The ‘Earn the Right’ Principle

For parents, the instinct to provide our children with ‘every available opportunity’, while admirable, may inadvertently be impeding their desire to achieve.

Think of this desire to achieve as a thirst. And as soon as that thirst is quenched, so is the desire.

This is captured in the oft-used quote in athlete development circles:

The easiest way to ensure a young athlete never makes it is to make them feel like they already have.

In over 15 years over of working with young athletes, I have seen this too many times.

Coaches are not blameless either.

In an effort to appear ‘professional’ we over-cater, we pamper, we end up softening those aspirations.

One way to prevent this from happening is to adopt the ‘Earn the Right’ principle.

This principle ensures the athlete only receives that which they have worked for.

In other words, they work for it first and receive it second.

Below are some common examples of the Earn the Right principle in practice.


Almost every teenage boy, with a slight interest in physical fitness, wants to take supplements.

Many times they are researching what products they want and pressuring parents to buy them before they have trained more than a handful of times.

My athletes still have to ‘earn the right’ to use them.

The first thing to understand is that the first few months, even years, of training will garner improvements with or without supplements.

For athletes over the age of fifteen my ‘earn the right’ principle is that they must adhere to the following:

  • Get your diet sorted first
  • At least forty weeks of two times week training per year for two years. (This is in addition to the sport they are training for)
  • No fast food for at least two months prior to buying the supplements
  • Eat fast food and they are off the supplements

Private (or extra) training

Some kids want to have some personal training or extra coaching and it may seem like a good idea to give it to them.

If they are paying for it then that is fine.

If you’re paying for it then I suggest they ‘Earn the Right’ by:

  • Training and practicing by themselves (research suggests that athletes that ‘make it’ spend twice as much time training without a coach than those who don’t ‘make it)
  • Researching (think: Google, YouTube, etc.) how to improve on their own
  • Hanging out with older and more experienced athletes in an effort to learn as much as possible

The above-mentioned actions demonstrate that the young athlete is craving more, and not just because ‘mum and dad are paying for it’ but because it is their deep-seated desire to progress.

New equipment

It’d be naive to suggest that young athletes do not suffer from envy.

This can be particularly true in sport where equipment is expensive and there is a definite hierarchy in name brands.

However, at the developmental level, rarely is equipment a factor in improvement.

Dedicated practice, total engagement, owning their training and the ability to ‘hang in there’ are far greater factors.

So in the case of wanting new equipment, they need to be showing definite actions of maximising the preceding four characteristics before an upgrade in equipment is even mentioned.

Take Homes…

While we may want to help every step of the way, it is better for our kids and athletes if we apply the ‘Earn the Right’ principle.

In closing, please note that not one of the ‘Earn the Right’ suggestions is performance related.

Nowhere was it suggested that winning a race, or getting onto the podium, or beating a particular athlete had ‘earned the right’.

Rather, each suggestion was about the process, something they kid or athlete could control themselves.

Earn the right via process not performance.

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