Instilling A Growth Mindset

TAGS: practice time, sport skills, Carol Dweck, growth mindset, youth athletics, mindset, matt ladewski


As I approach the end of my son’s first soccer season, I think it has been a success. But not a success in the traditional sense of wins, losses, or goals. The success has been for myself. I have been successful in using appropriate language to help my son instill a growth mindset. With sports, or really anything in life, having a growth mindset important to his future.

Everyone has certain areas in their life where they employ the growth mindset and others where they have a fixed mindset. The simple example is where a kid will say, “I am dumb” or “Johnny is smart." They see a person as smart or dumb without any potential for change. What they don’t see is the work, studying, and practice that goes into achieving that success. My goal was to set my son up with a growth mindset with his sports skills.

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This season I made sure that I asked the appropriate questions and responded with signals that he can move closer to where he wants to be with hard work and dedicated practice. I made sure to never comment on his skills, because I am not his coach. I did, however, ask him a few questions every week in hopes to instill the growth mindset that will help him understand that no matter what he does in life, it will take work to get there.

noah soccer

Try your hardest.

With any sport there will be bad calls, bad weather, mistakes by teammates, and a variety of other factors that are out of his control. His effort is in his control. If he gives his best effort then he did everything in his power. That is all I can ask. No one is perfect, and at eight years old he has much learning to do. He has many mistakes to make and the only thing I ask is that he makes them at full speed.

There was a game this season where he seemed to be going at 75% speed. His team lost the game but the only job I had was to address his effort. I said nothing about his shots, passing, or anything related to skills. After the game he said he was tired from spending the night at a friend's house. I asked him if he tried his hardest and how I can help him be ready for his next game. Effort and action are required for improvement — and he can control those.

You need more practice time.

In his league there were a wide variety of skill levels. Kids with one or two years under their belt clearly stood out as the better players. A few of the teams had more experienced players and the teams dominated. Noah is a great athlete, but with much less experience than the others he didn’t perform as well.

Noah needed to understand that he is not a bad player, he just has less practice and experience than some of the other players. The answer was that he just needed more dedicated practice to raise his skills. “You just need more practice time to reach their level” is what he needs to hear, rather than reinforcing thoughts that they are better players or their team had better players. To a kid, better is finite, but needing more practice will be understood.

Make mistakes.

Noah is an introvert and can come off as timid at times. But I know he is a fierce competitor and hates to lose. In watching the first game, there was a common theme among many of the new players. They were afraid to take shots and miss. The miss was seen as a mistake and no one wanted to make a mistake.

After that first game I told him that it is okay to be aggressive and take shots. I said, “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. It is okay to miss but you need to be aggressive and not afraid." I can’t say that what I said made a difference, but from week one to week two he had a huge improvement in his confidence and aggressiveness on the field. As the season went on he took more and more shots on goal.

Did you have fun?

I want my son and my daughter to find what they love. I don’t want them to play a sport for me or because I did. I love wrestling, football, and powerlifting, but those were my choices. I want them to make their own choices now. If they want help choosing the sport that is right for them, I will help, but only if they ask.

No matter the outcome of the game I want Noah to have fun and enjoy himself. He should enjoy being with his friends, working hard, and playing. There will be plenty of time in the future for worrying about wins and losses, and that is for the coach to worry about anyway. My job is to help him grow and develop his growth mindset while having fun.

I’m proud of the “process.”

As parents we all want to brag that our kids scored the winning goal, but if the child sees that they will feel the value only comes from scoring the winning goal. Praise needs to celebrate the process. “You worked very hard this week on your dribbling” or “You played your hardest today and I am proud of that” are just as important. I want him to know I am proud of how hard he works. Even though there may be someone more skilled and they may lose, I am proud of his effort and working to get better.

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This is not rocket science but it is a very important step that many parents miss. Cheer about their goals and celebrate wins, but cultivate their growth mindset so that they may have a lifetime of growth. This is an investment that will pay off for your child and yourself. Really consider where you put emphasis because your child will see success and failure on that emphasis. I recommend anyone wanting to learn more about this subject to read Mindset by Carol Dweck.


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