Getting it right vs. having passion

Some might say she doesn’t get the dance steps right. (She doesn’t).
Some might say she distracts the kids who are trying to get it right. (She does.)
Some might say her behavior is disruptive to the show. (It is.)
Some might say she co-opts the attention from the other kids in the show. (Yep.)

But I say she gets enough of the steps right and improves on them with passion.
But I say she is an innovator, an entrepreneur of this three-minute dance, breaking the model handed to her and returning one that is so much better.
But I say disruption of the routine is precisely why the show was much more interesting and memorable.
But I say stepping (or in this case dancing) forward is proof that in most areas passion and enthusiasm is what captures our attention and our hearts far more than deliberate and precise execution.

Who wants to wager that this girl continues to dance for many more years of her life? And, even if she moves on from dance, I’d certainly hope that whatever she does she would approach with the same effervescence that sent this video viral.

Passion, enthusiasm, zeal, fire—whatever it is that we want to call it that ignites a drive in a person that is practically contagious—is sometimes quickly dismissed in youth sports in favor of looking for the child who can execute the skills precisely or who has a natural body type for the sport. And while quite often what one is good at correlates with enjoyment (after all, we do have a natural tendency to feel good about we do well, even when we are young kids, because we receive all sorts of positive feedback for our strong performance), that is different than what we see in this little girl in the video.

What this child is experiencing is what psychologists call flow—that feeling that time stands still while one is doing something, an activity that is so engrossing that when you look up you cannot believe how much time has passed. That is not something that can be taught. It is something that just is a part of the hard wiring of a person.

Yet, consider the way youth sports (particularly gymnastics) is judged. This little girl wouldn’t place in her meet. She doesn’t get the steps right, a good majority of the time she is off the beat and her “technique” is not up to par with some of the other girls (that is if you even had a chance to notice the other girls—I had to watch the video several times to get that comparison!). And yet, I can certainly see the potential in this child as a dancer, as I am sure most of you can as well. But even if she were a treacherous dancer—who cares? She is having the time of her life!

So what’s the take away? Well, as your child moves through the world of competitive sports (or even non-competitive sports for that matter), my advice is to step back and follow her lead to see where her passion goes. She might not get all the moves right when she begins and she might not even ever excel. But allow her to experience the bliss of loving what she is doing with your whole-hearted support no matter where her performance ranks in the eyes of judges or a final score. In time, her skills will improve and become polished, her desire to score higher will cause her to change her behavior and hopefully, none of that will diminish her enthusiasm and love of what she is doing.

Focus on her process, not her product. Enjoy her performance, not her awards ceremony. And treasure her passion, not her result. It’s a hard message to digest (even for me as I write this) in our world that emphasizes achievement so emphatically. Combining that drive for our children to be the best with our culture of instant gratification and the fact that parenting has become a competitive sport, kids at a younger and younger age are being expected to produce results. We don’t mean to, but good-intentioned parents are killing passion in favor of perfection.

Take a deep breath, get out an old photo album and look at a picture of yourself at your child’s age. Try to connect with what you were doing at that age, what was expected of you and what your dreams and concerns were. It will ground you to remember how little they are, how much time there is to get to self-actualization and how desperately you wanted your parents to love you just as you were. Then go find some old tap shoes, turn on the music and dance with your kid without a care in the world.