Sunday, May 15, 2016


The big catch phrase in schools these days is “gifted kids”. School districts are working hard to identify gifted kids so their school experience can be enriched. This is a good idea and unfortunately, it took a back seat to standardized testing for decades. Standardized testing and even grades will not necessarily identify gifted kids academically, so it will be a tough task to craft.

In athletics, gifted kids are much easier to identify then in the classroom. Since athletics are not mandatory, kids who elect to play sports do so because they like it (if they are not force by their parents). Hence, most kids are not necessarily bored with athletics and give it their all on the playing field. Also, athletic activities are observed by hundreds of parents – some with a keen eye. This does not happen in schools so it harder to identify when kids are bored and being forced to do things they do not like - and this does not turn out well. In many cases, children revolt by doing poorly.

Once kids are identified as being gifted athletically, parents and even the community work to help get them more experience through higher level coaching and playing in more competitive leagues. It is not so simple in the classroom. Enrichment comes in different types and levels. Forcing kids into enrichment will fail, it has to be a two way street. In many cases enrichment is reinforced through having volunteers help kids – not a bad model.

All that being said, many kids peak or bloom early athletically or academically. Kids that bloom early will ultimately find a higher chance of success down the road, but it is not always clear cut. There are many athletic examples out there. There are three kids wrestling in college today that were highly recruited at successful division one programs. They were four time state champions in arguably the most competitive youth wrestling state: Pennsylvania. Two have not been able to crack the starting lineup on their teams. Meanwhile, the other, a junior, has seen moderate success, but has struggled greatly at times. How does this happen? Hard to say, but once you are in college everyone is a state champ and pretty darn good. So you have to be mentally tough and get used to learning from loses. It is tough for kids to get used to losing after being so successful in high school. Kids have to be coachable and willing to change their game plan by refining technique because what worked in high school does not necessarily work in college. Receiving scholarships is also pressure to perform at a high level very quickly. Everyone thought those three kids would be competing for national championships right out of the gate – it has not happened – not even close. Kids can also peak academically early on. If they are not identified as gifted, they can easily fall in a crack and be lost early on in the educational process.

Unfortunately, giftedness does not measure something that is vastly important for future success: determination. Any person gifted without determination may skate through life but refuse to challenge themselves to get a better job or do better athletically. Hence, I see determination as a better gauge to success than giftedness. A gifted kid may be hard to teach or coach, but a kid determined to get better is much easier to coach and teach.

There are so many examples of this, especially athletically. When the Penn State football team was decimated through NCAA sanctions they had to rely on walk-ons. One kid came to the program who never started in high school. He was a runt, but he grew and worked hard and this year he led the nation in sacks. He is now a potential first round pick in the NFL. The kid was determined to get better and never missed a practice or work out session.

When things do not come as easy or naturally athletically or academically, if a person is determined to succeed, they may overcome the odds. These are the kids that will be the hard workers in society. And these kids face less scrutiny growing up and therefore less pressure than kids that excel early on.

What people need to be identifying are kids with potential who are determined and what one would classify as an “overachiever”. These kids can fall in a crack, but they are less likely to let it happen. I would be much happier working with a room full of overachievers than a room full of giftedness. Gifted without determination could yield failure and mediocrity at best, but an overachiever without giftedness could yield success on a higher level.

Think of it this way: One-Hundred percent of the under achieving population comes from the gifted class of kids. Hence, a great number of gifted kids are set for failure or mediocrity in the game of life. No question, the kids with the best success rates will be gifted kids who are determined to get better. A child can still be gifted and overachieve. For example, Presidents would fall into this category. No one expects a gifted child to one day be president – it is a job only 45 people have earned 240 years.

My advice is simple: Do not exclude determined, hard-working, overachievers from gifted academic or athletic programs. After all, these traits are becoming rarer than the traits of gifted students and athletes. America was and is built on hard work and not giftedness (potential). It is important to foster giftedness, but even more important to yield opportunities to hard workers.

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