From soccer to basketball to running, the majority of school aged kids participate in one or more sports year round. Many coaches work hard to ensure all kids on the team are learning the sport and having fun; but all too often what kids hear is: “Win and win no matter what!”
Unfortunately, some kids receive mixed messages when they join an athletic team. What can parents do to encourage a growth mindset?
What is a Growth Mindset?
A growth mindset is the opposite of a fixed mindset. A fixed mindset means you’re stuck in the belief that skills and talents will not change. Either you’re good at baseball, or you’re not good at baseball, in a fixed mindset. A growth mindset, however, says that you may not be good at baseball now, but with practice, you’ll improve. How can parents offset the mixed messages sent by sports coaches and other parents?
Mixed Messages in Sports
When kids join a sports team, they often find that the “let’s work hard and try our best” approach is often replaced with a celebration of the most talented athletes on the team. Kids who are working hard and showing signs of progress often go unnoticed.
This can be especially discouraging for kids who have to “try out” and, therefore, don’t have the opportunity to demonstrate improvement if they don’t make the team. Kids who step out of their comfort zone and take a risk to try a sport experience the same feelings of disappointment when they’re overlooked by coaches whose talk about practice and effort get overshadowed by a desire to win more games.
Failure is Learning; Learning is Winning
With awareness of the attitudes and messages sent by other adults, parents can help support kids in their desire to grow as a player, even if they have a coach who is not knowledgeable about encouraging a growth mindset among athletes.
Parents can help kids address inevitable challenges on the court or athletic field. More specifically, parents can help kids cope with the disappointment of failure by framing it in the context of learning. When kids see that the uncomfortable feeling of failure is temporary and that it can even help propel them to the success they desire, kids are often much more open to trying again. Taking risks in sports can be anxiety-provoking for some kids. To offset that anxiety, parents can underscore that taking risks might lead to temporary stumbling blocks; but these risks can also be part of building a growth mindset.
Cheering With a Growth Mindset
Parents can also support their kids at sporting events by remembering that cheering can encourage- or discourage- a growth mindset. When players hear parents yelling, “Just shoot the ball!” or “You’ve got to get there!” or “Run faster!” many kids feel stressed. Instead, parents can cheer in more productive ways with: “Keep trying,” “Great effort!” or “Your hard work really shows!” or even, “Don’t let frustration stop you- you can do it!” Most importantly, parents can offer support by highlighting kids’ teamwork and effort.
Parents, Children, and Growth
Parents who are able to check their own athletic accomplishments at the door and remember that their child is not an extension of themselves, are more likely to nurture their child’s open-mindedness and effort. Intense scolding, yelling, or berating players might win a game or two, but this approach is not conducive to long-term player growth.