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The Underachiever


They said he was lazy.

He looked sleepy. He performed apathetically. And he was difficult to train.

But before long, a man with a gentle, understanding nature saw the potential that lay dormant within. The man demonstrated that he truly believed in the horse.

The result: Seabiscuit, a useless horse, went on to become the greatest race horse of his time.

Devoted parents

As I viewed the true story Seabiscuit, I was reminded of the many parents who see the potential in their children. They often hear from others how lazy and unmotivated their children are. Yet these parents don't give up, for they see the unseen potential!

What a pleasure we have at Pacific Learning Solutions to meet these parents and to work with their children. So often we are privileged to see a transformation from mediocrity to excellence, a transformation from apathy and discouragement to vibrant interest and optimism.

This past year, 2003, has given me the privilege of meeting and working with awesome students, families, and teachers. I find this deeply fulfillling, for I consider it my mission to use educational techniques to help individuals discover how they can live fulfillling, meaningful lives.

The underachiever

An underachiever is a student without identifiable physical or learning disabilities whose academic performance is significantly lower than their intelligence level. He-or-she can be a student who just makes a passing mark, or gets an "A" or "B" on one exam and then fails another, or has good grades that suddenly drop, or consistently fails to fulfill his-or-her potential.

If a child consistently lacks interest in school, repeatedly fails tests, or frequently produces sloppy work, there is reason for concern. When this occurs, parents or guardians should consider having their child tested to determine his-or-her overall level of intellectual functioning and to eliminate the possibility of a learning disability that could be affecting achievement. However, one should keep in mind that these tests provide only one estimate of a child's potential.

Identifying the reasons for underachievement

In order to identify the reasons for underachievement, watch for relevant patterns of behavior and relevant circumstances, such as the following.

  • Fear of failure. An underachiever may be a perfectionist who feels that their worth is determined by what they produce instead of by who they are, thereby engendering a fear of failure.
  • Sibling rivalry. An underachiever may feel intimidated by a sibling who excels, or they may feel reluctant to outperform a sibling who does not excel.
  • Retaliation. An underachiever may be retaliating at their parents for holding excessively high expectations for their performance.
  • Late blooming. An underachiever may be a late bloomer, taking a long time to decide that doing well in school is something they wish to do for themself, not just for their teachers and parents.
  • Inadequate diet. An underachiever may be suffering from an inadequate diet. Children need plenty of raw fruits and vegetables to provide their body the resources it needs to maintain its energy level while sustaining its growth. A diet of only processed food affects the attention skills of a child, causing him-or-her to lose energy and hence the motivation for sticking to a task.
  • Large class. An underachiever may feel that they can't compete in a large classroom with high achievers. The solution may be a small class in which the teacher has time to provide one-on-one instruction.
  • Family crisis. An underachiever may be subject to grief due to death or divorce. The solution may be to obtain loving assistance in dealing directly with the grief .

Helping a child unlock their potential

Experts say that the single most important factor in academic achievement may be parental influence, which can take the following forms.

  • Belief in your child's abilities
  • Frequent and open communication with your child
  • Parenting techniques that are neither overly permissive nor authoritarian
  • Respecting and listening to your child's concerns
  • Giving a clear message that doing well in school is important, without nagging the student if he-or-she does poorly
  • Providing training to enhance motivation for learning


As the devotion of his trainer motivated Seabiscuit to work hard to realize his potential, so the devotion of caring parents may motivate a child to take confidence in their ability and strive to do well. So I encourage parents to believe in your child and do what you can to engender their optimism and their self-confidence. Through such influence, a child may be motivated to unlock their potential, and, in particular, an underachieving child may be motivated to rise from mediocrity to excellence.

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