OF all the headlines at the recent US Open, and there have been many – Serena Williams’ last hurrah for one – there was one story that has received considerably less attention but is no less heart-warming.

It was the run of Brandon Holt, son of former US Open champion and former tennis world No.1 Tracy Austin, who came through qualifying before defeating world No.12 Taylor Fritz in the first round.

His run may not have gone any further but Holt’s success sees him add his name to the growing list of offspring following in their parents’ footsteps by becoming elite athletes themselves.

This leads many to believe former athletes have some kind of intrinsic knowledge which helps them guide their children to the top of the game. Almost every sport has at least one such example.

So, how do they do it? What is the secret to developing a world-class athlete?

There are pushy parents across the globe who think they have got the answer, encouraged by the success stories of the Williams’ sisters and Tiger Woods who were thrown into the chosen sport of their father almost as soon as they could walk, ultimately becoming the best in their sport’s history.

It’s why so many tales emerge about parents standing on the sideline of an under-10s football match screaming at their child or the referee.

And why we hear about pre-teen children doing 20-plus hours of training a week.

There’s the temptation to assume that these former athletes are pushing their children as hard, if not harder, than their peers are being pushed.

But new research by The Growth Equation suggests the reason so many former athletes’ offspring become sportspeople themselves is exactly the opposite. Elite athletes know how difficult it is to succeed in top-level sport. And so, they invariably know that excessively pushing a child or teenager is futile.

Individuals who have made it to the top are all too aware that no amount of cajoling, pushing, encouraging and, most sinisterly, forcing, will get a child to the top of their sport.

It’s research that many parents would do well to note.

The report confirms what some already know, but many don’t – only children who have an intrinsic desire to succeed will make it.

Woods and the Williams’ may have succeeded with a pushy father behind them but they did not succeed because of their pushy fathers.

Unless the fire burns within them, it matters not a jot how pushy their parents are, nor how many perceived advantages parents believe they are giving their children.

There is no secret to either developing or maintaining intrinsic motivation; the only way to allow this to develop is to give kids the opportunity to try, and most importantly, enjoy, a variety of sports.

Time and time again, evidence shows that early specialisation does children little good.

Another vital element of children’s sport that most former elite athletes appreciate is that the results at age eight, nine and 10, and even older, are irrelevant.

It’s very easy to get caught up in the result, and direct comparisons with their peers – I already find myself doing that with my four-year-old – but only the process matters at a young age.

There are far more winners in junior sport than senior but not one of them is remembered in the long term because winning in kids sport means nothing.

In psychology, there’s a concept called the peak-end rule. It means people rarely remember the result; far more often they remember how they performed and how they felt.

So asking a child if they won or lost is not just meaningless, it’s damaging.

And in fact, losing as a kid is far more valuable than winning.

Victory teaches a child almost nothing whereas losing offers a plethora of lessons that can be used to build an elite athlete. People who have been elite athletes themselves know this all too well.

So while there remains no hard and fast rules that will guarantee a junior prodigy becomes a world-class athlete, the one fact that is universally true is pushing a child in sport has no impact on producing a future world-class star.


There is little doubt the profile of women’s boxing is rising exponentially around the world and within Scotland, that is down almost exclusively to Hannah Rankin.

Next weekend, her quest to both improve her own career record, as well as continue to shine a light on her sport, kicks back into gear when she defends her IBO and WBA super welterweight world titles.

There remains, clearly, a significant gap between the profile of men’s and women’s boxing but the value of having an established world champion in the shape of Rankin cannot be underestimated.

She may be heavy favourite to defend her belts in Nottingham on Saturday but the weight of expectation cannot be overestimated – without her, women’s boxing in this country would barely get a mention in the national media.

Which is why every successful title defence the 32-year-old makes should be heralded as not only a remarkable achievement in sporting terms but also because of the impact she is having on women’s boxing in this country.