Fixed Mindset vs. Growth Mindset

How a growth mindset helps build great athletes.

We see certain athletes that can get through numerous obstacles, but how are they doing that? What allows them to work through practices, failures, learn new skills and continue to grow? It all comes back to their mindset, and mentally how they are working through these obstacles.

There are also those athletes that are incredibly skilled and talented, but seem to have the mental resilience of a peanut. They seem to crumble with any setback or pressure that comes their way.

It all comes back to their mindset, and mentally how they are working through these obstacles.

How do you help build the right mindset in a young athlete? We want them to strive, to compete, to work hard, but we don’t want their entire self-worth tied to winning or losing.

RELATED: Discover the Secret Elite Sports Organizations Know About Building Champion Athletes.

Mindset and learning

A really powerful answer comes in the concept of a “growth mindset” as proposed by Stanford professor Dr.Carol Dweck. The premise is that there are two basic mindsets that people use in the “talent” paradigm, fixed and growth.  A fixed mindset can limit effort and development while a growth mindset can enhance it.  Importantly, a growth mindset can be taught and fostered.

Fixed Mindset

Those with a fixed mindset believe that talents and abilities are “fixed” by genetics, chance, or other circumstances, and can’t be changed through any means.  They believe they are born with a specific amount of talent. In their mind failure at a task or skill is proof they don’t have enough talent.

People with a fixed mindset often resist challenges that could results in failure because they don’t want others to see this “proof” of lack of talent, or don’t want to acknowledge it themselves.  Challenges are viewed negatively, not as a chance for growth.

Growth Mindset

On the other hand, someone with a growth mindset believes that their actions and efforts can change their abilities. Basically, they believe working at something can help them get better. Because of this a failure or set back aren’t proof of their inferiority, but a natural part of learning.

Practical Mindset Coaching Take-Aways

  • Praise effort not ability.  This is critical in working with young athletes. It relates directly to the point below.
  • Teach that skills are primarily learned through work, not through talent. I thoroughly believe there are minimum thresholds of “talent” you need to succeed in sports. Still, after almost 20 years of coaching I have seen so much talent wasted on individuals who give up because they don’t have a growth mindset. Teach them this directly. Dweck talks about the impact teaching this topic has on college students and their success rates.
  • Create an environment where it’s rewarded to push your limits even when you make mistakes. It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give your athletes. Freedom to make good mistakes. Mistakes that occur when they are trying to use the right technique, or a good strategic idea, or a creative play. There are lots of times when they have to push their boundaries of skill to improve, if we make these types of mistakes feared, then the athlete won’t grow.