reflecting on talent and hardwork
Carol Dweck is the author of Mindset, the New Psychology of Success - How we can learn to fulfill our potential. Dweck makes the case in her book that there are two mindsets - a growth mindset and a fixed mindset. A fixed mindset is one where an athlete sees their limits as fixed - you are either destined for greatness or not. You either have the talent or you don't. A growth mindset is one where an athlete says to themselves 'I can learn this, I can get better with practice and hard work'. Dweck points out that most highly successful athletes have a growth mindset - one that allows them to respond to setbacks with the perspective of 'how can I improve'. In our work with young skiers, how can we create a space where a growth mindset is encouraged and supported.
Talent is a word that comes up often in sport, especially when a group of coaches get together. 'Oh, that kid has lots of natural talent' is a phrase you might hear. Talent is sometimes associated with physical endowment - large muscular kids, or kids who ski effortlessly and technically better as an 8 year than most adults. The problem with 'talent' is that it doesn't naturally encourage hard work. We see this all the time - 150lb 13 yearold boys who win races by 5 minutes only to drop out of skiing when the later developers catch up in their development. Dweck points this out nicely- "the naturals, carried away with their greatness, don't learn how to work hard or how to cope with setbacks". Focusing on talent, creates a fixed mindset - one that says - you were born with 'greatness'. It is almost a curse to be identified early as 'talented' as most highly successfull athletes weren't necessarily blessed with lots of early natural ability - they became great because they worked hard. Michael Jordan, Bruce Jenner, Jackie Joyner Kersee, Billy Jean King, Babe Ruth - all athletes who didnt start out as the ones identified with lots of talent. Champions it seems find success in doing their best, in learning and improving.
'You must have worked really hard' - this is a good response when to a young athlete experiencing success. It focuses on the piece of the work that the athlete can be responsible for. 'Success is 99% effort, 1% talent" - another great message for young athletes. "If you work hard at something, you get out what you put in" - another message that focuses on the effort piece and not whether you were born with natural gifts.
There is something to be said for natural ability. But more important I think is focusing on hard work. How can we create a space for adolescent athletes where the focus is on the hard work. How can we create competitions that don't just reinforce early development over late development. Creating hard work is pretty easy. Creating a space where kids can learn that hard work is what is going to take them to success is the challenge.