The Best Predictor of Success, According to Science

We want to set children up on a path towards success later in life. What contributes to a person’s success in the long-term?

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!

I’m sitting on the sidelines at my five-year-old son’s soccer game listening to parents and caretakers yell out encouraging words to the players. It’s clear that, from the time our children are little, we want them to excel and reach their full potential. We want to set children up on a path towards success later in life.

What contributes to a person’s success in the long-term?

According to Dr. Angela Duckworth in her groundbreaking book “Grit,” one of the best predictors of long-term success isn’t talent or intellect (though these are also helpful for obvious reasons). It’s grit.

Duckworth explains that the highly successful have a kind of fierce determination that makes them incredibly resilient, hard-working, and focused on their long-term goals. This combination of passion and perseverance in high achievers can be described in a word as grit.

In “Grit,” Duckworth draws on studies she performed on teachers working in schools in tough neighborhoods, cadets facing the challenging environment at West Point, and finalists in the National Spelling Bee. She illustrates that level of grit is the one factor that predicted which study participants would excel in these demanding settings.

Duckworth also found that grittier kids are less likely to drop out of high school. Grit determines graduation rates more than the level students care about school, how thorough they are about their studies, and even how safe they feel at school.

Watching my son’s soccer team play, it’s clear that certain players are more naturally inclined with athletic ability than others, but Duckworth would likely caution me not to jump to conclusions about how the player’s talents will play out over time. She argues in her book that, as much as talent counts, effort counts twice as much.

Duckworth explains that effort applied to talent builds skill, and effort applied to skill makes skill productive in the form of achievement. Without applying effort to talent, talent only remains untapped potential (this would be the case for the talented kids on the team that later decide to quit soccer). Without applying effort to skills, a person produces and achieves less (for example, a child that might play fewer games may fail to move up the ranks in soccer).

Duckworth draws on the scientific findings of Stanford psychologist Catharine Cox to explain how IQ comes into play. Cox studied accomplished historical figures. She concluded that, as a group, the historical figures were smarter than the rest of us, but she also noticed that IQ mattered very little in distinguishing between the most and the least accomplished in the group. What did matter in separating the most from the least accomplished in the group was – you guessed it – grit.

The good news is that grit is not a fixed trait. It can grow over time, and Duckworth details in “Grit” the ways we can grow our grit from the inside out by connecting interest, practice, purpose, and hope to shape our long-term goals.

While observing the parents at my son’s soccer game, it’s clear that there are different approaches to the level of encouragement we give to our children. Some parents are very vocal about correcting children during the game and others are laid-back.

How do we best encourage grittiness in our children? Is it fostered by demanding high standards, or is it nurtured with loving support?

Though Duckworth admits that much more research is necessary for the area of parenting for grit, she suggests that parents and caretakers should be both demanding and supportive. She also recommends that we look at our own levels of grit. If we are raising our children in a way that makes them want to emulate us, our grittiness will likely show up in our children.

Another key point made in “Grit” is that before hard work comes play. Duckworth encourages allowing children to explore their interests. She points out that children of parents who let kids make their own choices about activities that they enjoy are more likely to develop an interest that is later identified as a passion.

In the end, the effort we apply to our potential might just determine our potential itself. Doesn’t that information make you feel grittier?

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I Coach Five-Year-Olds and We Keep Score

The score does matter. It always has and it always will. Learning how to lose is important, and so is learning how to win.

The little five-year-olds in blue jerseys were running like cattle toward the soccer ball – bulls all mushed together. There was the occasional red player trying to squeeze into the herd, but they kept getting bowled over. The other kids in red stood there in the grass like scarecrows, only scaring no one. The black and white ball was repeatedly hitting the back of their net. And as their coach, my hands were chapped from clapping, trying to “rah-rah” my conquered troops.

The director of our youth soccer organization asked me to coach my son’s team. They had no one else to do it. I was reluctant because we all know kids listen to every other adult on Earth better than their own parent. But I said yes and my son has surprised me, in many ways actually. He listens, hustles, and waves his pom-poms for his teammates.

The first game was much harder than I had anticipated. How difficult could coaching these kids be? Play some games, let them run around, and feed them a snack, I thought. Well, my players stood petrified as ice sculptures and the other team easily scorched them.

On the car ride home, my son was stripping his legs of the sticky shin guards, socks, and cleats. The roots of his light brown curls were dark from sweat. “We did bad, huh Mommy?”

Now I was the scarecrow in the passenger seat. I was not ready for this teaching moment.

“No, honey. You guys tried really hard, and you had fun. They only beat us by four goals.”

