If you can help your child figure out what fires them up, you’ll give them a gift that lasts a lifetime, says Wayne Bryan, author of Raising Your Child to Be a Champion in Athletics, Arts, and Academics. Bryan is the father and coach of the number-one doubles tennis team in the world, Mike and Bob Bryan. Here, he chats with EQtainment founder Sofia Dickens about inspiring your kids to discover their passion and work hard to be great.

child tennis player and future champion for Q Wunder

SD: Tell us what you mean by champion and why raising one matters.

 

WB: The great lessons of life are learned when you’re a kid striving for something. Those who dabble in this, dabble in that — a little gymnastics, a little swimming, a little basketball — I don’t think you ever become really good at anything. I’m not saying you have to be a professional athlete or musician, but I think children should have a passion that gets them up each day. My boys’ primary passion is tennis. They’re the greatest doubles team of all time. But they’re also professional musicians who love music as much as tennis. Mike plays lead guitar and drums, Bob plays piano and keyboard and bass, and they have an incredible band. When they’re on the road, they don’t play video games or watch TV. In fact, when they were growing up, we didn’t have a TV or a video game in the house because they were so fired up for tennis, they couldn’t wait to get to the club to practice. And they were totally fired up for music too. Every child should strive to be great at one thing — or two things! And every parent should help their child find their passion. If you just sort of trudge along and don’t give your best effort, I don’t think that leads to a happy, successful, fulfilling life. Life in the adult world is challenging and kids need to be challenged too. They need to learn how to deal with winning, and they need to learn how to deal with losing.

 

There’s a course at Harvard right now about the science of happiness. It’s based on the definition that happiness is striving toward a goal. It’s not a destination, it’s not necessarily a state of mind, it’s an active verb where you are striving toward something — and I think that’s what you’re getting at.

 

I 100% agree. I never in my life told my boys to play tennis. Instead, I used all my wisdom and heart and soul to help them enjoy tennis. And the way I did that was, I took them to see great college matches once a week, high school matches when they were six or seven, pro matches. And soon, they’d formulated these goals. I took them to a Davis Cup match — an international team competition — when they were 10 years old, to see the US team play Mexico. Early on, they said, “Hey Dad, we wanna get some popcorn,” so we walked into this long tunnel, and who comes along but the American Davis Cup doubles team going out to play that day, Ricky Leach and Jim Pugh. They were number one in the world. When the kids saw Ricky Leach, the unbelievable pro they admired, they screamed out like they’d seen the President of the United States. And he laughed and said, “Hey, do you guys play tennis?” And the little guys said, “Yes, we just won the Tennis Doubles at Long Beach!” He smiled and kept walking, and as he entered the stadium, he looked back at these skinny little guys and said, “Yeah, I won that one too.” And he went out and won his match in four sets. It was incredibly exciting. All the way home on the three-hour drive, the guys were saying, “Hey Dad, Ricky Leach won at Long Beach and then he won the Davis Cup, and we’re gonna do the same thing! We’re gonna be number one in the world! We’re gonna be number one on our college team! We’re gonna win all the grand slams, and we’re gonna win the Davis Cup for the United States!” And you know what? They did it all. No team has done what they’ve done, ever.

 

Was it because my wife and I are great coaches and great parents? No, it was because we took the boys to that match that day and they formulated that goal. You want your child to play intercollegiate tennis or golf or lacrosse? Go to college matches. College dance, swimming, gymnastics, whatever…. You know what the cost is? Free. You know what the inspiration is? Massive. They will get to know the players, the players will talk to them. No one has an entourage in college. They’re very accessible. Helping your children formulate these goals early on pays massive dividends. And if you don’t have goals or dreams, I guarantee you’re not going to reach them.

 

I love your philosophy that it’s all about making the entire day fun.  I remember you said the first time you took the boys to a tennis event, all they probably remembered was playing under the bleachers or getting popcorn, but they had that positive association.

 

Champions take it in through their eyes, not their ears. You must see it before you can dream it. You must be passionate about it before you can achieve it. It’s what you expose your children to in a positive way. If it looks great, and there are uniforms and colors and excitement and fun and enthusiasm, they’re going to want to do it. If it’s drudgery and hard work and you’ve gotta do it this way and you’ve gotta take 15 laps before you can hit a ball, or you’ve gotta play a chromatic scale before I’m going to let you play this new Britney Spears song, you’re going to lose children. If you’re taking your son or daughter to a lacrosse or golf or tennis match, take a lot of other kids with you, because that amps up the experience even more. Have a little food on the way home. Enjoy. Watch, play, watch, play. It’s so simple to create passion. It’s not the sport or art, it’s how the sport or art is presented.

 

I used to play on a tennis all-star team in Salt Lake City and my coach was Dick Leach, Ricky Leach’s dad. He had two sons who grew up to be champions. And I said, “How did you do this? Did you push them like crazy? Or do you just back up and do nothing?” And he said, “Wayne, what you do is you push like hell but you never let them know what’s hitting them.” I said, “What does that mean?” So he gave me an example. He told me he used to coach tennis on Saturday mornings, and when Ricky was five years old, he would go along too. Afterward, they’d look at Porsches and get ice cream. Ricky sat on the sidelines four or five Saturdays in a row, and after the fifth Saturday, what did Ricky say to his dad? He said, “Can I hit one?” And what did Dick say? “No, maybe next week.” Next week comes around, and he says, “Can I hit one?” And his dad goes, I’m tired, let’s go have an ice cream and look at Porsches.” And next week comes along and he says, “Can I hit one?” And his dad says, “Okay, but just one.” He throws him the ball, and Ricky misses it. And what did Dick say? “Better luck next week.” From there, Ricky became one of the greatest tennis players of all time. It’s how you set the table. It’s got to be the child’s idea.

 

Now find out what to look for in a coach or teacher — and why you should never tell your kids to practice: Download the free Q Wunder app, go to the Parents’ Corner and listen to the entire “How to Raise a Champion” podcast.