Persistence: Little People Chasing Big Dreams

Persistence is the key to people achieving their dreams, even children and teenagers. There are some incredibly talented people in this world who never realise their goals because they are missing this essential character trait.

Do you have a child who is completely focused on achieving something? They have a big dream despite their age? It could be in sport, business, the arts, anything…

Why are they like this and what can we do as parents to support their dreams? Read on as I unpack this thing called persistence.

The transformational power of persistence

Persistence is the human quality of not giving up and not easily being swayed off our chosen course by the doubts of others. It’s not a quality many young people are born with, but when they are, they tend to be the kids that are very determined and sometimes even stubborn. In an adult, this quality is probably more positively termed as tenacity. Either way, persistence is definitely something that can be refined over time.

Persistence is transformational. It enables someone to continue having a go at something; that despite not achieving success, they have another try. In the process they develop new skills, new knowledge and new qualities as they adapt their behaviour and thoughts around these experiences and what they are learning along the way.

In some previous research, I looked at the variety of qualities that young athletes in particular need to reach a high level of expertise. The biggest factor that contributes to sporting success, or just about any success really, is deliberate practice, which relies on a young person having deep reserves of persistence. The research suggests that this deliberate practice needs to be sustained over 10 years, at a maximum level of effort. That’s not just being part of a team once a week, or turning up to your violin lesson every Tuesday. That’s nearly daily practice, whole focused and continually seeking improvement.

I think there are other qualities that young people need to reach lofty goals, that are also part of this persistent character. They need to be teachable, and accept feedback as construct criticism that they can apply to improving their skills, technique or knowledge. They also need to have a very focused mindset, that despite other choices, they prioritise their goal and the work they need to do to get there.

Another quality successful people seem to have in buckets is a strong work ethic. They are hard workers all the time and incredibly efficient with their time to be as productive as possible. Kids who have big dreams seem to show early signs of this sort of work ethic too.

And the last quality that really jumps out at me is their self-discipline. Young people working towards very specific goals seem to be wise beyond their years in their ability to make very reasoned decisions and weigh up options.

If you have a young person who has these traits, then there are some things the caring adults in their lives can do to help them chase their dreams and have every possibility of actually reaching their goals.

Supporting young people with big dreams

I’ve touched on these things in some of my other articles, like dealing with disappointment, parenting a young athlete and the 10,000 hours rule, but the key to supporting any young person is to ensure that the dream always remains theirs. It’s very easy to get caught up in a young person’s dream, particularly when it looks like it could actually come true, but the adults in their life should never step in and make the dream bigger than the young person wants it to be.

Here are some other strategies to ensure children and teenagers have every opportunity of making their dreams come true:

1. Don’t shoot the dream down

If you can’t have a dream in your youth, when can you? I think that working towards these dreams can really hone the character of our children and reveal to them their greatest talents and skills, even if they’re not in the areas they thought they would be. There are plenty of other people who will tell them they’re dreaming, but to know that you stand alongside them and are cheering for them regardless of how it turns out, could be just the inspiration they need to keep going.

2. Point out how many other people chase dreams

Our world is a pretty negative one, and particularly in Australia, we like to put people who are successful down as part of our “tall poppy syndrome”, but it can be very inspiring for kids to learn about people who have chased dreams and opened up a wonderful life through that. The well known people like Bill Gates, Cathy Freeman and Steve Jobs spring to mind, but also the less known people like Kurt Fearnley and Gemma Sisia.

3. Help them to see that there are always different ways to reach a dream

When the going gets difficult or they experience a setback or rejection, then don’t let them throw the dream away without a fight. Most of the people who make it to the Olympics, become successful artists or develop huge global businesses have experienced disappointments and often disasters along the way and have had to alter their route.

4. Be ready to help them face fear

It’s natural to be afraid when things seem uncertain or your abilities are being scrutinised. Don’t downplay their fears, but help them to see what wonderful qualities they already have to help them get through this, and then give them some space to muddle it out for themselves.

5. Let the chase be a journey, not a destination

If the whole focus is on the end goal, it can be difficult for a teenager to let it go or know when they’ve gone far enough. But if there is just as much emphasis on the journey towards the dream, they’ll know when they’ve reached the point where they’re happy to walk away, or they’ll develop the inner strength to keep going no matter what.

If you have a young person in your life busily working towards a lofty goal, then remember to let it be their dream and craft your role as their cheerleader and support person by being a great listener, encourager and maybe a little bit of a dreamer yourself.

What do you think? Do you know of some other strategies that work? I’d love you to share them below.

Rachel Doherty

Rachel Doherty is the founder of Tweens2teen. She’s a social worker, teacher and the mother of 3 teenagers. In her spare time she trains youth workers and does a lot of washing and cooking. You can read more of her work on her website –

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