Growth v Fixed Mindset
In an effort to be guide our players’ development we often give them feedback. Hopefully this feedback is positive in nature, and can help to build their self esteem.
However, research by Carol Dweck, author of the book ‘Mindset: The New Psychology of Success’, suggests that where you focus your feedback may be critical to the development of your players.
It seems as if there are people who have a growth mindset believe that they can improve their abilities through work and effort. On the other hand, people with a fixed mindset are under the impression that they either can something or not. This mindset will influence the players’ attitude to easy and difficult challenges.
Intelligence v Effort
In one of her most referenced studies on the subject Dweck, gave 128 fifth graders IQ tests. She then divided them into two groups, where the first group were praised for how smart they were and the second group were praised for how hard they worked.
Later, both groups had to take another test, however, they could choose between a hard and an easy test. While those who were judged to have a high intelligence (i.e. fixed mindset) shied away from the more challenging test, fully 90% of the group rewarded for effort (i.e. growth mindset) chose to take the more demanding task.
This seems to indicate that the feedback given had a profound effect on the two groups. While one group was being told that they had a great, innate and fixed ability, the other group was given the message that their effort levels were important – something that they could control and grow. Those that believed that they had a greater ability did not want to fail because this could make them lose their identity and self esteem. Rather, they would prefer to seek out less strenuous challenges where they could feel good about themselves.
The group who attributed their success to their effort levels (growth mindset) had the self confidence, and self esteem, to take on more formidable tasks.
The Brain is like a Muscle
Dweck was involved in another study where psychologists divided children into two groups. The first group was taught some study skills, and how they could learn to be smart. The psychologists used the analogy that the brain is like a muscle, and that it became stronger the more one used it. The second group was only taught the study skills. In just two months, the first group out shone the second in both grades and study habits. They became motivated after realising how much they can impact their development.
Applying this to You
In the sports world, young players often get painted (tainted?) with the ‘talented’ brush. Each time they hear that feedback it confirms that their ability is innate, and that they don’t have much control over it. It can also increase their fear of failure; the perceived pressure to perform, and the desire to hide from challenging circumstances.
Take Home Message
The most important lesson coming out of Carol Dweck’s research is that we should be mindful of our feedback, especially to our younger, developmental players. We can have a powerful, positive and negative, effect on the future careers of those we coach.
Where possible we should compliment the players on elements of their games that are malleable, i.e. those aspects which they can control and change. Examples of these are their effort levels, work ethic and the intensity, they bring to training.
We also need to educate the people surrounding the players (e.g. the parents and other coaches) on how to give feedback, and what qualities they should be praising.
Grant Jenkins is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist and Level 3 Strength & Conditioning Coach. He uses his experience in baseball, athletics, tennis, weightlifting, powerlifting and the football codes to develop athletes of all ages. Follow him on Twitter – @Grant_Jenkins.