Is This Great, Or is it Creepy?

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Okay, I’ve been watching this video of this five-year-old kid, and I just can’t decide: is it amazing, or is it creepy?

(I’ll take a polite break while you watch.)

On one hand, the kid is totally amazing. So much control, discipline, balance, and ferocious focus. So much raw effort, so many hours spent practicing. If this kid were playing music or writing poetry, we wouldn’t find it creepy at all. Is he really any different from a young Mozart, or a Williams sister?

On the other hand, it is sort of creepy to see this level of expertise in a kid this young, isn’t it? It seems out of balance with our ideas about childhood. Is it mentally or physically healthy to be on a regimen like this? Who is really driving the bus here, the kid or the whispering parent? Is this a train wreck in the making — another overtrained prodigy destined for burnout and sadness?

This kid embodies the thorny question we all deal with. How much effort do we put into building narrow expertise, and how much into the broader social muscles? In other words, how much should we specialize to build the skills that make us unique, and how much should we spend time developing the muscles we need to make and maintain relationships, control emotions, and learn to communicate with others?

What do you think?


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18 Responses to “Is This Great, Or is it Creepy?”

  1. Usually it works better: generalist to specialist, than specialist to generalist. Humans niche in the world is adaptability, and I think specializing young is like trying to build an inverted pyramid; not very stable and hardly reaching any “gods”.

  2. But maybe all greatness isn’t stable, as many greats have demons in their closet.

  3. Jay Godse says:

    Each combination of social skills, relationships, and level emotional control is also a part of what makes us unique. These are also skills which help us leverage the “narrow expertise”, as well as making us open to discovering and developing new narrow expertises.

  4. djcoyle says:

    Hey Aaron, Amen to that. The more I read about greats, the more the demons seem to pop to the surface. Like this about Michael Jordan — http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1193740/index.htm Maybe it’s not about avoiding the demons, but just keeping them in their cages? Or balancing them out with healthy relationships?

  5. We don’t know the whole story, so we don’t know if it’s creepy.

    Assuming the kid likes doing this stuff, and isn’t being beaten into
    submission by parents, this is not creepy at all. When I was a kid,
    one of my joys was being lifted by my father to a pullup bar in the basement so that I could do pullups. If there had been encouragement and other equipment, I would have loved to do this stuff as a kid. In fact, if I had the strength, I would love doing it now, just for fun. (As a matter of fact, I have been working on improving my pullups for the past year.)

    It’s much easier to do these things as a kid, by the way. One is so
    much lighter. So what he is doing is not as hard as the equivalent if
    a teenager were doing it.

    As for specialist vs. generalist pursuits, I think there’s plenty of time for both, and there is synergy as well. For example, the core strength this kid has will serve him if he ever wants to box or run or just live a vital, active life.

  6. djcoyle says:

    Great points, Franklin. Funny, when I read it, I suddenly remembered the pull-up bar on the door to my brother’s bedroom. They are kind of addictive, aren’t they?
    As for more about this kid, his name is Giuliano Stroe, and here are some details (of course, he had a wikipedia page): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giuliano_Stroe. Looks like he’s a bit of a celeb, for what that’s worth. The dad insists he’s a regular kid. Hmmmm.

  7. Hugo says:

    I think it’s important to let the child decide.
    If Tiger Woods could do it ,then this kid could try
    to be the best.

    Part of being as intelligent as the person that poses
    the question is to encourage unique talents and also
    suggest a healthy balance of just being .Allowing a child
    to be a child., A child that has a gift and other
    aspiriations of excellence ,social skills, and sporting prowess.

  8. djcoyle says:

    Hi Hugo, I like the sound of that, but seriously, can any 4-7 year old really “decide” anything? Tiger Woods certainly didn’t. His father set it all up — putting Tiger’s highchair near the father’s practice net, so the kid could watch the dad swing, giving him lessons, and, when he got good, taking him on the Mike Douglas show to show him off.
    The lasting mystery of this, to me, is this: what’s the chemistry between father and son that makes the kid ignite?

  9. Doc says:

    Without more info I don’t think you can say whether it is creepy or not. Is this kid a genetic freak or has he been trained that hard to get to this point. If someone said that he shouldn’t be doing any of this you would have to tell him not to climb trees, don’t go play on the playground apparatus, etc. Some of the problem is that most of us are envious of him being able to do that. My understanding is that these are the type things to do to build tendon and ligament strnegth (assuming they are done correctly and progressively) before lifting weights. They only thing I really didn’t like was his going to failure on a couple of the exercises.

  10. Given the high level of skill and strength that the child possesses it is hard to imagine that he is not enjoying himself. I don’t know of any individual that can tolerate the hours of hard work and dedication involved in reaching that level of skill and strength without an internal drive to do so.

    It’s not like he’s being forced to sit still and make sneakers in a sweatshop. He has to pull himself over those rings every time. That takes mental toughness and physical strength and a high degree of skill. I can’t conceive of any parental coercion that could get a child to do that many reps of a high skill high strength move. A child that didn’t want to pull himself over the rings just wouldn’t do it. If there were such a way to coerce that sort of behavior out of children or adults I would utilize it in my gym every day.

