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Practice Makes Prodigies

Updated: Mar 29, 2021

“Don’t be afraid of failing, because there is nothing wrong with failing. You have to fail in order to climb that ladder, there’s no one that doesn’t fail. What is not okay is when you fail and stay down, whoever stays down is a loser. Winners will fail and get up”- Arnold Schwarzenegger

Let’s talk about practice and muscle memory. Every time a child plays a series of notes, it blazes a neural pathway. Repeating the same series of notes reinforces that pathway. The same is true for sports, emotions and building healthy habits.

The concept of muscle memory is not alien to most adults, but it is worthwhile talking to your child about it. Children under the age of nine (and this is purely through my personal experience having dealt with over four thousand children in classroom contact time), do not fully understand why they need to do something over and over again. “I played this not once, but twice already! I don’t want to play it again, it’s getting boring!”. Children of this age are highly motivated by play, and the exercise of practicing scales, or sports drills, do not engage them as much as playing the game, or the song.

The child needs to know that in order to become better at the activity, one needs to develop skill and technique. Developing skills requires diligence with exercises which may not be the most engaging in the way the activity is, e.g. for a blossoming visual artist, practicing lines, curves, shades, and perspective may not be as appealing as drawing a subject.

So, how does one motivate a child or an adult (let’s be honest here, grown-ups, even with their understanding of the theory, sometimes needs a push to put in the work and effort to build skills) to practice these tedious exercises?

The drive to get better at the activity is the ultimate motivation, and to understand that there is no shortcut, and nobody became great at something because they were born with it. There is always a long story of discipline, practice and multiple failures behind every success, but we only see the success, not the toil, failures and rejections that contributed to the achievement.

Champions have put in their time doing drills, they repeat the same movements over and over again, just ask any basketball player how many times they have practiced shooting the ball. So, the motive becomes, “Do you want to be a champion? Do you want to be really good at this? Then put in the scales, technical work and drills required to get there. There is no shortcut.” Your child brushes their teeth daily because you have nudged them to and if they have ever complained about it, you explained that if they do this, their teeth remain healthy. Now it has become a habit, and hopefully does not require any more convincing about the benefits of brushing teeth.

Please keep in mind that too much pressure will make your child lose interest, so find the best middle ground. Different approaches work for different children, and as parents, you would know best. After all, we still want them to love the activity.

I am attaching a video about the famous Polgar sisters, whose father wanted to prove the theory that prodigies are not born, but created, and how all three became world champions.

Have a lovely day, and PRACTICE!

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