Lessons for Kids from the Olympics: Hyper-Focus, Motivation & Passion

Why We Watch

The Olympics would be boring to watch were it not for the young athletes' ability to hyper-focus. Seriously, can you imagine watching hours upon hours of athletes focusing for a little while, and then turning their attention to something else? No way.

We watch sports at that level because it is the ultimate blending of art and skill. But we also watch, in part, because it is inspiring to witness an athlete's ability to tune out the world and pursue their sport with passion and power. We are in awe of their hyper-focus. We are mesmerized by their motivation.

Now, I'm not saying that all top athletes have ADHD or anything, but I do believe that the Olympics offer parents of kids with ADHD an important reminder. It is empowering for kids to focus on their strengths. It is magical when they pursue their dreams.

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Turning Challenges Into Strengths

One US Olympian's story demonstrates this perfectly. At the age of 4, Jonathan Horton climbed all the way to the ceiling in the middle of a Department store. Rather than scolding him, his parents gave him gymnastics lessons. Horton ended up as a two-time Olympian who took home a Silver medal in the 2012 Olympic Games on the US Men's Gymnastics team.

And we all know about Michael Phelps, who went public with his ADHD during his first Olympic Games in 2004. He started swimming as a way to help him manage his ADHD. Ultimately, that challenge became his greatest asset. Isn't that often the way it goes?

I was talking with the parent of a newly diagnosed 22 year old, recently. He complained that his son is unmotivated and having a difficult time finishing college. He was clearly frustrated, and I could relate. For one of my kids, school sometimes felt like a kind of slow torture.

I don't doubt for a moment that his son is challenged with the academic environment and responsibilities. But is he unmotivated? It didn't sound like it to me. This kid took up rowing in college, and routinely made it to practices at 5:30 in the morning – in freezing temperatures, no less. That's not unmotivated, that's inspired. It's just a matter of how we look at it.

Recognizing Potential

I'm reminded of the famous quote by Albert Einstein:

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

For parents of kids with ADHD, we have to work a little harder than typical parents to help our kids match their skills to appropriate activities. We've got to stop letting them think that they are stupid, and start helping them see their brilliance.

Not sure how to do that? Take a clue from where and when they are able to hyper-focus.

If you think about it – and this goes for all of us, not just kids – we tend to lose ourselves in our areas of passion or strength, inspiration or motivation.

So, as parents, we can

  • get frustrated when our kids hyper-focus in front of a video game…
    ….or we can enroll them to create video games, themselves.
  • roll our eyes when we see the doodle they drew in History class…
    … or we can encourage them to create their own cartoon strip.

Like Jonathan Horton's parents, we can punish them for climbing, or we can put them in gymnastics class.

The Choice is Up to Us.

Parents make a powerful difference in the lives of our kids with ADHD. The perspective we take when we manage our kids' ADHD influences the way our kids learn to manage it, themselves.

Here's one trap to watch out for: this is not a race. It may take a while. If you haven't discovered your child's passion by 7, or by 17, it is not a crisis. Keep trying. If you get desperate for your child to discover a passion, you will turn the possibility of inspiration into just another pressure point – which no one needs, not you or your child!

One Olympic athlete interviewed in 2012 – Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas – summed it up quite beautifully. “I've got to keep my mind focused until the end.”

In one way, the Olympic dream is a convergence of hyper-focus, motivation and passion. Our kids have that in abundance. What are you going to do to inspire it?

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