Little League victories, Pee Wee hockey losses, high school soccer titles, and heartbreaking AAU basketball defeats.
Any of these sound familiar to you?
The emotional roller coaster of youth sports teaches children lessons and values that span the spectrum; the joy of learning a new skill, the beauty of developing lifelong friendships, and the foundation of being part of something bigger than one’s self.
Those are all incredibly important, yet perhaps one of the most valuable growth opportunities to come from youth sports is the ability to deal with outcomes…both good and bad.
Youth sport teaches athletes to win with grace and lose with dignity; sportsmanship, something the world can always use more of.
Yet dealing with outcomes is much more than showing sportsmanship; there’s an internal side that poses a critical question.
How does your athlete learn and grow from all outcomes to reach their full potential as an athlete and human?
From the highs of pitching a perfect game or winning the state title to the lows of a heartbreaking loss or being cut from the team, every single result and outcome presents an opportunity for your child to grow.
Perfection doesn’t exist in sport, and youth sports are no exception. Yet through a strong growth mindset, your child can get the most out of their athletic experience and lead a healthier, more examined life.
Growth Mindset? Sounds Simple
It sure might, yet living out a strong growth mindset is often easier said than done.
While your child cannot control past outcomes in sport, they can control how they react and grow moving forward. A growth mindset is a way of seeing every experience, good or bad, as an opportunity to learn and grow.
Think of it like a roadmap; you’ve probably completed a road trip from point A to point B without any construction, detours, or missed turns. At the same time, you’ve most likely engaged in one that featured head-scratching traffic, missed turns aplenty, and a light show of check engine lights. Positive or negative, good or bad, both trips allow space for reflection, learning, and most importantly, growth for future endeavors.
Growth mindset measures an athlete’s ability to let go of mistakes and practice self-compassion when training and competing, seeing every success and setback as an occasion to get better.
“Growth mindset is having the mentality that there is always something to learn,” Premier’s Dr. Adam Gallenberg says. “Outcomes (successes and failures) will always be there, so framing those outcomes as opportunities to learn is being growth-minded.”
Again, sounds simple. Yet dealing with those no-so-great outcomes can be really difficult…especially in big moments and pressure-packed situations. That being said, your athlete’s response to experiences perceived as failures on the court/field/rink can serve as a gauge to measure growth mindset.
Let’s use an example; Bobby rushes a potential game-winning free throw late in the fourth quarter of his high school basketball game. He misses and sends the game into overtime. Instead of collecting his thoughts and moving on from the situation, Bobby goes into a flurry of negative self-talk and dwells on ‘how he let his team down’ in a crucial moment as the rest of the team prepares for OT.
Instead of entering overtime with a fresh slate and approach, Bobby continues to dwell on his missed shot, reciting to himself ‘we wouldn’t be here if I would have made my free throw.’ And while that may be true, dwelling on the past does no good for Bobby, his team, or Bobby’s chances of playing well in overtime.
Individuals with a strong growth mindset find ways to take lessons from their mistakes and let them go. Dwelling on previous mistakes removes an athlete from the present moment and the task at hand, two things that are essential to success.
Bobby’s frustration is completely understandable; no one enjoys falling short in the clutch. Yet failure always provides an opening for growth– in Bobby’s case, taking an extra moment at the free throw line to collect his thoughts would have increased the likelihood of his success; he’ll do that next time. By framing his mistake as an opportunity to get better, Bobby will not only have an easier time moving on from the situation, there’s a good chance he’ll feel calmer, collected, and confident next time he’s faced with a pressure situation.
Having the ability to reflect on mistakes is important, yet so is acknowledging that those mistakes don’t define your child as an athlete or their worth as a human being. We all make mistakes, and it’s okay for your child to acknowledge the natural feelings that may arise as a result. The true anchor of a strong growth mindset is the ability to move on from disappointments and not allow them to hook us. We’re lifelong learners and even the most painful losses, silly errors, and botched plays provide an opportunity for your child to grow and flip the page.
Why Growth Mindset Matters…Especially for Children
Developing a mindset that allows for learning and growth is fruitful for people of all ages. Yet a growth mindset is especially critical for children.