But my son couldn’t ignore billboard-sized scoreboard in his brain. “No, Mom. The score was five to zero.”

He was right. I forgot about that last goal because I was too busy watching my stopwatch, praying it would tick faster, but it felt like the pause button was stuck.

My son took losing that first game pretty well. We’d been practicing at home because, just a few months prior, there was door-slamming and punching the wall when he was defeated. In the car, I recited the lines I was supposed to as a parent. “You tried really hard. Maybe we’ll get ‘em next time. You can’t always win.”

However, since that first game, I’ve been keeping score. Technically, I’m not supposed to in the league we play in. Plus, they’re only five. I keep track anyway. My son and most of my players tally the goals, too. When they ask, “Did we win or lose, coach?” I tell them the truth. I don’t say, “Oh, the score doesn’t matter.”

The score does matter. It always has and it always will. Learning how to lose is important, and so is learning how to win. We need to teach our kids that when we lose, you can still puff out that chest, as long as you left no regrets on that field. When you win, yes, you can puff out your chest too, but you better be humble. No gloating. If we don’t teach the true results of competition when our kids are young, we’ll have ten-year-olds throwing tantrums like toddlers because they can’t handle a loss. Or we’ll have the winners taunting the losers in a good ol’ bullying session.

I want my five-year-old players to know why they shake the other team’s hands. It’s not because we both won, it’s because both teams battled and earned respect.

I’m not into saving my players’ feelings, but I’ll certainly help them deal with these emotions. You learn way more in life from being on a losing team than a winning team. Winning is easy. And losing happens, in more than just sports. Someday, my players may not get into the college they applied for, ace the test they studied for, or get the job they interviewed for. Accepting a loss doesn’t mean giving up, it means quite the opposite. It means fighting.

Since our first defeat, my son and his teammates have won every single game. Maybe they didn’t like the feeling of that lost battle, I don’t know. Either way, they learned that working hard feels much better. We may lose again, but for now, they’ve lost their scarecrow costumes and have become the herding bulls they were meant to be.

A Perfect Attendance Trophy is Still a Trophy

As my husband and I finished sorting through our childhood boxes, I set my perfect attendance trophy in the “keeps” section. I’d earned it.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!

When my parents downsized their house, my mom seemed overjoyed that she could finally unload the boxes of memorabilia she’d amassed throughout my childhood. My husband received a similar delivery from his mom when we got married. Both were unsentimental send-offs of stuff to the rightful owners.

We moved these unopened boxes from apartment to apartment to finally our first home. They sat stored in the basement for months until one night we decided to dig in and purge. In his, we found a stack of juicy notes from two high school girlfriends, a truck collection, and loads of football and hockey paraphernalia. In mine we found art projects, scrapbooks, my troll collection, and, at the very bottom, a lone trophy. As I carefully unwrapped the newspaper surrounding that golden girl set atop a metallic blue pillar, it brought me back to the summer of 1992.

The air was frigid, even though it was mid-July. The gray sky loomed ominously as I snapped a swim cap over my head and shoved my ponytail into the tight rubber rim. I looked around. Only two other swimmers had shown up, so I had a lane to myself. I stretched my goggles over my eyes, dipped under the water, and propelled myself off the wall into my warm-up. I was 11 years old and I had my eyes on a big goal.

The previous year had set the stage. During the summer’s end-of-season swim banquet, I’d seen many teammates get awards for relay records and fastest times. I watched with envy and awe as the winners claimed their well-earned spoils.

I, on the other hand, came from a lineage of mediocre athletes. I was used to being picked nearly last in every gym class and learned early that tryouts didn’t go well for me. It actually helped narrow my focus for sports. With swimming, showing up meant I was on the team. Plus I wasn’t going to strike out, miss the basket, or whiff the set-and-spike. The only person I could really let down was myself.

Towards the end of that swim banquet, a few mid-sized trophies still sat unclaimed at the head coaches’ table. Who are those for? I wondered. Soon the coach read off a small handful of names and a few select teammates went up to the podium to collect their own gleaming golden statues…for perfect attendance.

Perfect attendance? Never had a trophy been more within my reach! It wasn’t going to take skill, it was going to take determination! I visualized earning that trophy throughout the school year and, as the next summer swim season began, I knew what I had to do.

On that gray July morning in 1992, my mom said the temperature was too cold and the weather called for thunder, but I wouldn’t budge. She was driving me to that swim practice.

Now that I have young kids, I wonder what activities they’ll chose to pursue and when we’ll begin to lose our weeknights and weekends to practices, games, or (God forbid) travel tournaments.

