Jake’s Journal: On Fixed and Growth Mindsets

Golf is a very difficult sport. The motor control required to swing a stick around your body as fast as you can and then make contact with a tiny ball in order to produce a straight golf shot is incredible. In addition, there are bunker shots, chip shots, drives, irons and so on, all requiring subtle changes in technique. For a beginner golfer or a junior, learning all these elements of the game can be a daunting task. It is important to educate learners on the peaks and valleys that are part of the learning process to prepare them for what’s to come and encourage a good mindset. Instilling and developing what we call a “Growth Mindset” is crucial.

An athlete with a growth mindset will believe:

  • They have the capacity to grow and learn new skills
  • Failure is a valuable lesson
  • Someone who is good at something is good because they built up their ability over time
  • They are in control of their effort, emotions, and attitude
  • They are more likely to embrace mistakes and constructive criticism as a learning opportunity

In contrast, many athletes (and non-athletes!) have what is called a Fixed Mindset. They believe:

  • Talent is something you are born with, you either have it or you don’t
  • Failure is shameful or embarrassing and should be avoided
  • They tend to avoid difficulty and challenges
  • Can be defensive in the face of constructive criticism, or may ignore it

It is important to understand that we may fall into fixed or growth mindsets in certain situations or at different times of the day. When faced with various scenarios or challenges we may show the characteristics and actions of these two mindsets. We might have a growth mindset today but then slip into a fixed mindset tomorrow. For example, when I was a young athlete I was fortunate to have a very strong growth mindset when it came to sports, but a very fixed mindset when it came to math. The difference in mindset compounded into very different abilities after years of training. I developed a very high degree of skill in sports, but don’t ask me about quadratic functions….(I will say, in golf, I only need to be able to add or subtract about 7 or 8 from the number 72)

To help our athletes develop a growth mindset we can:

  1. Make a point to praise effort, rather than results
  2. Be aware of how we frame and speak about our own skills, goals, and abilities
  3. Model the importance of having a growth mindset in our daily lives
  4. Embrace the word ‘yet’ when speaking about failures or learning opportunities
  5. Allow children to fail without showing them how to do everything. Encourage them to “try again, if you keep at it you will get it”

I’d like to offer the suggestion of starting to talk about these concepts and ideas within your own family. Discuss with your children when you notice yourself slipping into a fixed mindset, or ask them if they can think of situations where they notice themselves inhabiting fixed and growth mindsets. Developing useful mindsets in young athletes sets them up for success in sport, and in life. I truly believe it is a pre-curser to excellence.

If you liked this and want to learn more about growth and fixed Mindsets, I would highly encourage you to read Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset and to watch her Ted Talk.