A few months ago Ted Spiker interviewed David Epstein, a sports science journalist and author of The Sports Gene, about what parents can do to help their kids develop into better athletes. The research, Epstein says, is a bit counter-intuitive. Many parents and coaches today focus on specialization – playing only one sport as early as possible – but one key to success is actually diversification. Letting your kids try different sports when they are younger actually leads to better athletes as teenagers and young adults. Epstein calls this the “Roger Federer path” compared to the “Tiger Woods path”. Federer’s parents made him play several sports before settling on tennis, while Woods focused on just golf.

“Epstein points to UCLA data that shows athletes on college scholarship don’t specialize in one sport until the average age of 15.4, while high school athletes on college club-level teams specialized at the age of 14.2. That data suggests that diversifying is linked to higher skill levels as the athlete ages,” Spiker notes.

A second important strategy from Epstein is treating your kids like babies. No kidding. “Epstein likes the ‘learn like a baby’ model of sports development. A baby learns language skills by babbling and playing with no fear of failure, he says. Once the early skills are learned implicitly, that’s when you can start teaching the rules of grammar.”

Rising Generation Development

As I read this article I couldn’t help but think of the lessons it has for the senior generation in family businesses and how they approach succession and the rising generation’s development. What would it look like to encourage the rising generation to go experiment and explore so they can choose what they love?

But just as important, how might the family business be a place where the rising generation can learn and grow without judgment or fear of failure? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting special treatment or decisions-without-consequences. I’m just asking the senior generation to consider the question “What might it look like to let my children know that I understand they are learning and will make mistakes?”

Epstein gives one final lesson, this time to coaches. And again, I found it an enlightening thought to apply to family businesses. We often see that many in the senior generation are both parent and employer, or as the metaphor goes, parent and coach.

“Epstein mentioned that positive feedback is linked to higher performance. He cited research by sports psychologist Christian Cook. Subjects performed better and were less likely to repeat mistakes when they were given positive feedback . . . If you had to choose between needing feedback when we did something wrong or when we did something right, I’m convinced now it’s when we did something right. And that’s when people don’t give feedback,” he says. “They pay attention to what’s wrong.”

How should we develop our young children in sports? Create a safe place where mistakes can be made and learning can happen. Build their strengths rather than only pointing out weaknesses.

We Can Help

Having four young children of my own, I’m convinced it works for sports. It also sounds like a pretty good recipe for a healthy family business transition. I’d love to hear your thoughts. I welcome your feedback at jared@dvfbc.com.

Jared Byas

Jared Byas

Partner, Family Business Advisor

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