A Growth Mindset can help you be the best
For anyone involved in sport, as an athlete, coach, commentator or fan, the concept of talent is almost always the defining character that we look for. Of course that is a hugely important trait, but it doesn’t tell us what makes the difference between winning and losing when two athletes of similar talent compete, or why somebody with less talent might come out on top.
The answer often lies in the mental approach of athletes. Success is not just about physical attributes but the desire of an athlete to win, and also to open their mind to improving their skills, dealing with mistakes and not fearing failure. Too often the belief was that an athlete simply needed to be a natural talent and this would be enough to fulfil their potential. However, it has become abundantly clear that mindset in sport plays a significant role. This notion that the mindset of an athlete can prove to be a major factor in success was developed from the work of Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, in Mindset: The New Psychology of Success which looks at the power of our mental attitude and how even making the most basic alterations can have a profound effect on our lives.
Maria Popova sums up the findings in ‘Fixed vs. Growth: The Two Basic Mindsets That Shape Our Lives’ as follows:
A “fixed mindset” assumes that our character, intelligence, and creative ability are static givens which we can’t change in any meaningful way, and success is the affirmation of that inherent intelligence, an assessment of how those givens measure up against an equally fixed standard; striving for success and avoiding failure at all costs become a way of maintaining the sense of being smart or skilled. A “growth mindset,” on the other hand, thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities. Out of these two mindsets, which we manifest from a very early age, springs a great deal of our behavior, our relationship with success and failure in both professional and personal contexts, and ultimately our capacity for happiness.
Value of mindset in sport
Many analysts have applied these concepts to the sporting field, including Sue Shapcott who argues a vital starting point for success in life and sport is having a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset. She states
Mindset is your view of how you perceive ability. This perception affects how you handle mistakes and criticism as well as how you might perceive challenges
Kelly Gray, a former American soccer player, is another who supports the belief in the importance of growth over fixed mindset and draws on his own experiences as an athlete when he discovered that values of a positive mental approach.
I believed that if I worked harder than everyone else, I would be able to make myself a much better player regardless of the natural talent anyone had. I believed that I could make myself better
In essence, an athlete with a fixed mindset believes that their skills cannot be changed and drawbacks can be summed up as follows:
- Avoids challenges due to fear of failure
- Believes skill is something you are born with
- Gives up easily
- Effort is seen as unnecessary
- Gets frustrated or ignores feedback or criticism
- Feels threatened by the success of others
- Feels perseverance will not be any benefit
It is accepted that a growth mindset opens up an athlete to the possibility of improving as they are not afraid of making mistakes. A growth mindset helps an athlete to:-
- Believe skills are fine-tuned from hard work
- Embrace challenge
- Strive to improve
- Take inspiration from other athletes
- Seek feedback/criticism to improve
- Believe that setbacks help you learn
In comparing the two concepts Sue Shapcott points out
A person who exhibits a growth mindset tends to be hard working and is consistently looking to learn. This leads to a calmer, more open-minded athlete who is more easily coached. In contrast, a person who has a fixed mindset tends to be more emotional and is constantly trying to regulate his or herself.
Growth Mindset in action
There are many examples of athletes who have improved and achieved success by adopting a growth mindset. For example, Lisa Trei reveals that in ‘Fixed versus growth intelligence mindsets: It’s all in your head, Dweck says’, Ross Bentley, the famous car racing coach in Seattle, observed the benefits of the right mental approach when he said that
great drivers attempt to reach a state of flow— a moment when you lose yourself in the act of driving, when it becomes effortless and time slows down. When you get into the flow, or the zone, you’re at your peak.
Carol Dweck reminds us of the plight of Billy Beane who was unable to realize his talent as he failed to break from the fixed mindset. He illustrated the point that his exceptional talent alone was not enough, and he struggled with the increased challenges as he attempted to break into big time baseball. According to Dweck, his experience shows how an athlete can be suffocated by the pitfalls of a fixed mindset.
Natural talent should not need effort. Effort is for the others, the less endowed. Natural talent does not ask for help. It is an admission of weakness. In short, the natural does not analyze his deficiencies and coach or practice them away. The very idea of deficiencies is terrifying
Dweck also refers to the moment Billy Jean King realized that hard work was needed to complement her talent if she wanted to reach the top. Despite playing at a very high standard against the formidable Margaret Smith on one occasion, King was somewhat perplexed at losing the match, but the defeat taught her the value of hard work.
All at once, she understood what a champion was. Someone who could raise their level of play when they needed to. When the match is on the line, they suddenly ‘get around three times tougher”
Perhaps one of the best examples is that of soccer player, Mia Hamm, who was asked what she thought was the most important attribute for a player to have. Her answer was simply “mental toughness”, which prompted Dweck to conclude:
And she doesn’t mean some innate trait. When eleven players want to knock you down, when you’re tired or injured, when the referees are against you, you can’t let any of it affect your focus. How do you do that? You have to learn how.
Lessons for coaches
The value of a growth mindset should be embraced by coaches, particularly in relation to younger athletes in order to allow them to be open to improvement, work hard and to learn from failure. It is often said that the best athletes are the ones who have made the most mistakes. Making mistakes is a natural part of growth. In some youth environments an over emphasis on winning at all costs can often send the wrong message to young athletes and they will often find themselves risk-averse and playing safe in order to avoid mistakes. An athlete needs to learn to take chances, to see what works and what doesn’t work.
The hand you are dealt is just the starting point for development — Carol Dweck
What is Metrifit?
If you fail to prepare, you’ve prepared to fail – Mark Spitz
Metrifit’s athlete performance monitoring and management software assists athletes in their drive to stay competition ready. The sophisticated analytics together with the intuitive interface delivers the data and insights you need to keep your body and mind disciplined and trained to optimal levels.
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Metrifit’s approach not only covers the physical requirements of a particular sport but also helps the coach derive the benefits of other factors that have a significant influence on an athlete’s well-being: training, body, nutrition, mind, and sleep. Daily wellness questionnaires and Session RPE are just some of the modules included. Metrifit’s lifestyle profiling is scientifically supported and offers a practical way to assess and improve lifestyle strategy for your team. In this short video, we explain how Metrifit works for both the athlete and the coach.
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