Cha'iel Johnson might be the fastest middle schooler in America.
The 13-year-old track star from Miami, Florida has won three consecutive gold medals at the AAU Junior Olympic Track & Field Championships. Her best event is the 800-meter race, where she's the nation's top-ranked runner in her age group. Some college programs have already provided her with scholarship offers.
In addition to being a track phenom, Cha'iel also happens to be the daughter of former NFL star wide receiver Chad Johnson. But this is not the case of a former pro forcing their offspring to follow in their footsteps—if anything, it's quite the opposite.
"It's too early. Too early. I'm hands off. 'Right now, you are a child, have fun. Once you get to high school, it's different,'"Johnson told STACK at the recent AFFL Pro Training Camp. "I want (her) to be able to enjoy track and do it as a hobby and as something (she) enjoys doing. I don't force her to do it, I don't allow her mom to force her to do it. "There's no reason to be pushing and pulling at this early of an age. Because when the child gets older, they tend to push back. They rebel. 'You forced me to do it when I was young, now I'm older, and I don't want to do it.' So I let her have fun. Once she gets to high school, (then) it's crunch time. If this is something you really wanna do, now it's time to take it serious."
It's a thoughtful answer from the man formerly known as Ochocinco, and a type of thinking that's becoming all too uncommon in a world where youth athletes are pushed harder than ever by overzealous parents. That "push back" Johnson refers to is also known as burnout, which is defined as "exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration." If a youth athlete is forced to treat sports like life or death, the fun can quickly fade away, and in due time, they're likely to walk away from it all together. Johnson's laid-back approach ensures Cha'iel is in it for the right reasons, and it's something many modern sports parents could learn from.