Sports Can Teach Achievement

By Sylvia Rimm

November 9, 2014 4 min read

Q: I have a student who underachieves in school but is an excellent swimmer on the swim team. I'm trying to incorporate his love of swimming into assignments, special projects, etc., but to no avail. How do you get a child to understand that he has the skill set to succeed but that he needs to apply it to other areas?

A: Children who play successfully on sports teams tend to be highly competitive. Your student, no doubt, is motivated to practice hard for swimming because he's good at winning in swim meets. It's a perfect idea to explain school effort by using a sports analogy. You can easily explain to him that he wouldn't be a very good swimmer if he didn't practice every day. Even when he practices, he sometimes loses races, but he doesn't give up and thus is successful.

You can then explain that if he practiced schoolwork regularly, he would no doubt become a very good student. Although he might not be the best student, with practice he would show good improvement and could feel more intelligent and confident. I also explain to children that practice in sports can be boring, much as homework may sometimes be boring. Practice in both areas is the route to self-confidence and developing talent. Sometimes it takes time to convince children, but eventually they seem to understand the similarity.

You haven't mentioned your student's age. Peer pressure can play a part in this boy's achievement orientation. His friends may think swimming is cool but may not value students with high grades. Peer valuing of "smart" kids varies from school to school, but it's surely something to consider.

Mother Wonders Why Son Shows No Motivation

Q: How do you help with motivation? My 8-year-old who chooses not to do homework was the 3-year-old who couldn't care less about a sticker chart, etc. How do we help him choose to do things he does not want to do?

A: Your son is a puzzler, for sure, because sticker charts typically work well, at least for a little while, for 3-year-olds. Children are born with different temperaments, but all children like doing some things. Some children who are given too many choices from early on insist on doing only what they choose to do. They often have learned accidentally that what they choose must be different from or the opposite of what adults choose for them.

At age 8, your son may still be able to be convinced that you and his teachers are very wise and know the best efforts and activities for him. Your careful observation of what he now chooses to do will allow you to position what he should or must do in school as a prior requirement for what he likes to do. So, for example, he no doubt chooses to play video games. You can simply explain that he can earn screen time by doing homework. There can be a direct match for minutes spent on homework to minutes playing games. If he doesn't want to bother with homework, he'll also have to skip the screens.

Be careful not to take other healthy activities away, such as sports or extracurricular activities. These are helpful for building motivation and confidence, but screens become avoidance mechanisms and steal motivation.

Dr. Sylvia B. Rimm is the director of the Family Achievement Clinic in Cleveland, a clinical professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and the author of many books on parenting. More information on raising kids is available at Please send questions to: Sylvia B. Rimm on Raising Kids, P.O. Box 32, Watertown, WI 53094 or [email protected] To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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