I’m not a huge sports fan, but last Sunday morning I made myself a bowl of strawberries and cream and sat down to watch the men’s finals at Wimbledon — and I was glued to the television for the next five hours. While watching these two superlative athletes play a tight match we were reminded of how very different their journeys to Centre Court were.
While Federer’s mother, a tennis coach herself, encouraged her son to play a wide variety of sports and didn’t allow her son to pick up a racket until he was 12, Djokovic was heralded a tennis prodigy as a very young boy and from the age of seven he has been singularly focused on one goal — to be the best tennis player in the world.
I think that this serves as an important reminder to parents that it isn’t necessary to make your child practice their musical instrument for hours a day, play an elite sport year round, or enroll in an accelerated math program to reach their greatest potential. Perhaps by allowing them the time and freedom to explore a variety of sports and activities they will find where their talents and passions lie in their own time and in their own way. While we might fear that allowing our children to be generalists will mean that they won’t stand out in the crowd, the risk of making them specialists before they are ready is burnout.
To think more about this and what is right for your family, read Range: Why Generalist Triumph in a Specialized World where the author, David Epstein argues that: aimlessness is the path to greatness, that our distractibility is not our weakness but our secret power, that genius and perfection can show up for us with luck, as long as we're just willing to amble around enough.