Growing up, we hear over and over, the phrase, ‘Practice Makes Perfect.’ And parents, teachers, and coaches often use that phrase to promote the practice of a sport or mastering a musical instrument. We apply this in the educational world by suggesting that kids need to study more to perform better. And I do love this quote by Anatole France, which summarizes this idea:

“You learn to speak by speaking, to study by studying, to run by running, to work by working; in just the same way, you learn to love by loving.”

And yes, it’s hard to argue with this. In fact, I would not disagree. It’s just that there is more to excellence and learning to do one’s best. If not careful, we can have ‘practice’ and yet build mediocrity.

How Mediocrity Becomes an Epidemic in Your Home

I often have parents come to work with me, whose children spend ‘hours’ doing their homework and yet they are failing. Is the child truly disabled in a significant way?

No. It’s never that.

I also find the child who has played soccer since age 5 and yet, can’t make the junior varsity team. Is it that the team is exceptionally talented? Rarely.

And how about the child giving up piano after six years, and minimal progress? What’s going on here?

How is this possible, with apparent practice, that we see minimal growth and improvement? I find three primary causes of such mediocre results.

1. No Requirement for Real Effort

Growth and development in any area require true effort. Very little happens in the brain, to expand our skills if we are not truly putting forth effort.

This is typically easy to see in any student or athlete, where the amount of effort is minimal and yet the ‘practice time’ is adequate. And, we often find words of encouragement or coaching sessions pushing for more effort. Yet, there is no requirement for more effort. This is about holding the feet to the fire with actual effortful results, rather than more words or lectures.

Mediocrity for living evolves out of never experiencing the power of giving oneself fully to something. To give a subject, a sport or even an instrument your very best simply means you learn to put forth effort at every opportunity.

2. Parents, Tutors, and Coaches Working Harder Than the Child

I am often asking this question: Who is working harder at their homework, you or your son? For teachers and coaches, the same question applies in a varied form, ‘Who is working harder at getting a result…any result? You or the student/athlete/musician?’

The answer to this question puts us in a great position to understand the growth of mediocrity. Whenever we habitually work harder at our child’s life, in getting any result, truly harmful things happen. Kids learn to believe that this is the way the world works. When they don’t put forth an effort, or when they don’t care, someone will step up and do it for them. Some work less, and others work more. Bad formula. Very bad.

To avoid this, we must pull back and allow for some struggle. We must make certain, that on any given task, that we teach the fundamental rule of reality:

Life will not work harder at our success, or our happiness than we do.

We do this by making sure that we do not make a habit of working harder at their life than they do. We can meet their effort, but we can’t put forth more effort. Otherwise, children and adolescents end up thinking the world owes them a job, success, or even happiness…and it does not. This is the key to getting your child out of mediocrity.

In next week’s article, I will cover the third mistake that builds mediocrity, and offer some more concrete direction on how to correct this. Until then, be aware of these mistakes that nurture mediocrity, and start shifting your approach today!