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23 Apr 2018 660
Talent and Performance Developing Mindsets

Are You Helping Your Athletes Be the Best They Can Be?

A growth mindset can encourage athletes to develop beyond their current levels of performance. It is important for coaches across all sports to understand how a growth mindset can be implemented, and the impact it can have on athletes

What do you believe about intelligence, personality, skills and abilities? Do you believe they are gifts, something we are born with a certain amount of, or do you believe that they can change and develop? Carol Dweck, Stanford Professor of Psychology has spent decades researching achievement and success. She identified two mindsets, ‘fixed’ and ‘growth’. Our mindset affects the way we interact with and make sense of the world, and how motivated we are to learn new things.

In a ‘fixed’ mindset people believe that abilities, intelligence and talents are fixed traits – in other words, that you have a certain amount of ability and that you can’t do much to change or improve upon that.

In a ‘growth’ mindset people believe that, with practice, dedication and hard work, abilities can be developed. This view creates a love of learning and resilience leading to personal challenges and a greater likelihood of a person being their very best.

Growth mindsets can be taught and create motivation and productivity across many contexts, such as education, sport and business. It has been shown to enhance relationships and increase achievement.

The behaviours that come from the two different mindsets will show how having a growth mindset can help people go beyond their current levels of performance and achieve their potential.

Growth mindset

In a growth mindset, with the belief that your abilities can improve, you will:

  • Focus on learning and improvement;
  • Take yourself outside of your comfort zone to challenge yourself;
  • See mistakes and failure as learning opportunities and seek feedback on what you can do to improve;
  • Look to the success of other people to see what you can learn from them;
  • Be motivated to apply maximum effort in your learning and personal improvement because you believe you can get better;
  • Take responsibility for your learning and set goals and challenges in relation to your own personal best, rather than comparing yourself to others;
  • Focus on the process of achieving your goals.

Fixed mindset

In a fixed mindset, with the belief that your qualities and attributes are pretty much fixed, you will:

  • Focus on proving your abilities or hiding deficiencies to others;
  • Be fearful of challenging tasks as your identity is ‘wrapped up’ in constantly proving your ability and with challenge comes the risk of failure;
  • View failure personally;
  • Be jealous of the success of others;
  • Regard having to put in effort as evidence of a lack of ability, therefore apply little effort in order to look ‘good’;
  • Can become helpless when things go wrong and are likely to blame external factors rather than taking responsibility;
  • Focus on the outcome, over which you have limited control, rather than the process.

Some common misconceptions

There are a couple of common misconceptions about the mindsets:

  • Misconception #1. Some see it as black and white that people have a growth mindset or a fixed mindset. In reality no-one has either one or the other completely. We are all likely to hold fixed beliefs about some things and a growth mindset about others. The power of understanding the mindsets is helping people discover where they hold different beliefs. Mindset is a continuum along which our beliefs can change at different points in our life.
  • Misconception #2. Is the notion that growth mindset is about anyone being able to do or be anything. This is not the message. It is about people achieving their personal best, whatever that may be, in whatever area of their life they choose to do it.  Being a better you.

I first became interested in Carol Dweck’s work through the ECB Level 4 process as I found it hard to understand why so many highly skilled young cricketers were struggling to make the transition from Guernsey to county age group cricket.

When I read the work of Carol Dweck it resonated massively with me and for the first time provided an explanation about what was happening with some of our young players.

They had a fixed mindset about many about aspects of themselves as cricketers. Then came the challenge of working out what I could actually do about helping them.

What I’ve seen in many situations is that gaining an understanding of mindsets is relatively easy, however the application into practice was more challenging.

Carol Dweck now talks about something called the ‘False Growth Mindset’ where people profess to have a growth mindset but there are still aspects of their behaviour or the processes in their environment that contradict the growth mindset message.

For example, a coach may say that they value the process of learning above winning, however their behavioural responses (coach behaviours, coaching practice and session objectives) to winning or losing contradict this.

Applying a growth mindset in practice

Throughout the years that Rachel and I have worked on developing growth mindset we have heard many people say, “I understand the theory but what can I do other than praise people for their efforts by saying, "Well done you tried really hard?”

When thinking about the language of praise, focusing on the process is the key to developing growth mindsets in players.

As well as effort; bringing attention to the strategies used, the perseverance, determination, and learning from mistakes and progress made by athletes provides a growth mindset framework in which a coach can give feedback and provide recognition of these qualities.

There are probably many things that coaches already do that build a growth mindset beyond praising efforts but coaches may not have had the chance to examine their practice through a growth mindset lens. After all, people had growth mindsets before the term growth mindset was coined.

Applying growth mindset is about considering everything we do and constantly asking ourselves the question; “Is what I am doing, or saying sending a message that someone either, ‘has it’ or ‘doesn’t have it’. Am I communicating that somehow where someone is now is a predictor of his or her potential?”

Ideally, we want to ensure that the focus of what we say and do gives people a snapshot of where they are in time, is not necessarily a predictor of future success and helps them to see a process to follow in order to allow them to fulfil their dreams.

As a coach, here are a number of things you can consider to enhance your coaching practice:

  • Within the process of identification and selection of individuals and teams. Selection is an aspect of sport that is dealt with frequently. What messages get conveyed to players? Is there a policy for selecting teams? Is this explicit? Clear? Communicated? Accessible? Is this policy about performance or development? If it’s about performance, what message is sent as to why someone isn’t selected? Is it that they are not good enough or is it saying that at this point in time they are at a certain level but need to be at a different level and then lays out the support and opportunities available to help them get there? Think about what messages are currently sent in regard to selection.
  • John Wooden defined success as, “Peace of mind is knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.” Use the notion of personal best, be it in training or in performance. Celebrating Personal Bests above celebrating outcomes of competitions will encourage more growth mindset behaviours from those you work with. Competition is important, but be aware of what you get competitive about and when.
  • Learn to love and embrace the word ‘yet’. Whenever you hear the words, “I can’t do it…” add the word “yet”.

Related Resources

  • How Coaches Can Learn from Psychology to Analyse the Self

  • Self-Analysis and Feedback Questions

  • Behaviour Change: Understanding Motivations


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