Michael Phelps’ Secret… and What It Tells Us About Parenting

Michael Phelps is now the most decorated Olympian in history. Winning 19 Olympic medals has made him — according to many — “the greatest Olympian ever”.

So what is Phelps’ secret?

Well, it could be his high-altitude sleeping chamber. But we think it has a lot to do with Phelps’ coach, Bob Bowman, and a somewhat strange coaching philosophy.

One of the most unusual characteristics of Bowman’s coaching is that he sometimes puts Phelps in difficult situations on purpose to teach him to keep his cool in the face of adversity.

For example, there are stories of Bowman asking Phelps’ ride to the pool to arrive late so that Phelps wouldn’t have time to eat dinner before the race, or another incident where Bowman stepped on Phelps’ goggles before a race, cracking them without Phelps knowing.

This may sound cruel — but this “adversity training” paid off in a big way for Michael Phelps. During the 200 meter butterfly race in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Michael’s goggles DID fill with water during a real race, and he had to swim blind… but he was prepared. He won gold — AND set a new world record — despite the unexpected setback.

We do lots of things FOR our kids to “protect” them from adversity. We give them rides when they miss the bus. We deliver their forgotten lunch money. We speak for them when they are criticized. We even do homework for them so they don’t get in trouble with teachers. None of this helps our kids develop adversity skills. It trains them to rely more on a smooth life than on their own capacity for facing difficulty. But tackling challenges on their own prepares them to handle and overcome the challenges they will face in real life.

So train your kids to be overcomers! Let them walk when they miss the bus. Take them camping in bad weather. Do challenging things together, and talk about what it takes to get through it. It might be hard now, but it will prepare them to succeed at something harder later.


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