Coaching the Growth Mindset
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I recently finished reading Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset, and it has many important implications for sports based youth development. Dweck is a Psychologist at Stanford and she shares many of her ideas on her website.
The book is definitely worth a read. The basic idea is that people can either have the fixed mindset or the growth mindset. In the fixed mindset, we believe that our abilities and our intellect are fixed and cannot really be changed. Our IQ is essentially a genetic trait. In the fixed mindset, we look at school as an opportunity to prove our intelligence, not an opportunity to develop our intelligence. In the growth mindset, we believe that our intellect and abilities can changed with focused practice and dedication. Dweck argues that having the fixed mindset limits achievement levels and that the growth mindset itself can be taught.
As I read about the growth mindset I started to consider all of the reasons why the fixed mindset is reinforced for young people, particularly those in low-income urban neighborhoods. As coaches, we are well positioned to combat the forces that encourage the fixed mindset and the athletic field offers us the perfect opportunity to teach the growth mindset.
Many of the techniques that I see as most useful are similar to those that I mentioned in the post about coaching for grit; cheering for the right things (not goals and wins) and manipulating competition so that it teaches kids how to approach success and failure. But I believe that there is another important element of sports and lacrosse in particular that helps us teach the growth mindset. If we deliver effective fundamental instruction, allow kids the right opportunities to practice and maintain high standards, kids are able to do things that they were not previously able to do on a regular basis. This could be completing a full lap around the field, running a 7-minute mile or completing 10 consecutive passes with their non-dominant hand. There is nothing more empowering than being able to do something that was once impossible. As coaches, we have to help kids see how powerful that experience is.
Learning a new skill, as an athlete is far more important than any particular skill, it teaches young people that with focused practice, they can develop any skill. It teaches kids to have the growth mindset.