In today’s time of “trophies for everyone,” I also wonder if I’ll get to see them shine with pride over a medal or a mathlete award they’ll have worked hard to achieve. I hope so.

Maybe you’d argue my perfect attendance was essentially a prize for participation or that I was setting pretty low expectations for myself. Maybe. I swam my unathletic little heart out and was never close to coming in first place, but being recognized for a different kind of accomplishment, one that only a few had achieved, still meant something.

As my husband and I finished sorting through our childhood boxes, I set my perfect attendance trophy in the “keeps” section. I’d earned it.

The Benefits of Team Sports That Extend Beyond the Game

Here are six reasons you may want to consider letting your little sportie try out for basketball or soccer next year.

Confession: growing up I found team sports far too stressful to part take in. My anxious little self could only carry the burden of disappointing myself and possibly my parents. Therefore I steered clear of soccer, basketball, volleyball, and anything else that might make me mildly uncomfortable or stressed. What if I failed? What if I didn’t make the team? Got benched? Botched the winning play? I’m breathing into a paper bag right now just thinking about the plethora of negative outcomes my young mind conjured up. To involve nine or 10 other girls and their hypothetical judgement of me was just too overwhelming for my not-so-naturally-athletic-self.

I dabbled in softball until it came time to try out for varsity. Faced with the possibility of not making the cut, I opted for quitting. I attempted swim team as a diver. I was pretty bad and so I quit that too. I didn’t want to tell my mom that I’d abandoned the swimming ship, so my best friend and I would wet our hair and sit in the high school hallway for hours until pick-up time. She eventually discovered my ruse, because moms are no fools. Needless to say I was a fear-driven kid, only really attempting things I was confident I would succeed at.

Fast forward several decades and here I am raising a few die-hard athletes who are loving themselves some team sports. I’m so proud of them. They are fearless, social, encouraging, talented, and athletic, qualities that they most definitely inherited from their very sporty father. I watch them each week practice and play soccer with their team of like-minded girlies and I feel so grateful that they are reaping the benefits of playing team sports. They’re able to do what I never could and put themselves out there in the world of sports. They win, lose, laugh, and cry. They take risks on the field and sometimes they don’t pan out, but guess what? The girls rise above, learn, and try again.

Along with those risks and failures comes the success and pride of sticking with something and eventually seeing growth and progress. Here are six reasons you may want to consider letting your little sportie try out for basketball or soccer next year.

Team sports improve communication skills

Effective communication skills are something that your child will need and use throughout his entire life. Playing team sports is a fantastic way of introducing and practicing communication skills, both spoken and unspoken. Team players need to constantly be appropriately communicating with the coaches as well as team members. They ask questions, synthesize information, and work together to set up and execute plays. When kids practice these skills across environments such as at school, on the court, and at home, the skills become routine and in turn are no longer something that the child has to consciously think about doing.

Helps build confidence

It’s not always easy putting yourself out there in the sports world. I was one of those kids who was more than happy to be a wallflower when it came to recreational activities. However, playing on and competing with a team can give your kiddo the confidence she needs to go on and be successful in her future. Sticking with team sports can build your kid’s confidence by allowing her not to fear failure. Sometime you win, sometimes you lose. That’s life, get over it.

Team sports teach kids to focus on doing their best, not by being the best but being their best. Believe me there is a difference. Lastly, kids learn that practice does not make perfect, but it does make a difference. Practicing the sport’s skills can help your child feel more confident in what she is learning and applying to her sport.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T  Rah, rah give us more!

Remember back when you were growing up and adults were the ultimate bosses? Your side of the story didn’t really matter. If the teacher called home, you were in for it. We respected the teachers, coaches, and adults in our lives without question.

I’m not sure where that went, but respect for authority is a fleeting quality of today’s youth. Playing a team sport brings a bit of that important value back into our children’s lives. Players have to respect what the coach says. They don’t have to agree, but they need to swallow it down. If you talk back or throw shade at the coach, you might just earn a spot riding the pine for the rest of the game. I know it sounds a bit harsh, but I kind of love this. Maybe if my kids learn to follow directions and not to sass the coach, they will bring those awesome skills home with them!

Putting it all in perspective

Winning is a fantastic feeling; losing, not so much. Kids need to be able to feel both sides of the sporty fence appropriately and playing team sports gives kids plenty of practice at both. No one likes it when the winner of a game gets loud, too boastful, and braggy. Typically coaches will point this behavior out and help children to understand how to win and still feel empathy for the opponent.

