Skip to main content

Finding Child’s Passion is Overrated – Parents decide what their children to pursue their excellence


The belief that discovering a child’s passion is the key to success is often celebrated, but its true importance may be exaggerated. Few children have a clear vision of their future occupations from a young age. Many wander through childhood and adolescence without a definitive goal in mind.

In such cases, parents can play a crucial role in steering their children towards paths where starting early can offer notable advantages.

Research led by psychologist Benjamin Bloom in the 1980s aimed to uncover the childhood factors contributing to expertise among individuals. Examining 120 experts across six domains, including music, sports, and academia, Bloom’s team found a common thread: all experts began their journey in childhood. This pattern underscores the importance of early initiation in achieving excellence, a notion often questioned by those considering late starts in pursuit of mastery. While outcomes may vary across fields, practical limitations such as time constraints often pose greater challenges than any inherent physical or mental barriers.

Nevertheless, certain domains demand early initiation to attain mastery. Physical performance, for instance, typically peaks around age twenty, with aging bringing declines in flexibility, resilience, and speed. While professional athletes may extend their careers with rigorous training, certain physical skills are unattainable for late starters due to missed developmental windows. Consider tennis players, whose dominant arms undergo significant adaptation from early training. While late starters can adapt to some extent, they may never match the bone density and muscle development of those who began training in childhood.

Similarly, musical training’s impact on brain development varies with the onset of training. Regions like the corpus callosum show enlargement only in musicians who start before age seven, suggesting critical periods for skill acquisition.

Even with this strong advantage of Early Beginnings, very few parents are focused on turning their children into the best in the world at something – they provide clear, if somewhat extreme, examples of what it takes to become an expert performer.

In Bloom’s research, his team identified three stages that were common to all of them and that indeed appear to be common to the development of expert performers in every area, not just the six fields that Blood and his colleagues examined.

Stage 1 – Initiation

In the initial phase, children are introduced to their potential interests in a playful manner.

Do you remember László Polgár, renowned for raising three chess prodigies who all became grandmasters at the age between 15 and 16? If not, read the previous article HERE.

For Susan Polgar, it started with fascination over chess pieces’ shapes, initially just toys.  Tiger Woods, at just nine months old, he held a toy golf club.

Parents gradually shift play towards the purpose of the “toy,” explaining chess piece moves or demonstrating golf club swings.

At this stage, parental involvement is vital, offering time, attention, and encouragement. They instill values like self-discipline, hard work, and responsibility. Children are expected to approach interests with these attributes. Initial curiosity-driven motivation can be supplemented with praise or the satisfaction of mastering a skill, serving as a springboard for further achievements.

Parents’ interests often shape children’s pursuits; those involved in music or sports find their children gravitating towards those activities. Children with intellectual pursuits receive encouragement for curiosity and engage in educational play.

Regardless of specifics, children show early interest and promise in a particular area, such as Susan Polgar’s intrigue in chess logic, signaling readiness for the next stage.

Stage 2 – Commitment

After showing interest and promise in a particular area, aspiring expert performers typically transition to formal lessons with a coach or teacher. Here, they encounter dedicated practice for the first time, marking a shift from playful activities to dedicated work.

Though not necessarily experts themselves, instructors excel at motivating students and guiding them through the challenges of deliberate practice. The early teacher’s role is crucial in maintaining the child’s interest and motivation while building skills and habits.

Parents play a pivotal role, establishing routines, providing support, and encouraging improvement. Parents help their children to prioritize practice over other activities, emphasizing the importance of discipline and dedication.

Motivation must ultimately come from within the child, sustained by intrinsic factors like curiosity and interest. Parents and teachers can foster long-term motivation by helping children find related enjoyable activities and developing mental representations of the skills they are learning.

As children progress, they become increasingly self-motivated, driven by the rewards of their hard work. Their self-image begins to incorporate their developing abilities, leading to a shift from external to internal motivation.

As they improve, students seek out higher-quality teachers and coaches, dedicating more time to practice. The responsibility for practice gradually shifts from parents and teachers to the students themselves.

Throughout this stage, children begin to identify themselves more with their developing skills, such as pianists or swimmers, demonstrating a growing seriousness and commitment to their pursuits.

While intrinsic and extrinsic factors influence motivation, the neurological effects of extended practice on the brain’s structures regulating motivation and enjoyment remain an area of speculation. Nonetheless, expert performers derive immense pleasure and motivation from engaging in their chosen activities, suggesting a possible physiological adaptation resulting from years of dedicated practice.

Stage 3 – Dedication

In their early to mid-teens, future experts reach a pivotal stage: a profound commitment to excellence. This commitment marks the third stage of their journey.

Students now actively seek out the finest teachers or institutions, often relocating across the country for superior training. Acceptance into these programs is rigorous, reflecting both the student’s dedication and the teacher’s belief in their potential.

Expectations soar as students strive to push their limits. Swimmers relentlessly pursue personal bests and aim for national and international records. Pianists meticulously refine performances of increasingly challenging pieces. Mathematicians tackle unsolved problems, aiming to push the boundaries of human knowledge.

Motivation at this stage is entirely internal, but families continue to provide crucial support such as financial support for coaching, equipment, and travel.

Yes, these are hard endeavors and take many years of sweat and multiple setbacks. Yet, those who persevere, reach the pinnacle of human achievement, joining an exclusive circle of individuals who have dedicated themselves to excellence.


While discovering a child’s passion is often perceived as the path to success, its true significance may be exaggerated. Many children lack a clear vision of their future occupations until they reach adolescence or even adulthood. In such cases, parents can wield significant influence by guiding their children towards paths where early beginnings offer distinct advantages.

Parents can step in and facilitate their child’s journey toward excellence. By recognizing and nurturing early signs of interest and promise, parents can lay the foundation for future success. Through supportive involvement, establishing routines, and providing encouragement, parents play a pivotal role in guiding their children through the stages of initiation, commitment, and dedication.

As children progress through these stages, parents must adapt their support to foster intrinsic motivation while providing necessary resources for growth. While the journey toward mastery may be arduous and fraught with challenges, those who persevere stand to reach the pinnacle of human achievement. Thus, by actively guiding their children towards paths of early initiation and sustained dedication, parents can empower them to pursue excellence and realize their full potential.

Leave a Reply