Growth Mindset in Sport and Life: Part 1

Part 1: How Mindset Affects Athletic Performance 

with ALLYSA SEELY,Liv Racing Paratriathlete 

WARNING: This post is about to get techy! 

The first of three pieces on mindset, these articles will be a bit more technical, scientific, and maybe a little dry, but I think it is important to understand how our brains work so we can harness our thoughts to be the best athletes we can be. I want each of you to have the tools to understand and grow, so here it goes! 

Over thirty years ago, Carol Dweck noticed when faced with failure, some students were able to rebound and grow, where others were devastated by even the smallest setbacks. This observation led her to study the behavior of thousands of students, eventually coining the terms fixed mindset and growth mindset. Basically, Dweck characterizes individuals who believe they have the potential to improve as having a growth mindset while people with a fixed mindset believe they were born with or without the ability to excel at a task. Individuals with a fixed mindset do not see the benefit of spending extra effort on improvement; therefore, they are often crippled by failure. 

These terms initially described the beliefs people have about learning and intelligence, but now can be used to describe a variety of tasks such as sport and leadership. Athlete’s, like students, can either have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. 

Athletes with a Fixed Mindset believe: 

  • Challenges should be avoided
  • People are born with skills/ abilities 
  • Perseverance doesn’t help you improve 
  • Encountering challenges may show a lack of skill
  • If you have to work hard, it’s because you aren’t good enough
  • If failure occurs, it’s the fault of someone else
  • Feedback is something to take personally

Because of these beliefs, fixed mindset athletes often get emotional and compare themselves to competitors frequently. They are often fearful, rigid and limit their own potential. 

Athletes with a Growth Mindset believe: 

  • People can improve upon their skills/ abilities
  • Skills are a result of hard work
  • Challenges offer a chance to test yourself
  • Mastery comes from effort
  • Feedback is a learning tool 
  • Setbacks offer opportunities to learn and can be a wakeup call

Athletes with a growth mindset can typically win and lose with grace and enjoy the success of other athletes. This mindset leads to open minded, hardworking, calm, and coachable athletes. 

The good news is, you have the ability to change your mindset! As an athlete, it is important to understand which mindset you gravitate toward and at what times. Once you understand when you are getting stuck in a fixed mindset, you can begin to make the necessary changes to transition to a growth mindset. The next two articles will help you (1) identify your mindset and (2) reframe your inner dialogue to change your mindset. Stay tuned!