The same can be said for losing. No one likes a sore loser and team sports help kids learn how to lose a game gracefully. Sure, kids will be sad and frustrated, but they won’t be aggressive and throw tantrums on the soccer field. That behavior won’t stand. Even if kids do try that jam, they will soon recognize that no one else is acting that way and adjust accordingly. Young athletes focus on what they did well, what they can improve on, and move forward as a team unit.

Team sports boost academics

Playing a team sport goes far beyond boosting physical fitness and ability, it just might have a direct correlation to higher academic performance in some students. A recent study out of the University of Kansas looked the student performance of high schoolers who participated in team sports. 97 percent of those student athletes graduated high school. Student athletes had lower dropout rates, higher class attendance rates, and high assessment scores compared to their non-athletic counterparts. Finally the myth of the “dumb jock” can get flushed.

Commitment to self and to others, and some good ol’ time management

When kids are part of a team, they recognize that their teammates and coaches are counting on them to be there. Even if they feel like sitting at home and watching television or playing Barbies, the pull to please others can be very strong. This is a valuable skill in the real world of adulting. When you work with others you carry your weight. What a great way to introduce this concept to youngsters!

Lastly is my favorite team sports benefit: time management. I have four small kids and we need to have our butts in gear at all times or we will never get anywhere prepared and on time. My oldest daughter is now in fifth grade and, because of team sports, she is the time management queen! She gets her homework done, practices her instrument, dresses for soccer, and eats her meals all before it’s time to leave for practice. Why? She loves soccer and she adores her team. Getting to practice is the thing she most looks forward to and she has figured out how to make that happen. No homework, no soccer. No eating dinner, no soccer. No chores, yep, you guessed it, no soccer.

The benefits of team sports for kids is limitless. They gain massive amounts of useful skills that they can apply to their education as well as their future endeavors. It might take some time dabbling in several recreational sports before your little one finds his or her “thing” but when it happens, it’s so worth it!

The Surprising Way Horses Benefit Kids' Emotional and Social Skills

What does current science say about the benefits kids can enjoy from being with horses?

Many years ago, I read Mary Pipher’s influential text “Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls”. Pipher speaks briefly and encouragingly about the positive benefits of horse riding as a hobby for teen girls’ emotional well-being. It’s one of my favorite parts of this engaging read.
Since then, equine therapy has become increasingly well-known. People who struggle in office based therapy, including children with autism, troubled teens, and traumatized adults, find being out in the open with horses a welcome alternative. Often the lessons learned from their therapeutic work with horses are those not found in spoken words.
Advocates of equine therapy claim many benefits from working with horses: confidence, a sense of self-efficacy, assertive communication skills, and developing awareness of emotional communication as horses are very sensitive to emotional and verbal cues.
My own experience of horsemanship resonates with the claims made by equine therapists. I grew up as a horse riding girl and still like to get out on the trail. The confidence and positive emotions I gained from contact with horses are the reasons I involve my children in the same way.
I was curious about what current science had to say about the benefits children can enjoy from being with horses. Do the positives that Mary Pipher noted and that I experienced apply to other children and teens? Here’s what I found.
In a 2013 study of the benefits of a horse-education program on children’s social competence, 64 children in the grades five through eight were randomly allocated to take part in either an 11-week horse activity program or remain on the wait-list as the control group. The program involved mounted and unmounted horse activity, including observations of horse behavior and grooming. Parents rated children’s social competence before and after the experiment.
Children who participated in the horse program made many positive gains. This included improvements in the children’s self-awareness, self-management, personal responsibility, decision-making, goal directed behavior, and relationship skills. When the wait-list group took part in the program at a later date, similar improvements in social competence were also found post-completion.
In a 2014 study, levels of the stress hormone cortisol in teenage participants of a horse-education program were measured: 131 teens participated in the study, with 53 teens randomly allocated to the 11-week horse activity program and 60 teens placed on a waitlist to act as the control group. Each week the teens in the program took part in 90 minutes of horse-related activity and learning, both mounted and unmounted. The study took saliva samples of the teens in the program and compared them to the samples from the wait-listed teens.
High stress cortisol levels indicate ill-health while lower levels of stress cortisol indicate positive health and mental health outcomes. The teens who had contact with horses had lower afternoon cortisol levels and lower total cortisol concentration per waking hour at the study’s end compared to the teens on the waitlist. The results suggest that regular contact with horses may help reduce stress levels and promote healthy outcomes for teens.
If you would like to explore the benefits of horse riding for your child, here are some pointers:

