don't walk in circles


A few years ago, scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tubingen, Germany conducted an interesting experiment on humans’ lack of directional awareness. Researcher Jan Souman and his colleagues dropped subjects in a wilderness environment, like the German forest, and asked them to walk for several hours in one direction without deviating from a straight line.

The scientists used GPS to track the adventures. In the image below, you can see that from their starting point marked with a red dot, those subjects highlighted using the blue lines – those who journeyed when visibility was low or the sky was cloudy – really struggled. Despite their best efforts, without a clear sense of direction they inexplicably and almost immediately started walking in circles. Scientists said those subjects were surprised and disappointed to see the results of their work. They really thought they were doing exactly what they were supposed to - they thought that line was a straight line! - and had no idea they had veered so dramatically from their intended destination.


One subject – the one whose path is highlighted in yellow – was unique. That traveler was allowed to journey while the sun was out and the sky was clear, and he obviously attained more success. The sun’s position in the sky frequently allowed him to re-calibrate his sense of direction, and helped keep him moving on the right path toward his desired destination. Despite all the subjects giving their best efforts, that one variable made all the difference in determining who achieved success, and who – despite their lack of awareness at the time – fell short of their goal.

This interesting experiment accurately illustrates the directional challenges we as humans face in any area of life. We all have goals we’re hoping to attain, marks we’re hoping to reach, and destinations we’re working to move toward each day. If you’re here reading the newsletter, then it’s likely that raising and developing a young athlete (or athletes) is an important responsibility you’ve accepted in life. I want to challenge and encourage you today to make sure you’re moving toward success in this important area, and to make sure you’re not simply walking in circles.

Just like the blue-line subjects in the Institute’s study, it’s not that difficult for you, as a sports parent, to lose your way. Every day you have choices to make about who you’re going to be in the life of your child, about what you’ll choose to emphasize, and about what lessons you’ll commit to teaching. If raising a champion athlete and person is the goal you have in mind, then your daily choices and decisions will either move you another step closer to your desired destination, or another step farther off track. Someday, probably sooner than you think, your journey as a sports parent will be done. Your child will be who you’ve taught, trained, and prepared him to be. Will you be happy with where you guys have ended up? Unfortunately, without a clear sense of direction, too many young athletes and the parents that raised them end up someplace they didn't envision - someplace worse. Despite their best efforts, they’re surprised and disappointed to see the results of their work. They really thought they were doing exactly what they were supposed to, and had no idea they had veered so dramatically from their desired destination.

So, as a champion sports parent, how do you keep from walking in circles? Well, let’s learn from that one successful yellow-lined subject. He had something that clarified where he was, and clarified what choices needed made in order to keep moving toward the destination he had in mind. When you create a clear vision for who you want your child to be at the end of the journey, it does the same for you. It clarifies not only where your child is today, but also what choices need made in order to stay on the right path moving forward. As a sports parent, that one variable can make all the difference in determining your success on the journey.

So it's worth asking yourself today: who is it exactly that you want your child to become, on the playing field and beyond? You can't clarify the path to your child's very best until you've clarified your vision of the champion you're committed to cultivating. Develop a clear picture of the passionate, hard-working, tough-minded athlete you’re after. Envision the selfless nature, courageous spirit, and positive attitude you want him to possess. Use that image to clarify where your child is, and more importantly, use it frequently to re-calibrate your sense of direction, to keep you moving on the right path toward your desired destination: your child, the champion.


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