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Understanding Growth Mindset and Why it is Important

Updated: Aug 14, 2022

Ever wondered what motivates your players to learn? Why some embrace challenges and others avoid? Why some of your players can respond positively to failure whilst others take it personally?

Carol Dweck's theory of Implicit beliefs (growth and fixed mindset) has demonstrated that certain beliefs about the stable and malleable nature of ability has implications on players psychological and behavioral outcomes.

About the Mindsets

Those who see their sports ability as something that is learned and developed tend to adopt a growth mindset. Whereas, those under the fixed mindset tend to believe that their ability is innate and there is not much they can do to change it. Whilst one view is likely more dominant, it is important to understand that players may also be a mix of the two mindsets. They could have a growth mindset about their technical skills for example, but have a fixed mindset about their tactical strategy or decision making. Therefore, these are recognized as situationally specific.

Behaviors Typically Associated with Both Mindsets

Achievement Goals

These mindsets may determine the types of achievement goals your players adopt which can ultimately have an impact on their motivation to perform tasks. Those with a growth mindset are more likely to choose mastery orientated goals, whereas those in the fixed mindset are more likely to adopt performance/outcome focused goals (1).

In the growth mindset, young footballers will believe that with hard work and effort, they can develop their skills and performances. Because of this, individuals seem more motivated to learn and want to work harder, knowing that they can improve (2). This mindset focuses on the player to take control of their development through learning, seeking challenges and greater task persistence (3).

On the other hand, those who choose outcome goals are concerned with outdoing others to prove their natural ability and are more likely to avoid those situations that are risky and bring their ability in question. A normal view from a fixed mindset belief would be that exerting effort will in some way demonstrate their incompetence. That is ‘if I have to work hard at this, I must not be naturally very good’. This leads them to show maladaptive behaviors, defensive response strategies and may focus on negative outcomes leading to performance deterioration (4).

These players may be unmotivated to learn because to them, why should they invest time training when ultimately it wont affect their performance. Take a footballer working on their weaker foot for example. First of all, they might accept that there is no point in working on it because it wont change. Secondly, they may not want to look bad in front of peers when using their weaker foot because they want to be shown as 'naturally good' therefore avoiding risk.


The thought of failure to a player under the fixed mindset is likely to damage their self esteem to a point where they struggle to recover. This is because, that failure may reflect their natural inability (something they cannot change).

This can have a negative effect on players especially those who have always had success in football from a young age and have not been in many failure situations. Fixed mindset players tend to show helpless patterns of behavior and take failure personally and attribute that to themselves, questioning their self worth as a person. Therefore, avoiding failure at all costs!

A positive view from the growth mindset is that failure is just another learning opportunity. They see it as a positive learning experience in their journey to learning. More than likely, these players will still be upset about failure, however they show better response strategies by acknowledging its only a bump on the road! Typically, a footballer in the growth mindset may be more open to taking on extra sessions, discussing their failure with others and looking at new strategies to help them in failure situations. We as coaches must promote a climate to encourage players to take risks and fail. After all, this is how we learn!

Benefits to Sport

Players who have a growth mindset view to learning may have a more constructive approach towards training, learning and will help to view mistakes as a positive aspect of learning (5). Based on the research it is suggested that these outcomes may have a positive impact on sports performance.

  • Adopting a growth mindset may help develop personal and interpersonal skills such as problem solving and self-awareness developed through experience gained by actively seeking improvement goals. The person is likely to be more self-aware in relation to their progress to goals and attributions.

  • In uncertainty, failure or criticism, those in the fixed mindset may be at risk and vulnerable since they may ignore unfavorable but important feedback and remove themselves from those situations. This may encourage helplessness and develop a self-imposed ‘comfort zone’ experiencing fewer challenging situations, having implications on their progress in sport.

  • Viewing stressful situations as a challenge may provide positive response strategies and help develop more beneficial emotional responses with a constructive way of framing their attributions and goals.

  • The growth mindset may promote adaptivity and competence with viewing these challenging situations as a problem that needs to be solved rather than a direct reflection of their inability.

  • Increased enjoyment and reduced negative thoughts when competing in sport.

  • Develop more resilient and mentally tough players.

Why these Mindsets Occur?

These mindset beliefs are complex and are unclear as to when and how they emerge. However, we believe that children as young as 3 years old can start to receive growth and fixed mindset messages. One of the key things that have been found to develop these beliefs in individuals is the climate we create and in particular the use of praise. Coaches who focus on process and effort based praise (well done I can see you worked really hard at developing your skills) have been suggested to develop growth mindset messages within their players.

Can we Change Them?

The good news is that mindsets are changeable. Lots of research has showed that through workshops, instructional strategies, messages and the way we praise our athletes can help to promote the growth mindset! Think about the climate we create as coaches to help develop growth mindset players!

Great so by teaching our players this we can achieve anything? Not exactly!

Recent research from Carol Dweck, (6) has showed that parents, teachers and sports coaches may have developed a simplistic view of the mindsets and often believe that they are developing growth mindset when in fact they are creating a false growth mindset. This is based around 4 common misunderstandings around the mindsets.

False Growth Mindset

  • Coaches often provide a false expectation of the growth mindset by telling players they can do anything! The growth mindset can help players to achieve their very best person they are capable of becoming, not that they can do anything.

  • Coaches often forget about the fixed mindset and show the fixed mindset as something that players should not have. Actually, for players to develop on their growth mindset journey they need to be in touch with their fixed mindset to be able to be more self aware and identify those thoughts and triggers.

  • There is a tendency for coaches to use the fixed mindset is an excuse for players and could negate blame onto the player. For example, this player has a fixed mindset he wont do well in my squad. It is also up to the coaches to develop that players mindset and behaviors.

  • People often assume that the growth mindset is just about praising effort. It is much more than that, whilst praising effort is part of the process, it would be pointless to praise effort and not provide effective strategies to improve. Otherwise, they will not progress.

Identify Fixed Mindset Triggers

"You dont get a growth mindset by proclamation. You move toward it by taking a journey" - Carol Dweck

Coaches must help develop self awareness in themselves and their players so they can identify if the fixed mindset voice and actions. Coaches and players could ask themselves key questions:

  • Am I being judgmental of others if they are doing things better than me?

  • Do I really take on failure feedback or do become defensive?

  • Am I truly pushing myself out of my comfort zone?

  • Is this a process or an outcome goal?

learn how to train your mindset and identify triggers! To understand more about this click on the link below. References

  1. Dweck, C. S., & Leggett, E. L. (1988). A social-cognitive approach to motivation and personality. Psychological review, 95 (2), 256.

  2. Tabernero, C., & Wood, R. E. (1999). Implicit theories versus the social construal of ability in self-regulation and performance on a complex task. Organizational behavior and human decision processes, 78(2), 104-127.

  3. Blackwell, L. S., Trzesniewski, K. H., & Dweck, C. S. (2007). Implicit theories of intelligence predict achievement across an adolescent transition: A longitudinal study and an intervention. Child development, 78(1), 246-263.

  4. Li, W., Harrison Jr, L., & Solmon, M. (2004). College Students' Implicit Theories of Ability in Sports: Race and Gender Differences. Journal of Sport Behavior, 27(3).

  5. Jowett, N., & Spray, C. M. (2013). British Olympic hopefuls: The antecedents and consequences of implicit ability beliefs in elite track and field athletes. Psychology of sport and exercise, 14(2), 145-153.

  6. Dweck, C. (2017). Mindset-updated edition: Changing the way you think to fulfil your potential. Hachette UK.

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