  • Make time to explore your local options. Visit the facilities and find out about the programs they offer. There are many options, including lessons, day horse-care camps, and trail ride.
  • Regular interactions with horses are better than one-off pony rides or trail rides to build up skills and confidence similar to those achieved in the studies.
  • Horse related activity requires space. Many urban children can’t have contact with horses easily due to transport and distance. If you live far from horses, consider lessons, horse-care day camps, or trail rides when you vacation in a rural area.
  • Horses and their upkeep are costly, which can make horse-related activities too expensive for some children. If affordability is an issue, riding schools are time intensive businesses and many welcome teen volunteers.
  • As with any activity involving children, if you are not present, please make sure your child will be in good hands and that all appropriate safety and welfare checks are in place.
  • If you can only spend small amounts of time around horses, use those opportunities to teach your child about horse-human relationships. When I am around horses with my children, I use those opportunities to help them notice the feedback they receive from a horse. I teach them first how to make contact with a horse, to wait for signals of trust, and to watch for the signals in the horse’s ears and the way their body reacts for signs of acceptance, anxiety, or irritation.
  • Horses are large animals, and there is some risk involved. If you’re feeling anxious about your child interacting with horses, please note that horse riding establishments vet horses for temperament to mediate the risk. They want your child to have a good and safe experience just as much as you do.
  • Why not learn to ride with your child? You may even experience some positives for your wellbeing, too.

How the F-Word Brought My Daughter from the Bottom to the Top

When we began our competitive gymnastics journey with my younger daughter, I had no idea what we were in for. That first year was a giant rollercoaster of big ups (she placed third on her team at her first ever competition) and major downs (she placed dead last out of her entire level a few months later).
I worked hard to not project my feelings and emotions onto her, other than to let her know how super duper proud I was of her hard work. I let her lead the way, even when my soul felt crushed by her scores.
It wasn’t until she came out of a competition and walked over to me, her head hung low and tears dripping down her cheeks, that I knew we needed to do something. Despite scoring higher than she had in the previous two competitions, she was disappointed to yet again watch another teammate take home the big team trophy.
I reassured her I was proud of her and she was getting better, but those tears broke my heart. I had been able to stay on the sidelines so long as she was happy and excited about competing. When she started feeling down about it, I knew something had to change.
My mind raced with questions: Why were her scores going down? What was it about her performances that earned the lower scores even though she didn’t have any falls or big bumbles? Why were her teammates, who she had been on par with at the beginning on the season, passing her by? What could we do to help?
These were the questions I took to one of her coaches, who was very reassuring and confirmed my own suspicions: My extremely bendy girl who can do all the big skills is just too wiggly – the exact reason we enrolled her in gymnastics to begin with. At the lower levels, the big moves don’t matter so much. The judges are looking for body control. It’s all the in between wiggles that effect the scores.
Throughout the season, I had noticed her little eyes darting from here to there while competing, not paying attention to her task at hand but instead watching what others were doing. I’d see it in practice, too. She’d constantly watch the other girls rather than focusing on her body and routines – and that’s when she’d get wiggly.
So, we began working on it. We would head to the backyard regularly and go over her routines. I didn’t correct her form. I simply counted her wiggles. She’d get excited when there were only a few and, if she’d wiggled a lot, she’d demand to do it again so she could be better. Sometimes I would even do the routine so she would count my wiggles.
I decided to introduce her to the power of the F-Word and how she could use it to her advantage. I’d tell her before she practiced: “Remember the F-Word!” and she’d giggle or nod confidently. I started giving her little pep-talks before competitions: “Don’t forget the F-Word! Picture that big trophy at the end of the beam, in front of you on the floor, on the top bar and at the end of the vault. Don’t worry about anything else!” We even had a special signal I could give her through the gym windows from the lobby to signal, “Think about the F-Word!”
The F-Word became a sort of mantra for us to help remind her of one thing:
Amazingly, it worked. She started scoring in her team’s top three again, even though the team had nearly doubled in size over the course of the season. She achieved all-time high scores and placed in the top tier of her level despite being one of the youngest. I saw her confidence bloom before my eyes. The joy of gymnastics returned to her.
There’s no doubt that my daughter’s gymnastics journey will continue to have many more ups and downs. I know more tears will streak her face. But I’m happy to know we have found a powerful tool to help propel her forward and keep her from giving up: the F-Word.

Why a Simple Walk is the Brain and Body Boost You Need

A walk might take a little longer than a run, but the boost to your health will be the same.

–Every Thanksgiving, my dad would push the family out the door right after the feast when any normal human would burp and take a nap. He’d grab his jacket from the hook on the wall, clap his hands together, and issue the decree we all knew was coming, “Okay, time for a walk!”

