Developing a Talented Child

Surfing, like other sports, is learned and perfected though the process of trial and error. Surfers catch thousands of waves and fine-tune their performance according to their level of motivation and natural ability. It goes without saying that some surfers are more capable of exceling than others. But with a higher level of aptitude comes the potential to earn a living through surfing.


In my experience as a surf coach of 30 years, it is interesting to observe the different angles parents take in growing and developing their children into talented athletes. Some simply let them surf with limited involvement. Some provide support and guidance and even take steps to find people like myself to mentor and coach their child. Other parents are highly determined and excessively involved. These parents often unknowingly present themselves as aggressive in trying to create opportunities and exposure for their child.

Each of these approaches can create career opportunities, depending on the child. However, some approaches can take counter-productive paths. Some children crash and burn under the immense pressure and outrageous expectations placed on their young, inexperienced shoulders.

Counter-Productive Paths

The parents who provide the wrong paths of development as an up-and-coming surfer do not do so intentionally. Rather, it is a result of their overwhelming determination in helping their child to succeed that often misconstrues the appropriate, more conducive route to success.

In a recent trip to California I witnessed many young surfers that did not attend a formal school. Instead, they attended homeschool in order to develop their surfing skills in hopes to facilitate a professional surfing career. In understanding how talent develops, I cannot help but feel that many parents and their children are setting themselves up for failure. They certainly have all day to make decisions based on when and how long to surf, but the quality of the session and focus on the task can be questionable.

Parking Lot Surfers

Those who follow this path are at risk of turning into what former World Champion, Peter Townsend, calls “parking lot surfers”. Townsend suggests surfers who have all day to surf have a very particular mentality. They arrive at the beach for a morning surf-check and say, “It will be better later.” Later, they come back and say, “The tide’s too low.” Third time’s a charm, right? Not exactly. They arrive for the third time and say, “It’s onshore now. I’m not surfing that crap.” This process can be exhausting. Even though they are at the beach, they either don’t surf, or they surf with little enthusiasm. They hang in the parking lot effectively minimizing their progression as their enthusiasm slowly fades away.

Compare the aforementioned example to the child who has a quick surf before going to school – or the child who surfs an hour before dark after school. Now there is focus in their surfing. If the child is motivated, he or she puts 100% into their surfing to maximize the limited time available. Those that stay at school, I reckon, will do better than the homeschoolers in the majority of cases because of their heightened enthusiasm to surf in any condition.

Quality vs. Quantity

The accepted science of developing talent is that to become fully developed in a skill – whether it is surfing, golfing, or playing music – 10,000 hours of “deep” practice needs to be completed. However, in surfing, one must not simply surf for 10,000 hours to become a skillful surfer.  They must have a strong, multifaceted focus and intent on becoming the best they can be. This includes analyzing things such as: meticulous movements, positioning in the line-up, which waves are caught, how many waves are caught, board and fin arrangements, etcetera. Thus, it’s the level of focused attention on the task, rather than the total number of hours that is motivating the level of performance

The Right Amount of Support

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This piece was originally post on | Author: Martin Dunn


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