There is nothing more frustrating to a coach than a player who doesn’t listen to feedback. For an athlete to maximize his or her abilities physically, technically, tactically, or mentally requires that he or she be receptive to feedback – coaching. Without it, athletes are left to the slow improvement method of trial and error.
A Fixed Mindset Undermines Quality Coaching
Pete Carroll, Head Coach of the Seattle Seahawks, said, “Each person holds so much power within themselves that needs to be let out. Sometimes they just need a little nudge, a little direction, a little support, a little coaching, and the greatest things can happen.”
Yet, if the athlete isn’t open to feedback and coaching they may never maximize their abilities.
A talented tennis player I had the opportunity to work with met this description. He could have been a successful player if only he’d listened to and implemented the feedback from his coaching staff. Instead he relied on his raw talent and stubborn persistence to carry him as far as he could go. His athletic journey ended much sooner than he’d hoped.
He had what psychologist Carol Dweck calls a fixed mindset. In the book Mindset: A New Psychology of Success Dweck writes that those in a fixed mindset “may plateau early and achieve less than their full potential.”
Athletes in a Fixed Mindset View Feedback as Useless
Let’s look at 3 beliefs shared by athletes in a fixed mindset and how those beliefs may cause athletes to be dismissive of a coach’s feedback.
This will help you, as a coach, understand that when players aren’t receptive to your feedback and dismiss your input, there may be a deeper belief getting in the way. It isn’t always that an athlete is being disrespectful or believes a coach isn’t intelligent. Their beliefs about their abilities may be stunting their potential.
Athletes in a fixed mindset:
1. Believe their abilities are set in stone.
Athletes in a fixed mindset believe that they have a set limit to their abilities which has been predetermined. They believe it is up to them to showcase the hand they were dealt in hopes that it is good enough. Their goal is to prove their natural abilities are good enough for the challenge in front of them. Consequently athletes in a fixed mindset concentrate on succeeding, not improving.
If an athletes believes his or her abilities are largely unchangeable, then why listen to feedback if it won’t make a difference.
2. Believe criticism is a threat.
Athletes in a fixed mindset aim to be perfect. Criticism means that their performance wasn’t perfect – that their abilities weren’t good enough.
Remember, they don’t believe they can get better. Any criticism is seen to confirm their greatest fear, that they don’t have what it takes.
Fear of criticism drives anxiety up and increases nervousness, causing athletes perform below their current abilities – often earning them the criticism they dreaded.
3. Believe talent matters more than effort.
Simply put, if athletes in a fixed mindset believe their abilities can’t change then effort is pointless. More specifically, these athletes love it when they make it look easy. If they’re truly talented then they shouldn’t have to work hard.
These athletes believe that hard work is for those players who aren’t really good enough to begin with.
Coach Toward a Growth Mindset
The way coaches communicate can have a major influence on whether a player tends toward a fixed or growth mindset. Talking about how a particular ball player is so “talented” or “gifted” can inadvertently reinforce an athlete’s belief that his or her abilities are set and that talent matters most to the coach. Choose your words carefully.
As you communicate to your players, help them see that hard work pays off, criticism is to be learned from, and that effort makes champions. As I’ve said before, praise the process. These are strategies to promote a growth mindset, where athletes strive to learn, improve, and put in the effort required to succeed.
To help you influence your athletes toward a growth mindset, I developed this free action guide with 10 things coaches can start doing today.
- Book: Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck, Ph.D.
- Post: “Good Job” Isn’t Good Enough: What It Means to Praise the Process
- Post: Why Is A Growth Mindset Required To Reach Your Potential?