accomplished athletes. She said, “Well, we’re a tall crew and then there’s what my dad always told us.”

“My father always said personal fulfillment starts in the body. Discipline and joy come from challenging yourself physically first and then seeking out other challenges in life.”

Brett’s goal is to raise $7,500 for the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center by running the Boston Marathon April 16, 2018. She is looking for any size donations and would greatly appreciate all support. As far as running, her personal goal is to run in a qualifying time for the Boston Marathon in her first race ever.

Here’s a link to her donation page with her story: donate here.

Read more about Brett on the Roster from the Princeton Tigers Rowing page.

 

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Brett Simpson

 

Helicopter Parents’ New Role: College Concierges

 

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Before college, we hung out at the beach without worry.

In two articles I read today in the Washington Post and MarketWatch brought up helicopter parents continuing their hovering into their kids’ college years and a recently published study was cited:

“The study published this month in the journal Sociology of Education by three social scientists — Laura Hamilton of the University of California at Merced, Josipa Roksa of the University of Virginia and Kelly Nielsen of the University of California at San Diego — followed a group of female students (and their parents) from 41 families. The students lived on the same dorm floor at an unnamed prominent Midwest public university (some of Hamilton’s research on this same group of women was featured in her 2013 book with Elizabeth A. Armstrong called ‘Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality’).”

I read about this study in the Washington Post in an article called “Rich parents are serving as ’college concierges’ for their kids — and it’s fueling inequality,” by Jillian Berman. I found the anecdote at the beginning of her article especially interesting because the scenario was achingly familiar. My husband encouraged my daughter to attend an internship informational meeting her sophomore year held by Goldman Sachs. Unlike the kids who attended the meeting in the story, she was booted out, because they wouldn’t allow anyone except juniors and seniors.

 

“A few years ago, I attended an internship recruitment presentation by Goldman Sachs at the University of Pennsylvania. It was early in the fall semester, but the Wall Street investment bank was already focused on hiring interns for the following summer.

“After the 45-minute presentation ended, I found a small group of students huddled in the back of the ballroom munching on free food. I discovered they were sophomores who weren’t even eligible for the internship but had come to gather intelligence and get a head start for next year. When I asked them who had suggested they come, they all had the same answer: their parents.

“It shouldn’t have come as a surprise. It has been well-documented that the generation of schoolchildren who went to college in the last decade were raised by “helicopter parents” (who helped their children do everything) and “snowplow parents” (who removed all barriers in front of their children). The question was what would happen when they left their childhood home and went to college.

“A new study attempts to answer that question. It shows that hovering parents don’t stop once their kids go off to college, and that’s particularly true for affluent and upper middle-class parents. Such parents continue to help their children in college, the study found, because they “know the potential to make a misstep — and the costs of doing so — may be higher than before.”

Here’s some more info about the study in “Helicopter parents don’t stay at home when the kids go to college — they keep hovering” by Jeffrey J. Selingo from the article on MarketWatch:

“The research isn’t definitive, but it’s backed up by previous studies on the issue. It’s based on interviews with only 41 families of young women who lived on the same floor in a dorm at a major public university in the Midwest. But it helps paint a picture of the different resources available to students as they navigate college life. The study also indicates that the variation in resources affects students’ life post-college.

“Of the affluent families studied, 87% of parents served as what the researchers described as a “college concierge” for their daughters — talking with them regularly, guiding them to certain majors tutors and academic-focused clubs, providing them contacts for internships and jobs, and even helping to manage their admission into sororities.

“In contrast, just 33% of the less-affluent families were heavily involved in their daughters’ college careers, but it made little difference because they didn’t have the resources and connections to necessarily guide their daughters’ successfully. For example, one middle-class family pushed their daughter towards a law school with a shoddy reputation.