There was no use fighting it. Only the elderly got a pass. No one would get pie until we’d done our time outside. We’d trudge through the woods near our house, stomping the November cold from our feet. We’d spot wild turkeys and deer and a few raccoons. They looked on, nonplussed by our presence on their turf. By the end of it, we’d scrape our boots and walk through the back door feeling…better. We’d chased off the tryptophan and replaced it with a humming energy from the cold outdoors.

Everybody knows exercise is a necessary part of life, but it doesn’t have to be a run, hot yoga, or any other form of high intensity physical fitness. It can just be a walk and it really can do wonders. In a study reported on by The Atlantic, it seems that “regardless of whether exercise was vigorous (running) or not (walking), as long as participants used the same amount of energy, they saw more or less equivalent health benefits.” A walk might take a little longer than a run, but the boost to your health will be the same.

Once I’d hit adulthood, waking up meant waking for a run. My shoes and clothes would be waiting for me in the bathroom, because who has the mental capacity to sift through shorts and socks at five a.m.? It’s how I started my days. It stirred me up enough to be a functioning human and provided a mental clarity to get me through the workday.

Then I got pregnant with twins. Many women can run while pregnant, but I wasn’t one of them. I was high risk from the start. You don’t mess around with twins. So I stopped running. In all honesty, I thought it would be harder to give up than it was. I was tired. Man, was I tired, and my joints ached from the weight of growing two people in tight quarters.

Instead, I would walk slow laps through the park. I would walk on my lunch break. I would push my older son in his stroller in the cool of the afternoon. It was so much easier. You can walk anytime, anywhere. You don’t need special clothes or a set pace and it doesn’t take any psyching up to go for a walk. It might seem more efficient to run, as the American Heart Association recommends 25 minutes of vigorous exercise three times a week to the 30 minutes of moderate exercise you would get walking five times a week, but this doesn’t factor in the overall ease it takes to build walking into your everyday life. If you live in an urban area, it can simply mean skipping the bus in favor of walking to work, or it could mean taking a stroll around the block during lunch while you listen to your favorite podcast. You can do it alone or with co-workers or with kids. It’s sneakers and a half an hour. It’s doable.

I also noticed less joint pain and less back pain through my walks. This isn’t surprising. Walkers always keep one foot on the ground whereas runners have a moment in every stride where they linger in mid-air. As a study from Harvard Medical School pointed out, “What goes up must come down. That’s why running is a high-impact activity. Each time they land, runners subject their bodies to a stress equal to about three times their body weight. In just one mile, a typical runner’s legs will have to absorb more than 100 tons of impact force.” That’s a lot of repeated pressure on your joints. It’s why the risk of injury is “20 percent to 70 percent” in runners and only “1 percent to 5 percent” in walkers.

I did wonder, however, if the benefits would transfer over after pregnancy. I wasn’t in a hurry to pick up running again while recovering from a c-section and managing three kids under three. Walking suited me and our new family, so I kept at it. It helped me settle me back into my pre-pregnancy weight without having to think much about it, which should be no surprise as according to a study by the American Society of Nutrition, walking is a key factor in long-term weight management.

Beyond the physical payoffs and the ease of it, I found that walking also influenced my creativity. When I walk, the environment reached all my senses. The smell of wet leaves, the transition under feet from pavement to gravel to dirt, the sounds of distant cars and birds, all of it served to give my creative mind room to roam. One study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology concluded that “walking opens up the free flow of ideas, and it is a simple and robust solution to the goals of increasing creativity and increasing physical activity.” It’s true. I get my best ideas outside.

It took me a long time to equate walking with exercise, but now that I do, it feels natural in a way that running never did. It’s organic. From lazy strolls after dinner to summer sunrise hikes, walking just happens. It’s twenty minutes on my lunch hour. It’s walking to the park instead of driving there. It’s a choice that has become natural and flexible and feels more like exploration than anything else. Running seem more like “exercise,” but walking, for our family, has proved to be the healthiest choice.

Practice for Discipline and Enrichment, Not Perfection

Practice is only one of many other personal factors that predict how much kids learn.

Practice makes perfect as the old adage goes, yet cases of failure abound, despite copious practice. Science now suggests that while practice will definitely make your kid better, it won’t necessarily get him to perfection.

A recent study analyzed the performance of more than 11, 000 participants in music, games, sports, and educational and occupational domains, and found that those who regularly practiced performed better than those who did not. However, the researchers also found that practice was only one of many other personal factors that predicted just how much was learned. Here are a few tips to help your kid make the most out of practice.

1 | Practice, yes, but the right way

Practice will always produce results. There is no doubt that practice will improve your kid’s performance. However, the type of practice makes a lot of difference.

