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  • Norman Brook

Coaching Mindsets for and through Sport

One of the lessons I took away from reading Brent Rushall’s[1] sports psychology book[2] “Psyching in Sport: The Psychological Preparation for Serious Competition in Sport” was the proposition that athletes need to enter competition with a positive task-oriented approach if they hoped to be successful.

Players who set realistic and challenging goals are more likely to believe they can achieve these in competition.  A positive attitude is essential but not enough on its own. Players need a plan for their competitions if they are to produce their best performance.

This idea of a positive task-oriented approach resonates with the trending Growth Mindset movement that is beinge advocated for young people to be successful in sport and in life.

Growth Mindset[3] is a concept developed by Carol Dweck to describe the underlying beliefs people have about learning and intelligence. When students believe they can get smarter and understand that effort makes them stronger, they put in extra time and effort which leads to higher levels of achievement. This concept equally applies to sport as it does to academic achievement. Young people with a Growth Mindset believe they can develop their abilities and view challenges, effort, feedback and practice as important in developing their abilities.

Values – what is thought to be important.

Beliefs – what is thought to be true.

Attitude – a settled way of thinking or feeling about someone or something, typically reflected in a person’s behaviour.  A person’s usual attitude is his or her mindset.

Mindset – words, thoughts and actions influenced by values and beliefs.

As coaches working in “sport for sports sake” or “sport for development” contexts, we should be interested in developing young people for sport and through sport for life.  This should include helping young people develop values and beliefs that lead to positive attitudes and a mindset that enables them to achieve their sporting and life goals.

Here are eight actions that sports coaches can take to encourage a growth mindset:

  1. Turn coaching sessions into positive learning experiences for players aimed at encouraging a growth mindset.

  2. Teach players about fixed versus growth mindsets and how we all have the potential for growth.

  3. When players state they cannot do something, ask them to re-phrase, by saying I cannot do it, YET.

  4. Provide players with praise and constructive feedback that focuses on process not performance outcomes.

  5. Encourage players to try new challenges and take risks.

  6. Teach players to view mistakes as part of the learning process.

  7. Expose players to positive role models.

  8. Use closing discussions at the end of coaching sessions to reinforce growth mindsets by using reflective questions.

[1] I had the opportunity of spending a year with Brent Rushall at Lakehead University, 1981-1982, to study the Theory of Sports Coaching and Sports Psychology.

[2] Rushall, B. S. (1979). Psyching in sports. London: Pelham Books

[3] Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House.

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