“Affluent parents often use their resources to ensure their children have a qualitatively better educational experience at every level,” said Laura Hamilton, a sociology professor at the University of California-Merced and one of the authors of the study. “Parents’ class backgrounds remain really salient for children’s success all the way through their experiences.”

These articles are common sense. Parents who are college graduates know the ins-and-outs having been there themselves. Kids who are the first generation in their family to go to college, of course, won’t get that help from their parents who are unfamiliar with the territory. I know that colleges, nor high schools, go out of their way to help students find tutoring or the right classes. It’s a shame that they don’t, but it’s a reality. It’s a reminder that regardless of socioeconomic status, kids need to be proactive and find out info and follow through for themselves.

Also, it may be a benefit to have parents who ‘concierge’ the way to a better college experience and outcome, but only if kids listen or follow advice! I told my son to see tutors all the time he was in a tough theoretical math major and we offered to pay. He says now he wished he would have listened to us about that–plus on what major he should graduate with. Now that he’s in the workforce and has the 20/20 hindsight, he realizes that mom and dad might have known something after all.

Another thought I have on this study is that yes, we are not all equal. The researchers are looking to universities to promote social equality and outcomes. It benefits a lot in the larger scope of things to have a college degree, but within that world, there are any number of majors, degrees and eventual career paths. Our kids are not all equal. No kidding. We cannot expect our children to have the same outcomes in college due not only to socioeconomic factors and parent involvement, but also interests, aptitude, skills, work ethic, and brain power.

My own two kids, who obviously come from the same two parents and socioeconomic means had two very different experiences in college. One listened to our advice, one did not. One had the comforts and privileges of being a D1 scholarship athlete, one did not. One is more academically inclined, while the other physical. Their experiences were both great, but also completely different.

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My college age kids.

What are your thoughts about these two articles and parents of the affluent ‘concierging‘ their kids through a better college experience?

The High Costs of College

imgres-1My son (yes, the one who tried to give away the cat on Facebook) is in his third year of college. We began his college savings soon after he was born — and our daughter’s too. I asked the grandparents if instead of buying toys and clothing for Christmas and birthdays, could they send a check for their college accounts? One grandparent thought that was a horrific idea and how tacky of me to ask! The others said, “Great! What a good idea!”

When you have small children, you may notice how overboard the gifts get in proportion to the little guys, and how quickly the toys are overlooked, broken, and the clothing outgrown. A contribution to the college account is a present forever. Your child can help select investments as they grow older, track their account’s growth, and participate in the education of preparing for college.

You know your own relatives best and if this idea is an option for you. Of course, we were the major contributors to the college savings, but it’s nice to have help while saving for hundreds of thousands of dollars for an education!

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Do you know how much college costs these days? My son is in a public university in California and it’s about $30,000 per year. If he went to a private university, it would be closer to $60,000. I’ve read that a few schools in our state are closer to $75,000 per year. What will it be years from now, when your kids are in school?

Do you know the difference between college savings plans? 529s, UGMA/UMTAs and Coverdells? Which is best for you? As the wife of a financial advisor for 25 years — if you have questions — I advise you to ask a financial advisor for help. They help families prepare for milestones like college planning and retirement.

Here are links to helpful resources.

Comparing College Savings Plans

How Much is a College Education Worth? 

Inflation and College Costs 

College costs through the years

Four years in the blink of an eye!

 

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Celebrating victory after the Utes vs. Cougar meet.

I was afraid I was going to have tears streaming down my cheeks. I forgot to bring tissues and I was feeling apprehension, anxiety, sadness and nostalgic all at once. It was the morning of my daughter’s last college home meet on “Senior Day” and the senior girls who gritted it out for four years of being D1 student-athletes were going to be recognized.

 

We moms of senior girls have been texting and emailing the past month or two planning ways to make this day extra special. I think that was one of way preparing ourselves for the end of our swim mom careers.

