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The Psychology Of The Gifted Athlete

There are thousands of parents in the Hicksville area who have a secret hope that their young girl or boy may be the next Tiger Woods, Taylor Swift or Michael Jordan. And as a sport psychologist I know the amount of money these families spend on this dream. It is not unusual for a family to invest upwards of 30 to 40 thousand dollars every year on things like lessons, training, coaching, tutors, equipment, gym time and travel teams. And I understand why they do this. Organized sport is a safe pastime for their kids and it keeps them away from trouble. In addition sports are very exciting both for the kids and the watchful parents. And a more practical reason for the investment of time and money in a child’s sport or artistic activity is that it may lead to scholarship money in college. Given the exorbitant cost of a college education this becomes a crucial issue.

So the question that begs to be answered is this: Is the investment of time and money and energy worth it? Is your child talented enough and impassioned enough to benefit from this support? This is a legitimate and worthwhile issue to explore.

Over the years I have worked with many gifted young athletes and performers and here is what I have learned about them. Some get scholarships and some do become professionals but only if they have the following traits.

1) They appear to be obsessed with their sport or their art. They will winningly spend long hours practicing by themselves. The future pro will show us that they like to play their sport or art form up to six hours per day while the normal kid will spend about 6 hours per week on their game.

2) They have an extreme ability to focus on their sport and concentrate for long hours without pausing.

3) They are willing to practice in isolation and without the need of company. Pete Sampras, the greatest tennis player who ever held a racket would hit balls against his basement wall for hours from the time he was three years of age all by himself without the need for company.

4) These kids tend to be very sensitive and ethical and empathic to others and they are often shy.

5) They will naturally be perfectionistic and hard on themselves, demanding greater and greater excellence. The singer Madonna is known for her incredible demandingness and need to perform to perfection. So was Larry Bird the basketball star.

6) They are ambitious, understand they have ability and hold fast to a dream of future success. As a child Tiger Woods placed a picture of Jack Nicklaus on his wall and set his goal on beating Nicklaus’ record of winning 18 majors.

7) The gifted athlete or performer tends toward depression given their extreme sense of perfectionism and tendency to be isolated and introspective.

So if you have a youngster in the home who loves fencing or soccer or cartoon illustration or golf or tennis or guitar you may or may not have a gifted child. And if they demonstrate the traits listed above they may in fact be headed to the top and you can be assured that your investment of time and money will be worth it.

Dr. Tom Ferraro is a noted sport, business psychologist and journalist located in Mid-Nassau County and can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it