The Growth Mindset Environment

posted: Thursday, 23 February 2017

Many of the challenges schools and teachers face with unlocking potential are shared by coaches and clubs. Teachers and coaches work with these same young people in different contexts, and they all want them to enjoy, engage, learn and perform. The most recent work I have been doing as a psychologist has been helping people across different contexts to see the value in adopting a ‘growth mindset’ in themselves and fostering it in the young people with whom they work.

Individuals in a growth mindset recognise the importance of outcomes and performance, however they place their focus on the process by which they will get success. One big challenge for all coaches, particularly in a performance environment, is to focus on the process of learning and improvement rather than outcomes. I regularly talk to coaches who say learning, development and process are the most important things. Yet players describe coach behaviours that would contradict this. 

I spoke to young cricketers who described coach debriefs as being longer if they lose and non-existent or short when they win. When they are ahead in the game, coaches can be found sitting and relaxing, versus pacing the boundary, calling out, pointing and waving if they appear to be losing. Regardless of what may be said about learning, these behaviours send the message to young players that the outcome, not the process, is what is being valued the most.  Developing awareness of your own mindset and what messages your behaviours send is really important.

There are many relatively simple things that can be done to develop a growth mindset environment. 

Self-awareness – Understand your own beliefs. What attributes of successful cricketers do you believe are ‘fixed’ and what can be learnt and developed i.e. ‘grown’? Try to elicit from your players what they believe, and help them to develop similar self awareness. 

Think about how you communicate selection and non-selection. Maybe you communicate a short message saying that they have not been selected. Or perhaps you provide players with constructive feedback as to how they can improve to be selected next time. The latter would help to foster a growth mindset in a player and help to maximise their potential.

Think about how you portray role models and learning journeys. So often players are celebrated as having achieved success almost effortlessly.  We are shown the successes in the media and match day programmes, but the inevitable setbacks and failures that would have contributed to the successes are often left invisible. This can create a fixed mindset by fostering a belief that success is because you ‘have a gift.’ Consider celebrating the journeys of the best players highlighting how errors, for example of Bell, Botham, Vaughan and Strauss were used to help them grow and develop.  

Teach players about the most important organ in their body when it comes to performance - the brain. This will help them to understand that the brain is where skill is located and that as you practise your brain and neurological system changes and becomes more efficient. Players have control over how close they come to being the best they can be.

Model the behaviours you wish to see and embrace them in others. For example, if you want players to value feedback, you must value it too. Ask players for feedback on sessions, listen and thank them for their comments.

Model making mistakes and how you learn and improve because of them. Ensure that your players feel safe to take risks and acknowledge those that do by making explicit the benefits to them.

Focus on the process and praise the learning and development that is taking place on the journey of improvement. Avoid praising players for being natural or talented. How you praise players will shape their beliefs about ability.

Behaviour is a function of the person and the situation. Therefore, if you can create an environment that fosters a growth mindset you increase the likelihood of players and your organisation achieving their personal best. 

Written by Jeremy Frith and Rachel Sykes