Motivated to Succeed – In Sports and Life

By Kipp Hanley

Goal setting is one of the best things a young child can learn. A successful child is more likely to become a successful adult. That success can be derived from many aspects of life, including physical fitness and individual and team sports.

Former Marine Corps drill instructor, Gunnery Sergeant James Erwin said his mother was instrumental in his becoming a successful athlete, well before he had success as a Marine. Erwin’s father died when he was four years old, leaving his mother to raise him as a single parent. Her strong work ethic, which was instilled in him at a young age, helped Erwin excel in football, wrestling and baseball at his high school in Chattanooga, Tennessee. “Looking back, the hard work I put into athletics, I know now I put it into my job and the Marine Corps,” said Erwin, who has received the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation medals, the Navy Achievement medal with one gold star and the Combat Action Ribbon with one Gold Star. “Hard work is natural to me and I attribute this to my mother.”

No matter what one’s family situation, the goal is to motivate children so they reach their fullest potential, whether they grow up to become Marines, doctors or professional athletes. Here are a few helpful hints designed to instill the desire to succeed in your child:

1. Don’t force a sport or activity on your child. Ask your child, “Do you like the sport or activity you are doing?” If the answer is “yes”, then offer encouragement to stay with it. If the answer is “no”, allow your child to try something different. This opens conversation with your child about what he or she enjoys in sports and exercise, and may help you find the right fit for your child’s interests and talents.

“I will give him a few choices and I know that he will pick one,” said Erwin of his five-year-old son James Dale Douglas Erwin III. “So for 20 or 30 minutes, we will run and play. He is happy and indirectly aiding his health,”

2. If your child begins to favor one particular sport, adhering to a weekly schedule will help teach organization and discipline. Encourage your child to follow a set schedule if he or she is into running or jogging or wants to exercise like mommy or daddy every day.

There are many running schedules that can be downloaded off the Internet. Place the schedule on the refrigerator for your child to see. Then completed runs can easily be checked off and the next day’s challenge set as a goal. If your child sticks with it, encourage him or her to take on the challenge of a local kids event, like the Marine Corps Marathon Healthy Kids Fun Run.

3. Use examples of people who achieved their dreams. For instance, future Hall of Famer Michael Jordan was cut from his freshman basketball team before eventually becoming one of the best players in the history of professional basketball. While your son or daughter may not become the next Jordan, Tiger Woods or Michelle Wie, providing concrete examples of those that have succeeded in the athletic arena can inspire children to become successful at whatever endeavor they choose. Woods’ dream as a young child was to beat Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 majors. At the age of 30, he’s already more than halfway there.

Erwin noted, ”I have vowed to my wife that I will not push our son into any sport until he really enjoys it. Then it will be full throttle, 100 percent development to become the best at that sport.”

4. Finally, praise your child when he or she does well, but don’t offer snacks as a reward for a well-played game or the game-winning goal. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that in order to keep your child healthy, give verbal praise or reward with fun activities, not with food. This tactic will keep your child full of confidence without being filled with junk food.

Erwin points out that using positive language with your child can help him or her become a more successful adult. “I think that a child who receives praise for positive results will carry that over to adulthood. As parents, we want our children to do well in everything, but we have to provide them with many opportunities to find something that they are motivated to do and enjoy.”

Children should be encouraged to develop goals while they are having fun growing up. It doesn’t matter if their goal is to make the basketball team or just to finish the Healthy Kids Fun Run. Having dreams and pursuing them through hard work and goal setting gives children an idea of what is required to enjoy success. Chances are it will make them a much happier, healthier and well-adjusted child and adult.

Articles in the Health Kids Series are presented by the Marine Corps Marathon Healthy Kids Fun Run to be held on the final Saturday in October 2007. Visit for more information. The one-mile run welcomes children ages 6-13. Kipp Hanley is the Marketing Coordinator for the Marine Corps Marathon. No federal or Marine Corps endorsement implied.


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