A recently concluded study suggests that how we practice matters as much as how often we practice. The study examined over 800, 000 gamers to determine how practice affected their gaming performance. The researchers found that, despite practicing for the same amount of time, some players performed better than others. In other words, these players learned more efficiently than others. It was found that high performers spaced out their practice better and used more varied approaches to practice.

A different study came to the same conclusion. It found that kids performed better in math when problems were spaced out and mixed. In other words, learning was optimal when students were presented with problems drawn from different lessons rather than practice problems on the same topic. According to the study, mixing problems (many practice sets and problems on different topics) helps kids learn better because it’s more demanding and requires that kids pay greater attention to the problems presented.

2 | Don’t forget the “space effect”

Spacing out practice sessions also helps, as many studies have demonstrated. Evidence suggests that spacing reduces the rate of forgetting over a wide range of ages, settings, and tasks. Spaced practice improves retention, problem-solving skills, and the ability to assimilate new knowledge more easily. Instead of scheduling two-hour practice sessions, schedule four 30-minute sessions over a longer time frame.

3 | Not everyone will be perfect in the same thing

In a recently published study, neuroscientists examined the brain activity of 15 young adults and found that practice did not account for all learning. In other words, the researchers found that individual talent had a significant impact on how much was learned. After examining participants’ brain structures, the researchers were also able to accurately reveal those who learned quickly and those who didn’t, irrespective of practice. The study found that participants’ predisposition largely affected how they learned.

A different study came to similar conclusions. After analyzing chess players and musicians, the researchers found that it takes more than deliberate practice to become an expert, and that practice accounted for only about a third of observed differences. In other words, hard work can make us good, but it will not necessarily make us great.

The researchers suggest that accurately assessing people’s abilities and whether or not they are able to achieve their goals given their abilities gives them a realistic chance of becoming great. In other words, working from your kid’s abilities and interests will lead to greater success than forcing kids to consistently practice for something they have neither the skills nor the interest to undertake. Although encouraging your kid to practice her violin lessons will improve her performance, it will not make her perfect if she’s not inclined to the violin.

4 | Work on your kid’s self-confidence

A study published earlier this month examined the extent to which kids self-perception was linked to their performance over time. Drawing from a large-scale data set, the researchers found that kids who had a positive view of their ability in math and reading performed better in these two domains. In other words, the kids’ concept of their ability had a significant impact on both their motivation and performance. (Self-concept is defined as the perception of the capability to succeed.)

Much evidence suggests that kids who are confident in their abilities generally perform better than those who aren’t. When kids are motivated, they also perform better socially, academically, and psychologically. Motivating your kid is, therefore, the first step toward helping him develop his self-concept of ability. What does he know? What is he capable of doing? How do you set reasonable expectations? How do you ensure those expectations are being met? These are some of the issues that can help you guide your kid toward greater performance.

