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The Secret To Success for Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson

There is an assumption by many youth sports parents that laser-focused specialization is the only way to launch a stellar athletic career for their son or daughter. With so many hours dedicated to practices, training, and competition, other childhood activities get crowded out. Somehow, though, the two quarterbacks in this weekend’s Super Bowl rose to the pinnacle of their sport despite parents who stressed a normal family life with education as a priority.

Long before he won the starting quarterback position for the Seattle Seahawks, Russell Wilson learned how to use his natural leadership abilities to get the best for himself as well as others.  In his early school days, “They’d have a game or something they’d be playing and Russell would sit in the rocking chair and the other kids would be on the floor and he’d kind of run the game,” says Russell’s mom, Tammy Wilson, in a recent interview.

In high school, he learned quickly how important education was in his family. If he was struggling in a subject, he would seek out smarter classmates and trade athletic tips and tricks for tutoring.  He used his sports skills and his good grades to get into Collegiate School, an elite preparatory school in Richmond, Virginia. One thing was clear; he was there for education first. Charlie McFall, Wilson’s football coach at Collegiate, remembers a conversation with Harrison Wilson, Russell’s dad, he said, “Let me tell you something: I didn’t put Russell in Collegiate for sports, I put Russell in Collegiate to get the best education he could get.”

Because of the strict focus on being a complete person, winning a Super Bowl may just be the next chapter of Wilson’s accomplishments. “He could run for governor in North Carolina, Wisconsin or Washington and win,” said Harry Wilson, Russell’s brother.


While everyone knows about Peyton Manning, quarterback of the Denver Broncos and his younger brother, Eli, quarterback of the New York Giants, not many know that their older brother Cooper could have been the third Manning in the NFL. An all-state high school wide receiver, Cooper caught passes as a senior from his sophomore brother Peyton, before a rare spinal condition forced him out of the family sport.

However, Archie and Olivia Manning never pushed their sons into football or any sport for that matter. Having lost his own dad when he was a 19-year-old quarterback at Ole Miss, Archie was determined to be a supportive father. Even with his own experience as an NFL player, Archie is convinced that all of the success that Peyton and Eli, as well as Cooper, have enjoyed has just been a byproduct of a close family.

“We just tried to raise kids,” said Archie Manning in the ESPN film, The Book of Manning. “We tried to raise good kids and have a good family. I don’t like the perception that it was a plan. You know that I was an NFL quarterback for a while and then I’ve got these boys, I’m going to mold them into being NFL quarterbacks. Not so. You can do that and they might be an NFL quarterback, but I’m not sure you’re going to have a great father-son relationship. That’s what I wanted.”

Not two football families, but two strong families who happen to enjoy football.  Just as easily, they could have excelled in music, astronomy, entrepreneurship or any other activity.  The secret is providing a solid foundation for kids to explore their interests, knowing that their parents’ only goal is for them to be happy.


Dan Peterson is exploring the intersection of sports skill development and cognitive science at Sports Are 80 Percent Mental.  Studying how the brain learns and adapts to the physical and emotional demands of sports, he has authored over 250 science-based articles for parents and coaches trying to understand their young athletes. 

Photo credits:  Russell Wilson via Wikimedia Commons, Photo by Larry Maurer
Peyton Manning via Wikimedia Commons, Photo by Jeffrey Beall



Without Passion, Kids Struggle


When we examine the essence of what Thrively is about, it boils down to passion. We help kids discover and pursue their passion in life. Understanding core strengths and connecting children with the right activities based on those strengths are a means to the end. As part of our constant self-examination, we look for research on happiness and success, in search of that secret ingredient to a thriving child.

Shawn Achor spent eight years living in the Harvard dorms studying that link between happiness and success. His research turned a fundamental assumption on its head. Society has longed believed that if you work harder, you will be more successful, and then you will be happy.  Shawn’s research found that to be reversed. He found that we are far more productive, 31% more in fact, when we are happy. So happiness leads to more efficient work, and thus to success. Not the other way around!

We also came across a study that may be more intuitive: that perceived ability is the only reliable indicator of continued participation in activities. In other words, if you believe you’re good at something, you’re more likely to stick with it. This is where a firm understanding of the core strengths of a child can help us provide critical guidance.

Obviously, there are no silver bullets to the challenges of growing up, but research clearly shows that when you find someone who has discovered their passion and has been given the freedom and encouragement to fully pursue it, they will feel a strong measure of self-respect, confidence, and determination to succeed.  And that’s why passion has such an important role to play for Thrively and for all of the families we serve.

Discover Your Child's Strengths


Watch this young boy turn nothing into something amazing!

This is a story that has gotten incredible mileage on YouTube, and for good reason. It is the ultimate illustration of how passion is contagious. When you watch Caine, you can’t help but think of the potential of a world where this kind of creativity and imagination is nurtured and celebrated everywhere, and even integrated as part of our core educational culture. Caine’s strength is his irrepressible imagination and his raw determination to see his vision through.

Another important notion that Caine’s pursuit drives home is that anything is possible, as long as there is passion driving it. It’s a cliché that we rarely get to see exemplified in real life, but there were multiple transformations in this story that we didn’t see coming:

  • First, the transformation of a seemingly bored but patient kid into an ambitious creator and true entrepreneurial dreamer – he clearly believed he was building something important, even if he had almost nothing to build it with!
  • Second, the transformation of pile of cardboard into a collection of make-shift arcade games.
  • Third, the transformation of a group of simple cardboard games with very limited objective pizzazz or anything resembling professional finish into an absolutely inspirational arcade with lines of paying customers around the block, a video with millions of fans, and a college scholarship fund in the six figures!

What sort of things have your children created with ordinary everyday stuff?