When we were at the airport leaving home, I was told the flight was overbooked and I was the one selected to be bumped. I couldn’t believe it. This was the second time in a row I got the lucky ticket! I showed the agent that I had purchased our tickets August 1st–more than six months prior! And paid full price! And was in their frequent flier plan. They said they were sorry, but the computer picked me to be “bumped” and they’d try to get someone to give up their seat. This was way too stressful for me and I think I cried more tears at the airport than any other time throughout the weekend. From kindergarten to her senior year in college, my daughter had worked hard at swimming and I was going to miss her final dual meet? Fortunately, someone took a $600 coupon, gave up their seat, and I made it to Utah.

Back to the morning before the last dual meet, I battled with getting my leg brace on. It took me three tries to get it on the right way and then I worried about being late for the short ceremony that was going to proceed the meet. I snapped at my husband and realized that I was feeling stressed over one of these “milestone occasions.” I wanted everything to be perfect.

On the drive to the pool, I settled down. I realized we weren’t going to be late and I began to think of great memories swimming has given our family throughout the years. It was my daughter’s birthday weekend and I recalled since she was a little girl, her birthday always fell on a swim meet. I remembered when she was 13, one of the “hot” fast swimmer boys told her “Happy birthday!” at the meet. After that, she was known as the “girl who so-and-so said happy birthday to.”

The ceremony went off without a hitch. I didn’t cry but thoroughly enjoyed every moment with the other senior parents. The girls routed their opponents who have been fierce rivals and just happens to be my alma mater’s number one rival. My daughter swam her last 1,000 of her collegiate career and did so well, especially since she’s been fighting an injury all season. Afterwards, we parents were on the pool deck giving hugs, taking photos and sharing memories from their college days. We got together for dinner, joined by our dear friends who live nearby and have welcomed our daughter into their home for four years. No one can believe how quickly these years flew by.

I didn’t cry like I thought I would. I have a sneaking suspicion it’s because there’s one more meet to go, PAC 12s, their conference meet. I don’t think I’ll escape the tears then.

 

 

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Seniors at their last dual meet.

 

 

 

Sharing daily inspiration with your kids

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Back in the day: summer vacation in Laguna Beach.

One year ago, Thanksgiving week, my college roommate and family came to our house for Thanksgiving dinner. My girlfriend stayed with us a few days past Thanksgiving and I learned how she and her two brothers and mom share a little inspiration daily. My kids and I started this practice and we’ve kept it up for a year so far–at least weekly. It’s brought a smile to my face all year long. Read more how you can share inspiration with your family thanks to the miracle of today’s technology:

When my college roommate was visiting after Thanksgiving, I would hear her phone ping every morning with texts.

Her mom, who is in her 80s, lives alone and asks that my college roommate and her two brothers make some contact via text every morning. That way, they know that she’s okay.

I’d hear the familiar ping of my friend’s phone. She’d say, “That’s from mom. Listen to what she has to say today….”

Then she’d read an inspirational quote that her mom sent. Her brothers would chime in and my friend would respond as well.

I thought, what a great idea. I’m a terrible worrier, and if I don’t hear from my kids for a few days or weeks, I get more worried. With one child in the Bay area and the other in Utah, I feel like they’re both too far away. I sent my kids a group text and explained how it would work. We would send an inspiring note to each other by noon each day. It only takes a moment, we’d check in and pass along some inspiration. Also, I’d know that they were okay.

“Put your heart, mind and soul into even your smallest acts. This is the secret of success.” —Swami Sivananda

That was my first text. I told them, “Now you guys need to respond by noon with a quote or a ok thanks,” I texted.

“Would that be ‘an’ okay, thanks. Not a,” my daughter texted back.

She then responded with a meme with the following words:

“What are a few things that have inspired you lately?

To be better than everyone. Cause I hate everyone.”

I take it she wasn’t enjoying my inspirational quote thing so much.

My son responded with “I don’t like inspirational quotes, so here is a good painting.”