  11. Glenn Whitney says:

    At the risk of sounding like a Freudian psychologist – is that a meaningful slip in the title of the YouTube video “the BEAST of my…” or the “BEST of my”…

    Many of us turn ourselves into beasts of burden and how many of us were encouraged or forced to do so by our fathers?…

  12. Peter says:

    Since I have no medical training, I have no opinion on whether this child is at any physical harm. I just don’t know. As a kid, I had no focus, and kept at that (being unfocused) until I reached my thirties. I wish I would have found a spark early, even if I decided to change it up later on. No complaints, though. I became a teacher and have had a wonderful time working with students from middle school to college, so I guess it all works out. However, I do wonder what could have been had I found a spark early.

    At the opposite end of the experience spectrum is my nephew, who at age three would pick up anything that looked like a drumstick and hit things with reasonable rhythm. He kept at it for hours. In defense of the furniture, his parents bought him a child’s drum set and put it in his room. He practiced on that for hours–on his own and without any prodding from his folks. He lived it. Now he is picking up the guitar and piano. He can figure key changes in his head and does quite well. He’s not the best in the world, but he is completely self driven. His parents provide him the opportunity and encouragement, but the focus comes from within. He could become quite outstanding. his grandmother (my lovely wife) put up a couple

    There is no way anyone could get my nephew to spend more than a few minutes on something that doesn’t interest him. I know, I’ve tried. He is a force of nature unto himself. What I’m trying to say is that we don’t know what is driving Giuliano.

    As a teacher, I’d be on the lookout for signs of abuse without predisposing myself to find any. We are hopefully trained in that. If we don’t see any, then we have to assume that all is on the up and up and let this kid flourish. If he decides later on in life that gymnastics isn’t his path, then he would still have the outstanding advantage of knowing that he can be successful in any pursuit because he has already been successful in one. The hardest thing for me to get across to my reluctant students is that they can stand out if they put in the right kind of effort, no matter what their chosen field of study.

  13. The kid looks like he is enjoying himself mastering the challenge. His focus and almost slight smile on his face shows that he is fine. I used to be a quite self-motivated kid, and am to this day. I believe that sports will teach the kids discipline, determination, focus and persistence – good values for life too. The parents/adults need to show the way to the kids. How much is too much is a delicate question. Any mastery in any discipline may seem too extreme. But I guess that’s what’s needed to become a master.

  14. Paul says:

    I grew up a gymnast, was on the trampoline the day I could walk, and had free roam of gyms until I was about 10 or 11yrs old. My birth father was on his way to be an Olympian in 1964 until knee injuries sidelined him.I had access to the best coaches and training at that time and I passed it up. In some ways I wish I was pushed (encouraged) to do more but I was more of a gym rat.

    I had heard stories of pre-pubescent boys in the Old Soviet Union being put into straight like jackets to keep their rib cages from being torn while doing iron crosses. However, this could have been propaganda? Although, many stories of abuses behind the Iron Curtain were revealed to be true.

    I turned more to team sports but this experience in gymnastics was invaluable. After reading the Talent Code I now know why I was able to compete with much bigger and stronger guys than me even though I was 5’3″, on a low gravity day, and 125lbs in HS and college. The skills and strength I gathered spending 5-6 days a week sometimes for 3 hours in a gym allowed me to become the athlete that I became. Too bad genetics led to 4 knee surgeries

  15. Tom Woodward says:

    I don’t think it’s creepy at all. What I find creepy is inattentive parents who let their kids play around with video games and on an iPad 24 hours a day. A lot of kids these days have no clue about the real value and meaning of hard work and how rewarding it can be in the end. Even if this kid has been slightly pushed into gymnastics, he’s obviously succeeding and learning some valuable lessons about how hard work pays off. Some people never learn this in a lifetime.

  16. Juan says:

    I think when you really want it bad enough what looks different for some, it is normal for others. Some of the most successful 1%ers are self-made, at some point they had to make a decision to put a massive action, to practice more than everybody else, to pay the price for the greatest prize. Phenomenal video, I plan to show it to my 5 year old son to drive him more to succeed to win. for most of us, it goes back to survival mode, there are not much options or choices, than to drive forward.

  17. Lewis Howes says:

    this is amazing. Being an athlete I know how much this kid has practiced and the amount of effort he put into perfecting his technique. very impressive.

  18. Rob says:

    I’d say it depends mostly on how it affects the kid’s ability to grow. If he stays that size because his muscles got overused at the time, or because his body uses the energy that usually is reserved for growth to boost his strength, that’s a bad deal.

    I recently read how children who’s parents know little about food or can’t afford decent food have smaller children on average, because when children get ill, the body has to use all the energy, vitamins etc. for healing and has nothing left for growing whereas healthy food creates abundance, allowing the kid to grow despite the illness. Similarly this excessive training might take away growth capacity. Just speculating.

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