Sports Psychology & Good Coaching: How Successful Athletes Embrace ‘The Growth Mindset’
Consider this question: In your sport, what percentage of success is derived through natural talent and how much is developed through training or skill development?
Good question, right?
Now ask yourself, what balance of talent and training or skill development do you possess?
Natural Talent, ____%. Skill Development & Training, ____%.
Chances are, this series of questions reveals a lot about your personal mindset and how you believe you can achieve success in sport, and life.
Athletes that believe that a skill can be developed and honed through consistent training, evaluation, and practice exhibit what is called a ‘Growth Mindset’.
Conversely, Athletes that subscribe to the idea that talent is the chief determinant of success and see their skill-set as a fixed-asset, exhibit what is called a ‘Fixed Mindset’.
The Growth Mindset is a fairly new topic of study in psychology, one that has been finding a particularly powerful position within the athletic community.
This novel approach reflects a sizable departure from the status-quo in the way Athletes view themselves and how they judge successes and failures.
The main tenant of the Growth Mindset is that every training session, performance, or experience, represents an opportunity for growth and development.
Utilization of the Growth Mindset focuses on creating learning opportunities out of each training session, performance, or experience. Here, Coach Joy uses a rainy day to test equipment and develop her mental toughness. Photo Credit: Nick Kova.
The Growth Mindset Defined
By definition, a Growth Mindset is possessing the belief or understanding that any talent, ability, aptitude, or characteristic that one possess can be developed through practice, dedication, and hard-work, in order to produce better results.
This mindset is applicable to many aspects of our lives and is particularly useful to help create successful outcomes in school, sport, work, and even personal relationships.
An Athlete that exhibits a Growth Mindset will look at every training session, performance, or experience, in a way that assesses their execution of strategy and evaluates their performance.
In essence, these Athletes ask themselves, "what can I learn from today."
This evaluation is done in an effort to improve future events and performances.
Simply put, for an Athlete with the Growth Mindset, every participation offers the opportunity to get better at their craft.
Tallying wins is simply a secondary benefit of the growth process.
The Fixed Mindset: A Dangerous Dance Partner
To exhibit a ‘Fixed Mindset’ is to believe that your basic qualities such as talent, aptitude, intelligence, or characteristics are traits that are static or ‘fixed’.
An Athlete that relies on a Fixed Mindset will likely shy away from events or situations where there is a significant risk of failure.
That is to say that such an Athlete relies heavily on their talent and ability to achieve sporting success.
The danger with the reliance on the Fixed Mindset is that it discourages growth and limits opportunity.
That is not to imply that the Fixed Mindset is inherently bad, rather it is that the ‘real world’ is such a dynamic and changing place, that long-term success, in life and in sport, requires the use of a Growth Mindset.
An unfortunate side-effect that comes from the Fixed Mindset is illustrated in this simple idea: winning is winning, and thus ‘not winning’ equals losing.
The logical deduction from this statement is that if one is not a winner, they must be a loser. This is dangerous to our self-image across all aspects of our life, not just our athlete-selves.
The Fixed Mindset In Practice: Courtesy Of Hollywood Satire
To put a comical spin on this type of mindset, consider the movie Talladega Nights, a film where the main character, NASCAR Superstar Ricky Bobby (played by Will Farrell), is driven by a simple racing strategy:
“If you ain’t first, you’re last!”
The movie is hilarious and satirical because as the plot develops, Ricky Bobby learns that his ‘if you ain’t first, you’re last’ mentality is holding him back from regaining past greatness, following a dramatic racing crash.
It is only when Ricky Bobby confronts his no-good, drunken, father, that Bobby is enlightened to his plight. In the movie, the exchange goes like this:
Ricky Bobby: “Dad, you always told me, if you ain’t first, you’re last!”
Father Bobby: “That doesn’t make any sense at all, Son... You can be second, third, fourth…hell you can even be fifth!”