A Vase of Roses–Van Gogh, 1890

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The next day, I sent a quote and my daughter responded with “Eew that’s so and so’s bio on Twitter. New quote please.”

I sent “Winners never quit. Quitters never win.” It was a quote we had on the back of our swim club’s shirts a few years ago.

“Except Michael Phelps quit and he’s a winner,” she pointed out. Yes, she’s right about that, too.

My son sent a painting by Henri Matisse.img_2866

“I like it. It reminds me of SpongeBob,” my daughter said.

“Fun fact: the SpongeBob art was inspired by his cut-outs,” he answered.

My daughter texted this:img_9775

It’s been interesting to see what they come up with on a daily basis. It adds a little joy to my day like we’re sharing special secrets.

And then my son called, “Thank you, Mom, for starting the inspiration thing. I really love it.”

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Me and my college roommate.

 

Watch out college students, helicopter parents are coming, too!

 

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I was a helicopter parent when they were young.

I enjoy reading and posting stories about helicopter parents because the outrageous, over-the-top behavior of the few mentioned makes me feel like I’ve done a decent job parenting my two young adults.

In “Crazy Parents Are Calling Up Colleges Pretending to Be Their Kids” by Kristen Fleming in the New York Post, I wonder exactly who are these parents and what are they thinking?

A friend told me about someone they knew whose only child was going to start at the University of Redlands which is about 40 miles away. My friend was surprised to hear that the mom got a hotel room and stayed the first week so she could be close to her son. The parents didn’t want him to be alone. When he got a poor grade on a paper, the dad called the University president to complain! Yes, this is a true story. I can only imagine how the student’s four years went—or if he made it that long.

 

Here are two examples from the article:

“I think the wackiest example was when a mother called and asked for permission to do her daughter’s internship for her because [the girl] had too much anxiety. I said, ‘It sounds to me that this would be a fun and interesting experience for you but I don’t think your daughter is going to get any credit for it,’ ” recalled Jonathan Gibralter, president of Wells College in upstate New York.

An administrator at a liberal arts college in the Northeast, who asked to remain anonymous for professional reasons, has trouble keeping up with the parental texts and e-mails that flood her phone.

“Over the last two or three years it’s become unbearable,” she said. “I’ve had parents calling up and impersonating their children, asking questions that could have been easily asked by their kids. One lady didn’t even bother to disguise her Long Island soccer-mom voice.”

I learned that technology is partially to blame and that the cell phone is the world’s longest umbilical cord at my daughter’s orientation for students and parents at the University of Utah. We were told to not jump every time the cell phone rang or we received a text. Let our kids learn to problem solve was the advice. Usually, they’re just venting and the problem will solve itself or be no big deal after a day.

In the New York Post article, technology is pointed out to be an issue and one main cause of helicopter parenting:

Harlan Cohen, who wrote the book “The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College” is in demand at schools as an instructional speaker.

“I’ve heard all of the horror stories,” said Cohen, who recently led a seminar for parents at Purdue University in Indiana. “I’ve heard stories of parents wanting to come along for job interviews, coming unannounced to resident halls and reaching out to the president for every little situation.”

Still, he said, “I’m sympathetic to both sides.”

He blames technology for the seismic shift in academic life. Previous generations had to rely on landlines and phone cards to call home, limiting contact and allowing kids to feel their way through challenges. Now, armed with smartphones, students are apt to sound off with a text or social-media post after a frustrating encounter with a professor or roommate — raising the alarm back at home.

I have a relative who stayed up several nights to finish projects for her son and she also would rewrite his papers. She was very upset when he (she?) got a bad grade and made an appointment to speak to the teacher about it. She had the good sense to laugh about it and said it was hard not to say “Why did you give me this bad grade?” — rather than her son. It dawned on her that she might be doing too much for him.

Why do you think parents are so overly involved in their high school and college-aged kids lives?

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I think they’ve had enough of my posing them for pictures!