Developing Growth Mindset


One of my favorite coaching books, and one that I’ve also often applied to parenting, is the book Mindset by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D.

If you have a child that stresses over performances in sports or school, or a child who you feel does not work to their potential, or a child who gives up or avoids challenges instead of risking failure – Mindset is a must-read book.

If you are afraid you are sometimes bordering on Crazy Soccer Parent because you can’t find the words to motivate your child – this is a must-read book.

If you are stressing out about Tryouts because your child is worried about them – then this is a must-read book.

To summarize, Mindset discusses the differences between a Fixed Mindset and a Growth Mindset. It is a study in the power of beliefs and how these personal beliefs affect what we want and, in large part, whether or not we accomplish our goals. In short, the book gives us the tools to unleash our, or our child’s, potential.

It’s a very popular coaching book and some of the best coaches we know are coaches who unknowingly developed a Growth Mindset within their teams and players – John Wooden, as an example.

Fixed v. Growth Mindset

Dweck describes someone with a Fixed Mindset as someone who lacks confidence in their potential to improve and therefore often feels they need to prove themselves. After all, if you can’t improve, you better show everyone how talented, smart, athletic, etc. you are.

Because someone with a Fixed Mindset feels like they have something to prove to others, they are often consumed with what others think of them.

If I don’t start the game, then my teammate is better than me.
If the coach doesn’t use me as an example, then the coach does not like me.
I just missed that goal and the coach from the team I am trying out for is watching, so I doubt I will make the team.

Or maybe it’s the thought process of your child:

It won’t make a difference if I go and play in the backyard/juggle so I won’t go do that.
I am not going to tryout for that team because I probably won’t make it.

It can be tricky identifying a Fixed Mindset in kids because kids with a Fixed Mindset are not necessarily a pessimist. In fact, they are often upbeat and a great teammate most of the time. The issues for a Fixed Mindset child creep in when they are faced with a challenge or adversity of some sort.

The opposite, someone with a Growth Mindset, is someone who believes they are capable of improving. They are usually confident and secure and enjoy the process of improving – realizing that there will be some setbacks along the way. Someone with a Growth Mindset believes they can cultivate their athletic skills through effort. People with a Growth Mindset believe in the POWER OF POTENTIAL.

Growth Mindset kids are willing to put it all on the line, knowing that it may not be good enough at the moment. They are the kids that are continually improving and are intrinsically motivated.

Here’s a further explanation directely from the book (Mindset, pg. 30):

We asked people, ranging from grade schoolers to young adults,“When do you feel smart?” The differences were striking. People with the Fixed Mindset said: “It’s when I don’t make mistakes.”“When I finish something fast and it’s perfect.”“When something is easy for me, but other people can’t do it.” It’s about being perfect right now. 
But people with the Growth Mindset said: “When it’s really hard, and I try really hard, and I can do something I couldn’t do before.”Or “When I work on something a long time and I start to figure it out.”

So, is it possible to change a child’s mindset?

Again, directly from the book: (Mindset)

Imagine you’ve decided to learn a new language and you’ve signed up for a class. A few sessions into the course, the instructor calls you to the front of the room and starts throwing questions at you one after another. Put yourself in a Fixed Mindset. Your ability is on the line. Can you feel everyone’s eyes on you? Can you see the instructor’s face evaluating you? Feel the tension, feel your ego bristle and waver. What else are you thinking and feeling? Now put yourself in a Growth Mindset. You’re a novice – that’s why you’re here. You’re here to learn. The teacher is a resource for learning. Feel the tension leave you; feel your mind open up as you attempt to answer the questions. Were you able to imagine yourself in both scenarios? Yes, you were….Proof that you can change your mindset.

So – how can we help our children change theirs?

5 Things Parents Can Say to Help Develop a Growth Mindset

1. Honor the EFFORT, not the result. Highlight their effort by saying things like “Wow, you sure are a muddy, sweaty mess. Clearly, you worked really hard. Great job.” “What was the hardest part of practice?”

2. Praise their positive choices. Did they choose to pass the ball against the wall instead of watching a TV show? Did they juggle for 20 minutes before dinner? “Great choice on how to spend your time before dinner.” Be sure to just talk about the choice, not a possible result.

3. Watch and listen to yourself carefully. Concentrate on your body language while talking to your child or during a game and be sure you are focusing on effort, not results.

4. Show your child you are interested in their development by asking them questions and just listening to their answers. “What did you do in training tonight?” “What was the hardest part of the game?” “What did your coach say to the team?” “What did you learn today?”

5. Find two specific, memorable times from a game where they worked hard or made a good decision – and tell them how much fun it was for you to watch them do that specifically. “When you chased down their forward in the first half, that was amazing. I think you were running as fast as absolutely possible. It was all I could do to not cheer you on and embarrass you!” “Your decision to sit on the bench and pay attention to the game while you were not playing was really fantastic.”

We all know that the lessons our children learn in sports can be applied to other aspects of life.

Developing a Growth Mindset has the potential of unleashing a happier and more successful child.

Personally, understanding more about Fixed vs. Growth Mindsets has helped me feel more confident when I am celebrating success with my children. I am confident that they don’t interpret what I am saying as “I love you because you scored the goal or got the A”, rather they interpret what I am saying as “Something I love about you is that you work hard when faced with a challenging situation.”