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Enhancing a Young Athlete's Sport Journey through the Growth Mindset:

The concept of a 'Growth Mindset' has gained significant recognition, primarily in educational settings. Carol Dweck, a prominent researcher in this field, has conducted most of her mindset studies in education. Through her research, Dweck consistently found that students with a Growth Mindset actively seek out challenging situations and respond to failure by increasing their effort and discovering effective strategies to overcome obstacles. Adopting this approach means believing in the capacity for improvement, which ultimately leads to more favorable outcomes (Dweck & Leggett, 1988).


In this article, we aim to provide an overview of the Growth Mindset, explore its potential application in youth sports, and offer suggestions for implementing the Growth Mindset principles we have outlined.


What is a Growth Mindset?

The perspective you hold about yourself can profoundly influence your life. If you believe that your inherent qualities are unchangeable, you are likely to adopt a fixed mindset when faced with challenges. In this mindset, you strive to validate your existing beliefs, which hinders your ability to embrace challenges, learn from mistakes, and overcome setbacks.

On the other hand, a growth mindset is grounded in the belief that your fundamental qualities can be cultivated through effort. Shifting your mindset in this direction can have a powerful impact, igniting a passion for learning and self-improvement. As Dweck (2006) aptly put it, "Why waste time proving over and over how great you are when you could be getting better?"


From Education to Youth Sport...

Given the value of the growth mindset in educational environments, it has the potential to extend to other domains where individuals are striving for development and improvement, such as youth sports.


Research in youth sports has revealed that individuals often develop fixed mindsets when they receive praise for their 'talent' or the outcomes they achieve. Children who are frequently praised for their talent tend to gravitate towards easier options and give up sooner compared to those praised for their effort (Dweck, 2006).


Looking more closely, praise can significantly influence an individual's motivational mindset. While praising winning may temporarily boost a young athlete's happiness and pride, their confidence can plummet when they experience defeat and fail to receive the same level of approval from coaches or parents. From a fixed mindset perspective, losing may be seen as a reflection of their lack of talent, leading them to believe they cannot overcome future challenges (Vealey, Chase, and Cooley, 2018).


While it is important to acknowledge young athletes' accomplishments, excessive praise and excessive focus on outcomes should be avoided, as they often create pressure to replicate those outcomes (in addition to reinforcing the fixed mindset mentioned earlier). Consider this alternative to praising winning:


"Your hard work and dedication during practice really showed today—great job."

(Knight, Harwood, and Gould, 2018, pg102)


Coaches can assist young athletes in developing a growth mindset by:

  • Explaining that mistakes are a natural part of the learning, improvement, and development process.

  • Sharing examples of top athletes who have faced setbacks and overcome them.

  • Assisting in the creation of a mistake ritual that helps athletes accept and overcome mistakes, focusing on the next phase of their performance.

  • Engaging in post-competition debriefings to discuss positive performance achievements and utilize mistakes as learning experiences, establishing goals for improvement.

Suggestions to Foster a Growth Mindset

Dweck (2006) has provided several exercises to facilitate the development of a growth mindset:

  • Avoid thinking of yourself as talented, gifted, or inherently smart. Instead, describe yourself as a lifelong learner, intellectually curious, and motivated to grow.

  • Identify areas in which you would like to improve.

  • Devise strategies to achieve your ideal self.

  • Determine which potential areas for improvement are within your control.

  • Plan how you will respond to setbacks and failure.

It is crucial to exercise patience as a young athlete. You are likely to encounter numerous challenges and setbacks, and regardless of your efforts, it may take time before you witness the desired results. However, remember that giving up will never yield those results. Embrace a lifelong growth mindset, and you will reap the benefits.

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