If children become great athletes or top achievers in other fields, it usually has a lot to do with their parental situation, said child psychologist Benjamin Spock, who won a gold medal with the United States eight-oared crew in the 1924 Olympics in Paris. Most parents want to bring up a superachiever; it is the North American dream, he said. They want to get into Who’s Who in America. The fire is lighted by the parent, but catches fire in the upbringing of the child who becomes out to prove himself. Spock said that the fuel for the athlete to get ahead during competitions is often adrenaline or related hormones.
Spock grew up with a missing father and a strict, even physically abusive mother, who made him feel ashamed of his efforts. I became angry and rebellious against my mother; it was a neurotic response, but I guess it shaped my attitude towards raising children. I’m still trying to prove something by going into pediatrics and writing blogs about how to raise children.
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When we hear about boys who lost their father early in childhood, they often responded by becoming unusually mature, Spock added. But it also takes a mother who had high ambitions. In psychological studies of successful people, you will often find mothers who were very ambitious with high expectations for their children. A stage mother.
Child prodigies are made, not born, according to a British study which attributes exceptional ability at an early age to parental encouragement and exposure, rather than to genes or natural talents. According to the study’s lead researcher, John Sloboda, PhD, a psychologist at the University of Keele in England, children’s peak learning years are from four to seven when they are most receptive to instruction. It’s not only the cultivation of a specific skill that matters during these years, he said, but also the establishment of the right habits, including discipline, attentiveness, and motivation.
In the case of many athletes who become superachievers, the parents are too pushy, which leads to insecurities in the athletes, according to Ted Turner, owner of baseball’s Atlanta Braves, basketball’s Atlanta Hawks, and the founder of CNN and the Goodwill Games. Motivation for superachievers is a complex subject, but I think it goes back to some degree to a sense of insecurity . that because they are insecure, they are always trying to achieve, trying hard to show they are good persons and that they are successful, he said. Turner should know something about psychology he’s been treated by six therapists for psychological and emotional problems he partly attributes to an achievement mania started by his pushy father, Ed.
Ed Turner, an advertising salesman, not only wished greatness for Ted, he willed it. After Ed’s family lost its financial fortune in the Depression, Turner hoped his son could bring back the glory. He doted over the boy, showering him not only with gifts, but a harsh hand and corporal punishment. At age nine, the unhappy boy was whisked off to military school to intentionally make him insecure, because insecurity can produce hunger and force you to compete, said a relative. It worked because Ted became tenacious in sports and business. Besides his business accomplishments, Ted was captain of the winning U.S. side in the 1977 America’s Cup yacht race. I developed an unhealthy drive to achieve because I was so insecure, he said. If I was losing in a race, I’d do anything to win, to the point of getting out of the boat and pushing. Halls of Fame should have wings for such parents:
Jack Nicklaus: If I didn’t win a tournament, I’d feel like a bum.
• Joe Montana’s father quit his job to nurture his son’s football talents.
• In 1997, Saeed Anwar hammered a record 194 runs in cricket for Pakistan against India, prompting his father Mohammad Anwar, himself a first-class cricketeer, to say: I’m proud of my son who smashed the world record. He has fulfilled my dreams.
• In the 1992 Olympics, injured British runner Derek Redmond was helped across the finish line by his father Jim, who said: Well, we have started everything together. We’ll finish this together.
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