Nature or nurture? Biology versus learned life experiences? As humans, we are actually shaped by both our genetic DNA and our life experiences, but the precise proportions of nature/nurture as it impacts our personality development is greatly debated. Are we mostly just a pre-determined genetic code that is unfolding day-by-day, or are we shaped more by our experiences — including lessons taught to us by our parents, teachers, and coaches? Applying this question to sports, many adults work hard to develop stronger and more intense personalities in kids, but are these efforts worth it? Can you develop an otherwise passive kid into an intense athlete, or is human temperament something that is more reflective of genetics?
Change it up, or work with what you have?
Rather than trying to fundamentally change a kid’s personality, why not work with the personality your child already possesses? Sure, having a “bulldog” personality might help in some ways in sports, but there are potential drawbacks as well — including being unable to reel it in when things don’t go right on the field. Similarly, some more mild-mannered kids may not display intensity at critical moments, but their personalities serve them quite well when they are called upon to stay calm, cool, and collected. The reality is there is no “perfect” personality for sports, just as it is for life — when we work with what we have we often are surprised to learn how talented we are, even if we never knew it before. Rather than spending a lot of energy hoping and wishing for a different personality to emerge within your child, try to invest that energy into building confidence in your child and helping him or her find sports and/or positions in sports that best suit their unique talents and abilities.
So can personalities be dramatically altered?
Since we are constantly developing through both our genetic coding and unique life experiences, it’s safe to assume that our personalities likely do change, although probably not as much as some might think. For example, parents and coaches can teach kids things like dealing with adversity more effectively, and as this skill is learned it is possible that greater self-confidence will emerge. From this new found confidence, kids may take more chances, engage in new activities, and lessen their fear of failure. Because of these new life experiences and related success, a previously shy kid may become more extroverted in nature, lending evidence that our personalities can change some due to life experience.
While kids can and do change, it’s important to note that fundamentally changing who a kid is at his or her core is probably not only impossible, but unhealthy, too. For example, mild-mannered, introverted kids may never yearn for center stage — and that’s OK! Rather than becoming frustrated (and frustrating your child) over trying to turn him or her into something else, try to instead think about ways that you can build from and enhance what he or she already has — not transform the kid into something entirely different.
The reality is both nature nurture play a part in human development, and while our personality can be modified in subtle ways, it’s highly unlikely that we will experience dramatic, fundamental changes to who we are as people. What this means is it is highly improbable you can transform your shy and quiet kid into an extreme extrovert, or that you will scale back an otherwise outgoing and gregarious kid into an incredibly shy and private person. Rather than trying to make these changes in your child, try instead to work with what you have by teaching your child how to more regularly use her strengths, while finding effective ways to hide her weaknesses.