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Paul Tough: Kids Want Challenges and Connection

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This PCA 1-on-1 interview features Paul Tough (@paultough) the author of Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why. His previous book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, was translated into 27 languages and spent more than a year on The New York Times hardcover and paperback best-seller lists.

PCA Founder Jim Thompson (@JimThompson18) met Paul at a conference put on by the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation in July. In this podcast, Tough discusses two different "toolboxes" that help children succeed: the connection toolbox and the challenge toolbox.

The connection toolbox is one of warmth and empathy. According to Tough, motivation is often not centered on achievement, but by a desire for “connectedness” with a group, which coaches often can facilitate for their youth athletes.

Although warmth and connection are important, it is equally important that kids are given appropriate challenges to overcome, as it is incredibly motivating for kids to see themselves improve. Tough calls this the challenge toolbox and urges coaches to give specific demands and direction to help athletes improve after inevitable mistakes and failures. Tough sees both toolboxes working effectively in tandem.

Other highlights of the podcast include:

  • Being connected to a group and seeing yourself getting better at something are universally motivating for kids.

  • When adults change their behavior and use these two toolboxes, it can have a profound positive impact on the mental or emotional state of a kid.

  • When adults use these two toolboxes, it not only benefits the kid, but it also improves the adults' relationship with the kid, whether parent or coach. Tough calls this the "virtuous cycle."

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