Saturday, Jul 20, 2024

The Best Intentions Can Sometimes Produce the Worst Results

One can learn very important lessons for life from the most unlikely of places. I have a friend who often comes up with pearls of wisdom applicable to everyday life from sports. My friend, Reb Zev, is a deep thinker and virtually never listens to the radio. The sound bite nature and superficiality of news and talk radio is not for him. There is one thing, however, that he won't miss when he is in the car. Apparently, there is a short weekly program for coaches of children's leagues. The program, hosted by a coach, features coaches of little league baseball, basketball, hockey, etc. These coaches, whose job is to motivate children, often have interesting insights that fall under the rubric of chochmah bagoyim taamin.


Recently, a hockey coach was being interviewed and he related an interesting development that he has noticed over the past ten years. He said that until about ten years ago, he had never seen children suffering from “repetitive motion” ailments. A repetitive motion ailment is an ailment that a person develops from doing the same thing over and over. For example, people who sit and type at a computer all day can get something called carpal tunnel syndrome. Today, the coach said, many children are suffering from repetitive motion ailments in sports, which was practically non-existent in the past.

What is the reason for this? The coach explained: “The reason is simple. Parents are intent on their child becoming a star and getting into the major leagues. They feel that the only way to accomplish that is for their kids to play hockey 12 months a year, all the time. In the past, children didn’t just play one sport. They played numerous sports, depending on the season. This enabled the body to stay balanced, without overtaxing itself in one area while leaving it atrophied in other areas. Today, however, parents feel that if they push their kid and push him some more, and make him play, and make him practice, over and over again, he will really be professional material.”


Following his explanation, the coach became passionate and forcefully exclaimed, “The parents are fools! They are not helping their children. They are ruining them!”

“Why?” the host asked. “Doesn’t practicing a lot help? If a child doesn’t focus solely on one sport, how will he make it into the major leagues?”

The coach snapped back, “He won’t make it into the major leagues either way! Let me explain something to you. 90% of those who make it into the majors are ‘genetic freaks.’ They were genetically endowed with extremely unusual physical talent and coordination. Regular kids, no matter how hard they try, will not make it into a league that has just a few thousand players. Millions, or perhaps billions, of people from countries all over the world are competing for those coveted spots. Thus, only a genetic freak, someone endowed with an absolutely crazy amount of natural talent, will make it.”

The coach wasn’t finished. “Even the 10% who do make it who are not genetic freaks,” he said, “only make it because they are so well-rounded that they compensate. Therefore, not only are parents who keep on pushing their children to play the same thing all year and practice and practice in the hope that they will make it to the big leagues not helping their kids make it, but they are doing them a disservice. After all, the only way normal talented kids, but not genetic freaks, will make it is by being well-rounded and normal so that those qualities can compensate for their lack of superhuman talent.”

Often, parents, and teachers and mentors, can, with the best of intentions, sabotage a child’s success by overly pressuring him to engage in one thing all the time.


I remember, years ago, one of my rabbeim telling me that he recalled how Rav Aharon Kotler zt”l would often have sharp disagreements with parents regarding the future of their children. At that time, the idea of not sending a child to college was synonymous with being a loser and doomed to an unsuccessful life. When Rav Aharon would insist that a father or mother allow their son to learn for another year or two rather than going to college, he often encountered stiff opposition. After failing to convince a mother to let her son – who was gifted and learning very well – remain in yeshiva for a bit longer, the talmid heard Rav Aharon mutter a posuk from Megillas Eichah under his breath. The posuk? “Noshim rachmanios bishlu es yaldeihem – Merciful mothers cooked their own children.”

In our time, we often see the opposite happening. Parents, due to unreasonable expectations or peer pressure, often, with the best of intentions, push their children to excel in a way that is unhealthy for them. Certainly, there may be differences between the above moshol and the nimshal, but one thing is clear and virtually agreed upon by all level-headed mechanchim: Children and bochurim are done a disservice when they are pushed to excel way beyond their natural capabilities.


Certainly, there is room for a bit of a push. Orach chaim lemaalah lemaskil.

Rav Chaim of Volozhin writes in his commentary on Pirkei Avos that success in avodas Hashem is characterized by someone who is always striving to reach higher. Indeed, everyone who applies themselves that extra bit can do better. That spiritual ascent, however, has to be with baby steps, bit by bit, in a way that strengthens the person slowly but surely as he ascends. Often, however, what is expected of the child, boy, girl or bochur is above and beyond anything that is reasonable for his or her skill set and capabilities. The amount that he/she must leap to reach the level demanded is above and beyond anything that can be remotely reached. Only intellectual freaks can skip that many steps on the ladder and still succeed. Others will eventually fall on their faces and get seriously bruised in the process.

As it is, the schedules of most mosdos are more demanding than they were in the past. Pushing one’s child or talmid in a way that is far beyond his skill set because one wants him to become the next gadol hador may not only result in him not becoming the gadol hador, but may jeopardize his hatzlachah on his level as well.

Children and bochurim who are well balanced, who don’t feel the constant pressure from parents and mentors to engage in learning that is way beyond them, will be empowered to go on to become serious talmidei chachomim, good spouses and parents, and a nachas ruach to Hashem, their parents and anyone they come into contact with. They will, however, probably not become the gadol hador.

Those who, with the best of intentions, push children and bochurim way beyond the abilities with which Hashem endowed them risk the spiritual lives and the normal balance of their children and may very well be candidates for the “noshim rachmanios” or “anoshim rachmoni’im” club.




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