Creating Super Athletes: Russian Style

The NY Times ran an article on creating super athletes. The formula:

Intense Parents + Young Kids + Rigorous Technique + Toughness = Talent

Sounds about right.

The story profiles a Russian tennis club that’s developing world class tennis talent by starting them early and working them hard. However, the footnotes go on to mention that this process may not work in the United States:

How to Grow a Super-Athlete – New York Times

Replicating the Spartak system in the United States (or, for that matter, installing Dominican-style baseball academies or forcing young golfers to practice only at driving ranges) would likely not create a sudden wellspring of stars. The reasons that the United States is losing ground on the talent map have less to do with training mechanisms and more to do with bigger factors: a highly distractive youth culture, a focus on the glamour of winning rather than on the brickwork of building technique and a sporting environment that is gentler than those found in many of the world’s harder corners.

“You can’t keep breast-feeding them all the time,” Robert Lansdorp, a tennis coach in Los Angeles, told me. “You’ve got to make them an independent thinker.” Lansdorp, who is in his 60s, has coached Sharapova, along with the former No. 1-ranked players Pete Sampras, Tracy Austin and Lindsay Davenport, all three of whom grew up in the same area and played at the same run-of-the-mill tennis clubs near Los Angeles. “You don’t need a fancy academy,” he said. “You need fundamentals and discipline, and in this country nobody gives a damn about fundamentals and discipline.” Lansdorp also mentioned that he’d visited Spartak last year to teach a clinic. “It was a pretty different place,” he said. “But that Larisa, she sure knows her stuff.”

Of course, there are plenty of focused parents and athletes who are laser-focused on their sports. It explains why certain communities and clubs consistently generate Olympians while other communities with plenty of resources don’t reach those levels.

2 thoughts on “Creating Super Athletes: Russian Style”

  1. Well, parenting a future athletic star is the topic of volumes. Having unsuccessfully grown athletes, let me say this about that–
    –you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

    So, there you go, good luck and best wishes.

    Hmm, that might be too vague, eh? Well, growing an athlete is tough, because you do not know enough about the person your child is destined to become to know whether they will ever give a shit about competing in general and the sport you select for them in specific; you will also not know in time whether or not they will grow into the body necessary to excel at the sport you have selected for them; and then, even if they give a shit and grow the right body, it is only then that you have a chance for Landsdorp’s and Larisa’s of the world to make something of your child…and even then you have no idea if they will succeed because of what the rest of life will do to them and their attempt.

    So, oddly enough, when all is said and done, you might end up with my situation, where I was able to coach others who became national champions, while my own children ended up on the JV and end of the varsity bench or did not even start the sport.

    Now, does that mean their athletic careers were a waste of time and life…I hope not, because there are plenty of life lessons that can be learned on the playing fields, and with a relatively less blood than the rest of life.

    So, my advice is go ahead and push your kids into sports, but then just try to be supportive regardless of what their fate ends up to be…because the odds are long against them ever getting beyond a recreation level in their favorite sport, and a good parent will realize that going in.

  2. I think any child will benefit from learning the rules and lingo of sports whether they turn into pro athletes or not. I’ve heard that immigrants have a hard time understanding the language of board rooms due to the many sports analogies thrown around, such as, “let’s touch all the bases,” or “we need to focus on blocking and tackling.”

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