This is part V in a series titled Training the Modern Athlete. To read part IV, click here!
John Wooden: You have to apply yourself each day to becoming a little better. By applying yourself to the task of becoming a little better each and every day over a period of time, you will become a lot better
After listening to an interview with former United States gymnastic coach Chris Sommer, one thing really stood out to me. He talked about the difference between being an immature athlete and being a mature athlete. The immature athlete is one who wants instant gratification. They don’t want to wait around. They lack patience in their programming. A good example of this is an athlete who is not willing to work on the fundamentals of their given sport. They want to progress to the more advanced drills and they want to do it now. This athlete might achieve some early success, but in the long run, the immature athlete will begin to falter. They will be passed by the competition. The mature athlete will pass them by. The characteristics of a mature athlete are the opposite of the immature one. The mature athlete has patience. They can see the big picture. If the goal is to peak for the Olympic games in 4 years, they understand that where they are right now is not where they will be in the future. They trust the coaching and are willing to learn.
When I listened to this interview, I was reminded of a book I read a few years ago titled Mindset by Carol Dweck. In it, she discussed two ways to views things: one with a fixed mindset, the other with a growth mindset. The immature athlete has a fixed mindset. The fixed mindset is believing your qualities are carved in stone. They believe a person’s potential is non-malleable. In the fixed mindset, everything is about the outcome. If you fail- or if you’re not the best- it’s all been a giant waste. If you need an example of an athlete with a fixed mindset, look no further than tennis player John McEnroe. If he lost, there was a tantrum. He blamed others. He berated judges. He didn’t hold himself accountable for his actions. There was nothing ever to be learned from defeat. On the flip side, the mature athlete has a growth mindset. The growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. They believe that a person’s true potential is unknown; that it’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil, and training. The growth mindset allows people to value what they’re doing regardless of the outcome. A great example of this is NBA Player Tim Duncan, who at age 40, is chasing his 6th NBA Championship. NBA writer Tom Ziller described him like this: "His work ethic has long been lauded. He keeps himself in impeccable shape. He's possibly the most coachable superstar in NBA history, which helps him fully accept Gregg Popovich's lessons. He's one of the smartest players in the NBA." This is what the growth mindset is all about!
You cannot expect that all of the athletes that you coach will be mature. They may not even show any characteristics of the growth mindset. This doesn't mean you say, "Oh this child doesn't have it so I won't waste my time trying to teach them". Too many teachers and coaches hide their own lack of ability behind statements like that. It is the perfect example of a fixed mindset. Instead of teaching, they are judging. If you portray this fixed mindset as a coach, then that is the mindset that your athletes will adopt. It is important for you to remember one thing: expanding skills and knowledge is the goal. Having innate talent is a wonderful thing but only if you have the mind to support it!