Children who excel in many fieldsYoung children who solve advanced mathematical problems, play classical musical instruments or memorize difficult vocabularies are not the only ones who are “geniuses” ― so are those who are good at sports, cooking or other endeavors. If they are happy doing what they are good at and make other people happy, they are child prodigies of our time.
Many parents often push their children to succeed in academics, but there are children who excel in their own domain instead. What counts is the role of parents in finding and developing that talent.
At 10, she’s called ‘the world’s best golf genius’
Ten-year-old golfer Yang Ja-ryeong was six when she took up the sport. It was funny to watch her swing a driver as tall as she was. She just casually followed her father to driving ranges.
One year after she started playing, she took part in an official junior competition. She hit 92 shots, and won the game by over 20 shots. Now the world is watching Ja-ryeong, also known as Julie Yang.
Yang currently lives in Thailand, where the local media have praised her as “the world’s best golf genius.” Yang has been playing for only three years, but she has already won 28 junior and adult championships.
Last year, she won the Junior World Masters Championship in Malaysia, and she was invited to participate in 11 junior championships in the United States this year. Yang is already being compared to teenage golfer Michelle Wie.
Yang stands only 1.39 meters (4 feet, 6 inches) tall and weights 39 kilograms (86 pounds), but her driving distance is longer than 200 yards. It is astonishing to watch her swing, which is so powerful. Her parents are also amazed at how well she plays because there is no other athlete in her family.
She is also doing well in school. As a primary school student, she has been at the top in academic achievement. She speaks Korean, English and Thai fluently. Her golf practice lasts only an hour a day, and she spends the rest of the time like other children ― reading, playing and doing homework.
“I feel grateful to have discovered her talent when she was young,” said her father, Yang Gil-su, 44. “We only discovered it by chance, and if we hadn’t, we would have pushed her to study like other parents.
“We hope she becomes a world-class player, but we are not going to force her. When she grows older, she may follow another path,” he said.
A nine-year-old investment ‘prodigy’
A rate of return of 760 percent sounds like something that can be achieved only by the best fund managers, but there is a nine-year-old child “genius” who has done just that. Lee Gu-beom started with 1.5 million won ($1,470) when he was six and increased that to 12 million won last year.
He now owns only 50 shares of an Internet portal company. He bought the shares at 92,000 won per share three months ago, and has no plans to sell them until the stock price reaches 140,000 won. The shares are at 90,000 won now, but he is not worried.
Asked whether he should sell the stock before the price drops further, Gu-beom said, “I heard that economic growth is underway. The price will rise.”
Of course, Gu-beom got a little help from his father, Lee Seon-mu, 39, an investment specialist. While working for a bank in the late 1990s, Mr. Lee taught himself about stock investing and succeeded in making a fortune. He quit his job and now gives investment lectures.
He has also written a book titled “I Made 150 Million Won and Retired at the Age of 35.”
Gu-beom, like his father, enjoys making money. Unlike his seven-year-old brother, Gu-beom saved his money.
He received a couple of rabbits when he was five. They had offspring, and he sold the young rabbits in the market.
He also sold rings that were given to him on his first birthday and the 100th day following his birth, which provided his initial investment stake.
In selecting an investment portfolio, Gu-beom relies heavily on his father, but he decides when to sell an investment. He reads economic newspapers, although he does not understand very much. He even went to the shareholders’ meeting of a company whose stock he bought.
Last year, Gu-beom published a book titled “I Am Going to Be Happily Rich.” The book is not about being happy by having a lot of money, but about making enough money through investing. Gu-beom’s initial goal is save enough money to travel around the world.
“I will try to save money and take my brother to the United States,” Gu-beom said.
For a 13-year-old, magic means everything in life
Thirteen-year-old Hong Jin-seok’s mother tried to dissuade her son when he said he wanted to become a magician. She thought he would lose interest one day and give up on it ― she thought it was a short-term pursuit.
Later on, she cried as she watched her son, a primary school student, perform passionately in front of thousands of people. She felt her instincts were telling her that it was his destiny, although he was only a child.
The child magician “genius” competed at the Lotte World Magic Festival last year as a primary school pupil. Hong was the youngest person among the amateurs and professionals who took part in the event. He had passed the qualifying rounds and entered the main competition, winning a special award.
“Jin-seok demonstrated highly advanced techniques with such small hands,” said Kim Jun-oh, the coach for the Alexander Magic Family. “He would have no problem turning pro right now.”
Jin-seok discovered magic when he was in his third year of primary school. “An older boy living nearby showed me card tricks. It was amazing,” Jin-seok said. “After that, I began to search magic sites on the Internet.”
He taught himself all the skills. His mother, Kim Hye-sun, 43, was an English teacher and did not want her son immersed in magic, but she tried to console herself by telling herself “it might help him study English.”
His genius is evident in the props he uses for magic. Most young magicians perhaps shop around in specialty stores once they fall in love with magic, but he created the props using his imagination.
“I often stayed up until two or three [in the morning], not to practice but to make props,” Jin-seok said.
He is a good student as well. When he was in his sixth year, he was class president.
Jin-seok said to his mother, “Please support me,” and “There is nothing but this in my life,” so she finally acceded to his wishes and became a full-time sponsor.
Asked about his aspirations, he did not say, “I want to become a magician like David Copperfield,” but instead he replied, “There is no limit in magic. I will try to have my own magic world for my whole life.
“Most of all, Korea is behind magic powerhouses like the United States or China. It is more urgent than anything else to improve the situation for magicians.”
A 14-year-old finds billiards the most fun
Is there anything more interesting than computer games for children? For Lee Kang, a 14-year-old professional billiards player, the answer is yes.
“[The two activities] are not comparable. Playing pool is much more fun. Concentrating on playing, I forget about eating,” Kang said.
He is not hesitant about preferring billiards to anything else, and he is a pool “genius.” Kang looks like any other adolescent of 14, but he is already a professional, registered with the Korea Billiards Federation as a pocket ball player. To turn pro, one needs recommendations from five pro players.
There are 50 pro billiards players in Korea. Kang became a pro at the end of last year, the youngest one in the country.
The importance of early education is applicable here, too. Kang was exposed to billiards when he was only six. His father Lee Man-jun, 47, who owns an electronics store, bought a pool hall at that time, and his mother, Jo Sun-nam, 42, ran the business during the day. Kang and his elder brother happened to start playing with the balls.
He continued to play with the balls until he got his hands on the cues when he was in his fourth year of primary school. First, he imitated his cousins. After playing with the balls for a long time and perhaps learning the basics, he soon exhibited an exceptional talent in actual billiards. In only six months, he was able to score 120 points in the game of four balls. The progress was very quick, even for an adult.
Kang’s father discovered his talent and took him to a professional billiards school. Here, Kang met former national billiard player Kim Hong-gyun, 38.
“I was surprised that he mastered the basics at such a young age,” said Mr. Kim, who has taught Kang for the last three years.
In the meantime, Kang’s score rose to 500 points and he began playing pocket ball. He was at the same level as his teacher.
During the school season, he trains for more than five hours a day, and there is not much time left for studying. He just does homework. His grades put him in the middle of his class. But Kang has something he is good at and has a purpose, so he is proud.
“I am happy to do what I am good at and want to do it for life,” Kang said. “Watch me. I will be the world champion.”
by Chung Jeh-won, Choi Min-woo, Namkoong Wook
More in Features
Kakao TV launches this month, takes on Netflix
[TURNING 20] In a sea of hate, change flourishes
Criticism of sex ed books for kids raises more questions than answers
When it comes to sex ed, this Danish author says just talk about it
The traveling grandma who's 'alive and kicking it'