I remember the first time my daughter got cut from the new club soccer team they started in our town when she was in fourth grade. All her friends made the team, but she made alternate, which meant she could practice with team, but wouldn’t play in games. That wasn’t going to work for her; she wouldn’t thrive on a team that made her feel inferior.
It was the first time I saw her heart break and it was hard for me as a parent. Her town coach was also the new club team coach, and when we declined the alternate spot to take a spot on different club soccer team, he called. He was upset to know that my daughter was heartbroken so he offered to talk to her. They talked and she said, “You don’t think I’m a good player.”
Her brave statement would serve to motivate her in the future and also demonstrate that her self-worth wasn’t affected. She didn’t think she wasn’t good enough to make the team. She thought the coach made a mistake in not picking her.
Growth mindset is exactly that: it’s not genetics that makes a good player, it’s hard work. And she this setback motivated her to put in the work over the next few years to improve. She went on to practice seven days a week until she finally made the top team of her club team.
Teaching Growth Mindset Through Sports
Growth Mindset in sports focuses on development rather than outcomes.
Fixed Mindset versus Growth Mindset
Research on Growth Mindset found that the kind of feedback teachers give results in kids either seeking out challenges or taking the easy way out. Feedback telling kids that they are smart encourages a Fixed Mindset, whereas praising hard work and effort fosters a Growth Mindset. When kids have a Growth Mindset, they take on challenges. This in turn, increases their abilities and achievement.
Applying Growth Mindset is simple; don’t praise ability or talent, praise hard work and effort. This mindset can be easily applied in sports and supports a development philosophy versus one focused on winning. For example, in a post-game meeting, it’s easy to recognize the girl who scored the winning goal. But if this was a lazy goal, praise instead the players who worked hard at practice to move the ball from the back, and demonstrated this skill during the game, thus creating the opportunity for the goal.
It’s easier said than done. As a coach, the mentality has to move from Winning to Development, both at practices and during games. It means that the focus is not on outcomes like game results, but on effort during practice.