Saturday, August 4, 2012

Gifted Olympians

by Stephanie Newitt

It is Olympic season and my family and I enjoy seeing the Olympic athletes being celebrated for overcoming odds, rising above obstacles and facing challenges.  The Olympians have credited their families and coaches for intense support and expertise training.  I was most intrigued with US swimmer Rebecca Soni, two-time Olympic gold champion in the 200M breaststroke, who broke the world record - again.(1) 
Soni is not the typical breaststroke swimmer.  In her interview with NBC, she commented – “I think that each person needs to have individual strokes.  My ideal stroke is smooth and flowing, instead of being like a strength thing.  I’m not as strong as some of my competitors.  I know my kick is not so big and my pull is a little bit different.  My whole focus is on getting the rhythm.

“I’ve been really lucky that I’ve had coaches that are willing to think outside the box and do what works best for my body.”

Her coach Dave Salo stated, “She only has one speed.  We’ve tried in the past to kind of slow things down or lengthen things out a little bit.  She can’t do that.  She starts to sink too much.  She’s got one speed and she picks it up a little bit from there to finish off her race.”(2)

Why did Soni catch my attention?  Because the same things that helped make her an Olympic champion are what helps intellectually gifted students also reach their potential.  Soni had an expert coach who was willing and able to approach her training in an individualized, “out-of-the-box” way.  It made a difference in her growth, in her successfully reaching her potential of being a twice world record holder, a twice gold medalist.

Would Soni have made it as far as she has without her coach?  Would gifted children be able to achieve their potential without someone to mentor them?  It is actually a common misconception in society that gifted students will do fine on their own because they somehow know how to train their own intellect and intense emotions.  If we would never send a star athlete to the Olympics without a coach, why would we not provide our intellectually gifted students with “well-trained teachers who challenge and support them in order to fully develop their abilities?” (3)  

Olympic athlete Gabby Douglas, during her years of training, begged her mother to send her to Iowa to train under Coach Chow.  “My coaches aren’t teaching me anything new,” she said. “I need a higher degree of difficulty.  I need better coaching.  I need to make this dream become real.” (4) 

Gabby’s mother supported her in her choice to train with Coach Chow.  Today we know Gabby Douglas as the “Flying Squirrel,” the 2012 gold medal winner of the women’s gymnastics individual all-around competition.

Gifted children – whether physically or intellectually gifted – need expert mentors and coaches who will treat them as individuals, teach them from an “out-of-the-box” perspective, and guide them into and through the difficult levels that lie ahead.  The gifted need these types of coaches, not just at the beginning of their path, but throughout their journey.   

May there be those in society who are willing and able to support gifted students, to find, teach and nurture the intellectual Olympians that are among us.  To you coaches of the gifted, though you are few, we raise our torches of gratitude to you for recognizing and nurturing the potential in our gifted children.  May there be more who follow your light and who choose to also become mentors to the gifted students in our community.  

Addendum: Resources for the "Coaches" of the Intellectually Gifted -

  1.  NBC Olympic sports website:
  2. NBC television interview with Rebecca Soni and Dave Salo, air date Thursday, August 2, 2012.
  3. Common Gifted Education Myths from the National Association for Gifted Children:
  4.  Raising an Olympian – Gabby Douglas by Proctor & Gamble: