Friday, December 5, 2014

The Wrong Kind of Praise? (by Coach Ryan)

For years I have believed telling children how intelligent they are boosts their self-image and enhances their ability to learn new things.  As a Coach, praising my athletes for their talent seemed like a good way to motivate them to achieve at an even higher level.

While I'm not going to lose sleep and beat myself up over it, I think those ideas may be quite mistaken.

Last month, I had the privilege of sitting in on sessions conducted by John O'Sullivan of the Changing the Game Project, and Rob Miller of Proactive Coaching.  One of the many invaluable nuggets I took from those two men was the concept of a fixed mindset vs. a growth mindset.  Psychologist/researcher Carol Dweck has authored a number of studies on mindset and how it affects performance.

I don't claim to be an expert, and would encourage all Coaches/parents/teachers to take a look at some of the links below.  Thinking through these ideas is having a significant impact on how I view myself, my students, athletes and my own children.  I am gradually altering the way I offer praise.

Basically, as I understand it, fixed vs. growth goes like this.

A fixed mindset says, "I have certain talents and abilities and those won't change."

A growth mindset says, "I can learn new things, develop new talents, and am nowhere near what I am capable of becoming."

As Coaches, it would seem that a growth mindset would be greatly beneficial for our athletes.  And it turns out that the type of praise we offer can move people in one direction or the other.  It's not about withholding praise; it's more about being cognizant of the type of praise we offer.

Studies indicate that children who are praised for their talent, intelligence, etc. are far less likely to develop growth mindsets.  On the other hand, those who are praised for effort, or some other variable they have control over, are more likely to try new things, take risks, and tend to outperform the other group.

Quoting from Dr. Dweck's website:

In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They’re wrong.

In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.

If these ideas are new to you like they were to me, I would encourage you to consider how making small adjustments in your thinking and Coaching in these areas might be a huge difference maker in the lives of your athletes over time.

Read more about these ideas:

Carol Dweck's Mindset website

How Not to Talk to Your Kids (article from

Why Praise Can Be Bad For Kids (article from

PS I've gotten feedback that a number of our blog readers miss the inclusion of song lyrics from the 80s from these posts.  Every once in a while, I will throw you a bone.  Here goes:

80's Lyric

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