Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck’s concept of growth mindset has had a profound impact on the way many coaches and parents approach youth sports. Compared to a “fixed mindset,” in which skills and abilities are set and unchangeable, a person with a growth mindset believes practice and learning can lead to improvement.
A growth mindset is beneficial to all areas of life, including school, sports, relationships, and careers. At its core, it is the belief that your actions can change your outcomes, that your intelligence and abilities are not fixed and unchangeable.
A fixed mindset says, “I’m not good at throwing.”
A growth mindset says, “I’m not good at throwing, yet.”
Parents and coaches play major roles in helping young athletes develop a growth mindset, and teaching self-reflection is an important part of that process. Here’s how coaches and parents can help quantify their athlete’s progress, so they can make the connection between hard work and improvement.
Create a starting point
To measure progress, you have to know where you are starting. Some coaches do this through skills’ assessments at the beginning of the season.
It is important to frame these assessments as opportunities for improvement, not talent identification. To establish a growth mindset throughout a team, all players must believe that they can get better by learning new skills and practicing, and that their improvement will be valued.
Both parents and coaches should avoid only praising players for natural talent. These statements promote a fixed mindset that an athlete is either talented or not. This can impact the growth of the child who is told he or she is talented, while also showing their teammates that talent alone is what matters.
Create a roadmap
Personal improvement is the best way to increase an individual or team’s chance of winning, so it’s important to help each player identify the skills and abilities he or she wants to improve. By doing this, athletes can also achieve success irrespective of wins and losses.
While many of these goals will be oriented to sport-specific skills and physical fitness, kids should also set goals around communication, teamwork, support for teammates, and conflict resolution.
Many parents and coaches make the mistake of letting the season end without a purposeful reflection on the skills and abilities gained. It is crucial to close the loop, so athletes clearly see they’ve established goals, worked to create change, and achieved an outcome. Even if they didn’t meet certain goals, they learned and grew.
For greater effectiveness, try guided reflection using open-ended questions, including:
- What are you most proud of from the season?
- What could you have done differently?
- When things were difficult, how did you use the resources available to you?
- What skill or ability do you want to work on before next season?
Journaling is another excellent way for young athletes to establish a reflective practice because they learn to review activities and important moments on a regular basis. It also creates a multi-season or multi-year record athletes can reference to reflect on their long-term progress.
Youth sports are great for teaching kids new skills, and reflection helps them make the connection between the work they do and the progress they continue to make.