Childhood is a core time in an individual’s life when they’re engaging in a variety of activities for the first time: school, sports, music, boy/girl scouts, you name it. These are not only opportunities to learn new skills, but for children to connect learning to joy and improvement.
And while those ventures can be hit or miss, humans often find a lifelong love for learning new skills by broadening their horizons as children, something that former Olympic swimmer and Premier VP of Operations David Plummer believes is a core benefit of a growth mindset.
“The antithesis of a growth mindset is a closed mindset,” Plummer says. “If we’re closed, we’re closed off to learning. We don’t think we can improve.”
It may sound simple, but a child’s growth mindset not only allows for learning in an activity, it encourages them to seek new opportunities and try new things.
“[With a growth mindset] not only are we open to the learning, but we’re seeking it out. We’re thinking, how do we get better? How to we find improvements along the way?” Plummer says.
Externally, that could mean a youth tennis player dipping his/her toes into swimming lessons, or a dance class because they’re curious to try something new. Internally, it could mean this tennis player begins taking private lessons because they’re hungry to learn new ways to grow their game.
In addition to developing a zest for trying new things, a strong growth mindset emphasizes to youth athletes that there’s always room for improvement…even after the race has been won.
A former Minnesota High School Coach of the Year, Plummer recalls an interaction with one of his talented student-athletes who anchored his team to a win in the 2 x 4 medley relay.
“[After they won] I said ‘What can we do to improve?’ which was met with ‘but we already won!’ I responded with ‘yes, but you’re going to complete that race eight more times.’ No one has the perfect race, not even world record holders. There’s always room for growth and improvement, even after victories.”
The growth obtained by recognizing that there’s always room for improvement is invaluable, yet perhaps the most important asset of developing a growth mindset as a child is that it keeps youth in sport.
So many kids quit sports because they feel as if they’re not good enough. Perhaps they’re ranked low compared to their teammates or have received the confidence-deflating feedback “you’re just not where you need to be” from a coach, trainer, or teammate.
Those words don’t have to be true with a growth mindset.
“As coaches and parents, we think we can predict success. But there’s so much data out there that says we’re bad at predicting who’s going to go pro, or receive a D1 scholarship,” Plummer says. “A growth mindset helps a kid get through hearing those tough words. It prevents them from giving up. If you believe that you can improve, learn, grow, and get better, that’s going to keep that kid in their sport.”
Confidence is everything in sport…and in life. A growth mindset will not only help your child get through those difficult times on the field but will help foster a confidence that creates a fulfilling, learning-based lifestyle.
How to Help Your Child Develop a Growth Mindset
Supporting your child as they develop a growth mindset is a fulfilling and rewarding experience, but also one that can be filled with many questions.
Premier’s Dr. Erin Ayala has some tips to help parents and mentors become the best possible resource for their child’s growth mindset.
- DO normalize that mistakes will happen in sport and in everyday life…both for you and your child. Instead of immediately jumping in after a mistake-ridden game to correct your child, ask growth-oriented questions such as “what do you think you did well?” or “Is there anything that you would’ve done differently?”
- DON’T overreact to emotions following an intense game or training session. While you may have a million things on your mind, jumping right in to provide feedback or analysis can cause athletes to shutdown. It’s okay to give your child some space after a tough loss.
- DO model self-compassion in your everyday life…even in the smallest of moments. Instead of unleashing negative self-talk on yourself when you lose your keys, frame the mishap as a learning experience (well that was quite an adventure, I know where I’ll put them next time). Believe it or not, your child will pick up on this and there’s a good chance they’ll incorporate the learning-based approached when they make mistakes.
- DON’T let negative thoughts dictate your child’s mindset (or your own). We’re human; we all have negative thoughts at times. Instead of trying to fight or change negative thoughts, acknowledge them and let them go. It’s awfully tough to push a beachball fully underwater. By setting it off to the side of the pool, you accomplish the same goal: you move it out of the way. Respond to negative thoughts in the same way. Don’t fight them; acknowledge them move them aside. Use this analogy with your child.
- ALWAYS remind your child that their worth as an athlete and human is not determined by results on the field. While we cannot always control outcomes, we can control how how learn and grow from each one.
To measure your own growth mindset and performance profile, try Premier’s Athletic Wellness and Performance Assessment.