What started out as a loose collection of ideas around the identification and nurturing of sporting talent, has ended up as a slightly more fully-formed, but nevertheless loose collection, of ideas around the identification and nurturing of sporting talent.
From the day the series was launched on Wednesday, looking at the role of parents in the fostering of sport in their children, I have been inundated with (mostly) well-meaning emails from people within and outside the sports industry, wanting to add their two cents worth.
Some I have responded to, some I haven't, but one thing became very clear: a lot of people care and most people have a different view about the right and wrong ways to identity and develop talent.
To summarise, this is what I have learned.
1. There is no wrong and right way to raise a child in sport, only your way. For example, most would find the fact Gilhong Ko had his daughter Lydia practicing eight hours a day from an extremely young age over the top, but she has thrived. What is important, no matter how involved you are with the training side of it, is to be a good sideline presence. It makes your kids understand that sport is important, it's healthy and it's fun. To read more...
2. Don't expect your kid to place the same value on sport as yourself. They're first and foremost looking for fun and friends.
3. Age does matter, even though it shouldn't. Even 30 years after the discovery of Relative Age Effect, kids born close to age-group eligibility cut-off dates are still being born with an inherent advantage, particularly in contact sports, as seen here.
There is a sporting advantage to being born in January
4. There are a number of academies and advancing coaching programmes that simply do not deliver anywhere close to what they promise. There's been a proliferation of these sort of programmes, some run by clubs, some by schools, some by privateers. Make sure you do due diligence on them before you agree to hand over $1500 for an elite swimming course or a football skills course, or a chipping and putting weekend camp.
As a parent, ask questions, be annoyingly inquisitive and make sure you know exactly how your money is being spent and what your child can expect to have received by the end of it. There are plenty of good people in this sector doing sterling work, but there are a number of opportunists as well.
5. New Zealand Rugby needs to closely monitor what is happening in schoolboy rugby, particularly Auckland schoolboy rugby, and, if necessary, step in. The reason New Zealand is better at rugby than, say, England, despite the latter's overwhelming numerical advantages is the game's egalitarian roots here. This is being eroded in the country's largest city with a power bloc of a few dominant and in some cases fee-paying schools who skim the cream off the have-nots.
Yes, the talent might still find its way through, regardless of whether they go to St Kentigern or Rosehill, but think about all the other kids at the have-nots who lose interest before their talent is realised because they're at a school that effectively has no chance. It's an ugly trend and, which has been exacerbated by television exposure and highlighted by Gregor Paul here and here.
6. Ask what the sporting philosophy of the school or club you have enrolled your child in is. If it is purely outcome-based, consider changing. As your child develops as a person, so should their athleticism, skill base and outlook on sport. Good sports programmes are the ones with the fundamentals to allow talent to develop; they're not the ones which select the best talent then expect them to win.
7. Resilience can be learned but not taught... and it's bloody important. You have to learn to fail. Look at elite men's eight rower Brook Robertson, who featured in this Cambridge profile. He trialled three times for national squads and when he failed the third time he was so upset he nearly quit. "It was gutting. I was a mess talking to dad [after missing out]. He was a mess. He didn't know what to say." Robertson was talked into staying in the sport by fellow oarsman Karl Manson and he's now a two-time junior world champion and part of an eights crew that is determined to put New Zealand back among the big guns in the sports blue riband event.
8. Get good advice. If your child is teenager is talented enough to be pursued by professional clubs, it can quickly become an overwhelming experience. Hire an accredited agent as they are duty bound to act in the client's interest, not the club's. If your child or you are suddenly flush with money, start a trust and appoint an independent trustee. There are too many easy come, easy go tales of woe to just assume it won't happen to you.
9. Go in with your eyes open. Yes, sport has become a valid and aspirational pathway, but only the very best make it. It's fickle and often brutal. Your career might be on the up one week and over the next. Don't be a person that is defined only by the sport you once played.
10. Sport is fantastic. Don't be afraid of immersing yourself in it. It's healthy, and it can be rewarding and exhilarating. It can become the hub of your social life providing you with lifelong friends and teach you things you can never learn in a classroom.