It is that moment when Ricky Bobby breaks his slump, dumps his Fixed Mindset, and embraces the Growth Mindset.
Thus, all is right in the NASCAR racing community as their champion, Ricky Bobby, returns to achieve new levels of dominance.
A comparison diagram of the Growth and Fixed Mindsets. Take special notice of the final results for each mindset. Courtesy of Nigel Holmes.
Why Endurance Sport Necessitates The Growth Mindset:
On a serious note, cycling, running, and triathlon are three difficult and challenging sports. Each takes significant investment in time and effort to become competitive.
Moreover, each of these sports are unique in comparison to traditional ‘stick and ball’ sports for the number of competitors competing in a single event.
In baseball, football, soccer, hockey, tennis, and most other sporting contests there are only two competitors or teams vying for victory at one time.
Simply put, on any given Sunday a Little League baseball player, NFL superstar, Rugby champion, or charity soccer match offers participants a 50/50 chance of winning.
This is not the case for MTB racers, Runners, Road Cyclists, Triathletes, and other Endurance Athletes. Most often they are competing against groups as little as five or as many as a couple of hundred at national level competitions.
As a competitor or participant in Endurance Sport, you must learn to embrace every event or training session as an opportunity to grow and develop your skill and fitness.
In reality, if winning is all that matters, who in their right-mind, would sign-up for an event that offers a 1-in-20 or 1-in-100 chance of winning?
That is insane, but is a great example of a Fixed Mindset at work.
Three Ways To Embrace The Growth Mindset:
#1-Adjust your perspective to look at training and competition as an opportunity to learn. Growth and development happen when we learn from our experiences. An Athlete with the Growth Mindset embraces learning in every situation.
#2-Instead of focusing on wins and loses, embrace the work and effort required to achieve better results. Focused effort is the more accurate judge of success than winning or losing.
#3-When faced with adversity or setbacks, embrace your mistakes and evaluate what led to them. Then develop and implement a plan to eliminate or minimize mistakes in future events or practices.
The Growth Mindset is applicable to athletic endeavors and many other aspects of our life. Here, psychologist and Growth Mindset pioneer, Carol Dweck, explains her perspective on the Growth Mindset. Photo Credit: Carol Dweck
Coaching & The Growth Mindset:
The benefit of using a Growth Mindset does not reside only with our Athlete-selves.
The promise of growth, development, and greater opportunity to achieve meaningful goals, is supported through good coaching as well.
At Big Wheel Coaching, our coaching-methodology is not based on winning or losing. Sure, we enjoy tallying wins for our Athletes, but the real value in the Athlete/Coach relationship is having a Coach that can ask good questions and develop relevant training strategies for improvement.
This evaluation and feedback helps the Athlete assess their performance in a way that spurs unbridled growth and development.
This is of particular importance and value in Endurance Sport because strategy and tactics are of equal importance to achieving success as is the physical prowess gained from training.
It is through a solid Athlete/Coach relationship that we can challenge, test, and evaluate, Athletes of all abilities, in order to see their ability and skill-set grow.
By embracing the Growth Mindset as Athletes and Coaches, we can see incredible gains and find reward in each experience, something that the Fixed Mindset cannot do.
Simply put, the Growth Mindset is the key to unlocking the potential of any Athlete, student or business-person, regardless of how much talent they may or may not possess in their field of endeavor.
For more information about the Growth Mindset we suggest the following references:
"Mindset: The New Psychology of Success" A Book By Carol Dweck
The Mindset of A Champion, An Article By Carol Dweck: http://www.sportscotland.org.uk/media/894520/the-mindset-of-a-champion-by-carol-dweck.pdf
The Power of Belief: Mindset & Success, A TedTalk By Eduardo Briceno: https://youtu.be/pN34FNbOKXc
Until Next Time, Be Safe, Train Hard, & Have Fun!
-Brian and Joy McCulloch
Big Wheel Coaching
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