Banner Image

Kids and Sport: Teaching the Right Mindset

Teaching children the right mindset for sport, especially if they are serious about competition, can be challenging. We need to make sure they understand that their involvement in sport is about their personal growth as much as, or even more than, it is about winning. Also important is teaching your child how to be resilient after setbacks, as resilience is a skill they will carry with them for their entire life.

“Because challenges are ubiquitous, resilience is essential for success in school and in life.”

David Scott Yeager and Carol S. Dweck, Mindsets That Promote Resilience: When Students Believe That Personal Characteristics Can Be Developed

Fixed Mindset vs. Growth Mindset

A fixed mindset and a growth mindset are two very different things. Someone with a fixed mindset believes that intelligence and talent are fixed and unable to change. Someone with a growth mindset believes that intelligence and talent can develop and improve over time.

People with fixed mindsets:

  • Avoid challenges and obstacles
  • Don’t fulfilL their potential
  • Give up easily

People with growth mindsets

  • Embrace challenges
  • Are resilient
  • Work hard to learn more

Dweck has conducted many studies into fixed vs. growth mindsets and their respective impacts on academic performance. In her studies with Yeager, Dweck found that students who have a growth mindset achieve more highly across challenging school transitions than students who have a fixed mindset.

These studies strongly relate to sports performance. If a child believes their talent and sports skills are fixed and that they won’t improve, then they won’t improve. However, if a child believes they can develop their sports skills and that they will be able to improve, then they will improve.

Encouraging a Growth Mindset: Praise Wisely

So if a growth mindset is the way to go, how do you encourage your child to foster one?

In her Ted Talk “The Power of Yet”, Dweck said employers have told her, “we have already raised a generation of young workers who can’t get through the day without an award”. Her solution to this is to stop praising widely, and instead start praising wisely. Stop praising intelligence or talent, and start praising process, effort, strategies, focus, perseverance, and improvement, because these things will foster resilience.

Claudia M. Mueller and Dweck’s studies on praise and mindsets show that students who received “intelligence praise” are less resilient after an academic setback. However, students who received “process praise” performed more highly than on their original test before they received “process praise”, and also asked for more challenging problems in the future.

To apply this in sport, instead of focusing your praise on your child’s winning performance, praise them more for their individual performance, on their improvements, their effort, their strategy in the game, and their concentration. Showing your child that you value these skills will encourage them to work harder to improve them, and grow as an individual as well as part of a team.

The Coaching Spot posted some questions to ask your child that will help them develop a growth mindset.

10 “What” Questions to Develop a Growth Mindset in Children

  1. What did you do today that made you think hard?
  2. What happened today that made you keep on going?
  3. What can you learn from this?
  4. What mistake did you make that taught you something?
  5. What did you try hard at today?
  6. What strategy are you doing to try now?
  7. What will you do to challenge yourself today?
  8. What will you do to improve your work?
  9. What will you do to improve your talent?
  10. What will you do to solve this problem?

Multilane Mindset: Branching Out Instead of Burning Out

Broadening your child’s mindset by finding a hobby or interest outside of their chosen sport can be a game changer in many ways.

Specialising in sport at an early age can sometimes be necessary for a child to reach their potential. There will always be exceptions to this, but in most sports, it is far easier to reach the highest peak within a certain age bracket.

In saying that, a child who devotes all of their free time and energy has a high risk of burnout. Burnout is complete physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion, usually caused by long-term stress.

Burnout can happen if excessively high expectations are placed on a child by parents or coaches and they are pushed too hard too quickly. Children who go all out in their sport and neglect other areas of their life, like schoolwork, may also fall foul.

BBC Sport

So if you don’t want to risk your child burning out, encourage them to branch out instead.

At face value, finding something else to occupy your child’s time outside of competitive sport can add balance and variety to their life. A new hobby can provide them with a release – something they can enjoy without the pressure or expectations of their sport, and without the fear of failure.

On a deeper level, a different hobby can provide a different set of skills, which could complement and ultimately improve the skills they need for their sport. For example, dance classes can help with motor skills, coordination, core strength and stability, and a whole host of other skills relevant to sports across the board.

Lee Carseldine, former cricketer, spoke on Four Corners about life after sport. In an earlier ad for the program, he said if he could give his 20-year-old self some advice, it would be to branch out.

“I would tell myself to go out there and find a hobby or find something else that takes me away from that game. And if I could tell myself that that hobby or that other influence was going to improve my game performance by about 20 or 30 per cent, I would have jumped at it.”

Lee Carseldine, former cricketer

What’s Best

In the end, we all want what’s best for our children. That may be fully supporting them in their chosen sport so they do well and have every opportunity to succeed. But what’s best for their physical, mental, and emotional health might be encouraging them to find something else that they find fulfilling so they can experience enjoyment outside of their sport. Ultimately, fostering a growth mindset in your child will benefit them on and off the playing field, and will give them valuable skills to hold onto for life.

Header image via: Jeffrey Lin