Playing the Parenting Game for Keeps

My sons often remind me that the parenting game is not necessarily about winning or losing. It’s about the effort that goes into playing the game.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
When Brazil faced Germany for soccer’s World Cup finals, it was the pinnacle of Brazilian pride in our household. Myself and two adopted sons from Brazil comprised the audience.
Unfortunately, Germany’s victory was quite the spectacle as Brazil’s crushing defeat clashed loudly against its proud, fabled history as a soccer giant. Amidst the backdrop of the controversy regarding debt and corruption soiling the country’s social consciousness, Brazil needed this win.
Well, it’s only a game. Or, is it?
Not to soccer-crazed Brazil, which truly epitomizes what it means to live and breathe a sport. Not to conscientious parents who live and breathe raising their children. The parenting game, metaphorically speaking, often rivals the emotionally charged kicking back-and-forth of a soccer ball.
Parenting any child is not for the faint of heart, although especially so for parenting the older adopted child. It’s different with older adopted children – different from raising children from the start, where they learn the game plan for life as it could be, or should be.
In parenting the older adopted child, the game plan seems forever to be shifting to accommodate even the slightest rumblings of insecurity and/or anxiety from past affronts that influence their defensive instincts. Yet just when I think I maneuvered a craftily executed offensive move, not unlike soccer, it only seems to work the one time.
To stay ahead of the game, I forever have to adapt and enact new strategies to keep the ball hurtling toward the goal. It could be as simple as coordinating whose turn it is to sit in the front seat of the car, or as involved as getting two children to share the space of one suitcase to save from paying for two pieces of check-in luggage.
I adopted my two sons seven years ago from Brazil at the cusp of nine and 12 years old. Eventually, they began to trust that the ground beneath their feet wouldn’t necessarily quiver, crack, or open up and swallow them whole.
Yet even with a more secure worldview, when I exercise my authority as their team captain, it invariably seems to them to be without justifiable merit, without logic or sensibility – or that it’s just “not fair!” I often find myself struggling to rally my sons past sullen, disagreeable, or uncooperative spirits in favor of the right decisions for the better of the home team.
Even when the pain of past oversights, missteps, and misguided self-interests remain fresh in our memory banks, I always get another turn at this so-called parenting game. It’s always about the next kick of the ball, whether to defend against another opposing behavioral insult or to set up a play that better positions one of them to make the better choice rather than dig in their heels.
This game can be exhausting, with foul moves often leaving me feeling dejected, demoralized, and unappreciated – perhaps not much different than how David Luiz, Brazil’s acting team captain for the World Cup game was feeling about his performance as he tearfully and humbly expressed how he “just wanted to give some happiness to my people.”
Although I sought to avoid harboring unrealistic ideals in preparing to step out on the field with my two recruits, assuming leadership on their behalf was a tenuous prospect. Like Luiz, who assumed leadership over Brazil’s team only after Thiago Silva was sidelined for his second yellow penalty card, I, too, was the second go around for my team of three.
And the last thing I ever wanted to do was to disappoint them.
Even when they don’t intend to, my sons often remind me that the parenting game is not necessarily about winning or losing. It’s about the effort that goes into playing the game. Even more important: I am determined to stay in it for the “win.” I am in the parenting game for keeps. Their fearless captain is here to stay.
It sometimes can become difficult for me to see the bigger picture after experiencing a parenting setback. I know they understand when I see how they cooperate with me, work together with each other as dutiful teammates, and use good judgment that parallels my coaching. Even a bad call can get excused by way of their trust in me to prevail in their best interests, allowing me to regain my better sense of judgment.
Bonded together as a family, traversing the field of life as teammates with a sense of belonging together, the parenting game doesn’t need to be a competitive one. That alone is a win-win for us all.

5 Questions to Consider When Signing up Your Child for an Afterschool Program

Over the course of a typical school year, there are around 525 hours between 3:00 and 6:00 p.m. How can you make sure your kids needs are met?

Over the course of a typical school year, there are around 525 hours between 3:00 and 6:00 p.m. As an afterschool professional with more than 10 years of experience designing, implementing, and evaluating out-of-school time programs, I’ve seen the afterschool hours spent in many different ways.
I’ve seen youth participate in sports, church programs, tutoring, school-based programs, and, as the Senior VP of Programming and Evaluation at Girls on the Run International, I’ve seen girls transform through youth development programs.
These 525 precious hours represent tremendous opportunity to learn, to connect, to grow, and to be active. A recent external study of the Girls on the Run program showed us just how impactful a high-quality afterschool program can be.
Once you’ve determined the after school opportunities available to your child this year, here are some questions to consider to help your family take full advantage of this time based on what we learned from the study:

Does the program have specific goals?

And do those goals match what my child and I hope they’ll get out of the experience? It’s important to understand this before you begin to explore a program. Look for afterschool programs that have clear goals for participants, such as increased physical activity, enhanced life skills, or improvements in academic outcomes. A program is a good fit when there is overlap between your goals and the goals of the program.

Does the program have an intentional structure or curriculum?

A high-quality afterschool program will have both goals and a plan in place to ensure that participants reach them. Review program materials and talk with program staff to better understand what activities your child will participate in during the time they’re at the afterschool program and how those activities connect to the stated goals.

Who’s leading the program?

There’s no question that trained, supportive adults are critical to the out-of-school time experience. The ideal program will be staffed with adults who are intentional about building relationships with and among program participants, creating an inclusive environment, and focusing on personal improvement. Look for a program with small group sizes and low adult-to-child ratios to ensure that kids get what they need from program staff.

What are program participants working towards?

In high-quality programming, kids have the opportunity to set goals, apply effort over time, and complete something that matters to them. Culminating activities do not have to be elaborate – they just need to give kids something to work toward. For example, kids may write different stories over the course of a program that are compiled into a book to share.

How much fun will my child have?

Last, but certainly not least, afterschool programming should be fun! Kids are motivated by fun, and when you find a program that interests your child, they’ll be excited to participate. The best way to get a gauge for fun when considering an afterschool program is to visit. Are the kids engaged? Are they smiling when they talk to staff and to one another? Does the program include creative and fun elements? And most importantly, do kids say they are having fun?
Whether you have one afterschool program available to you or 10 different options, these are important questions to consider as we move into a new school year. Your child is going to be doing something for 525 hours after the bell rings. Make it count.