How A Growth Mindset Can Develop Your Athletic Potential


What we say is extremely important in creating a positive mindset. The feedback we give as parents and coaches can influence a positive reaction. Even if we fail at something e.g. lose a football match, a positive mindset can make you feel like this loss was a learning experience.

The Two Mindsets

According to Carol Dweck, Psychologist at Stanford University and author of ‘Mindset: How you can fulfil your potential’, she states that there are two types of mindset. A fixed mindset and a growth mindset.

A fixed mindset might be described as:

“Your qualities are carved in stone. You create an urgency to prove yourself over and over. You have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character” Carol Dweck (2006).

A growth mindset might be described as:

“The Intelligence, personality and character you have is just the starting point for development. The growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts”.

A practical example and the effects on both mindsets

Here is an example where the two mindsets differ. Imagine you are a football player who has just played the away first leg of a quarter final football match that meant a lot to you. You lose the match 2-0 and you personally missed 2 or 3 good scoring opportunities. On the way back to your car you find that you have a parking ticket. Being really frustrated you call your best friend to share your experience but are sort of brushed off.

What would you think? What would you feel? What would you do?

Those with the fixed mindset might say: “I’d feel like a reject”, “I’m a total failure”, “I’m an idiot”, “I’m a loser”, “I’d feel worthless and dumb-everyone’s better than me”. In other words they’d see what happened as a direct measure of their competence and worth.

This is what they might think about their lives: “Somebody upstairs doesn’t like me”, “The world is out to get me”, “life is unfair and all efforts are useless” or “I’m the most unlucky person on earth”.

Are these just people with low self esteem? Or pessimists? No. When they aren’t coping with failure, they feel just as worthy and optimistic as people with the growth mindset.

So how do the fixed mindset cope? “I wouldn’t bother to put so much time and effort into doing well in anything”. “Pick a fight with somebody” or “break something”.

The original statement was intentionally written that was nothing catastrophic or irreversible. It was not a cup final match but the first leg of a quarter final cup match so there is chance to win the second leg. You were away and will have the home advantage next leg. It was a parking ticket not a car accident. They were sort of brushed off not rejected outright. From this statement the fixed mindset created the feeling of utter failure and paralysis.

When giving this information to someone with a growth mindset, here is what they might say: “I need to try harder and take my chances in front of goal, be more careful when parking my car and wonder if my friend had a bad day”.

How would they cope? They’d start thinking about practising harder or more specifically i.e. shooting and finishing ready for the 2nd leg. They would pay the parking ticket and find out if there was anything wrong with their best friend.

You don’t have to be one mindset or the other to be upset. Those with a growth mindset would not label themselves or throw their arms in the air. Even though they were distressed they were ready to take the risks, confront the challenge and keep working at them.

The Answers

Scientists are learning that people have more capacity for lifelong learning and brain development than they ever thought. Each person has a unique genetic endowment. People may start with different temperaments and different aptitudes, it is clear that experience, training and personal effort take them the rest of the way. Everyone can develop a growth mindset through application and experience.

Robert Sternberg, the present day expert on intelligence, writes that the major factor in whether people achieve expertise “is not some fixed prior ability, but purposeful engagement”. 

I have been employing a growth mindset with a men’s football team I coach and play for. They do not know I have done this. I have praised effort and encouraged to meet a challenge. This football team is progressing. We started out as a new team at the start of the season falling to bottom of the league. We are now mid table and have recently beaten 3rd and top of the league.

This mindset works with children, personal relationships, in business, and of course on yourself. My advice to you is to read this book and apply a growth mindset as this will develop you and your athletic potential.

*** Update on the football team ***

At the end of the 2012/2013 season the football team finished 4th in the league, made it to the cup final and we had the best run of form throughout all teams in all divisions.


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