Fall is finally upon us. As I swap out the sandals and shorts for jeans and a hoodie, I can’t help but get excited for the Friday night and weekend football games. Despite many first-hand sideline experiences with the game itself, I’ve never been able to truly enjoy any of it until I left college and professional athletics. I now have the opportunity to talk and check in with parents and watch our very own athletes perform on the gridiron, under the lights and away from the pressures of school and life. It’s here with the scents of fresh cut grass and sliced oranges that I find peace at the end of a long week (and before the arrival of my newborn daughter any day now).
But unfortunately, at a game this past weekend (Go BUCS!), I overheard a conversation that immediately triggered this post. My hope is to remind each and everyone of you of what we might be doing wrong and how our MINDSET can negatively affect our coaching.
Between watching the game and running around chasing my toddler son back and forth, I overheard two adults who CLEARLY knew how to coach in the lower area of the stands converse about a particular athlete who they both seemed to know or at least, take notice of. Maybe their son played PEEWEE football with him or they went to school together. Whatever. The conversation went something like this…
“He ain’t got a shot. I don’t know why they’re putting him in anyways”.
“The kid’s a NONNER. Look at him.”
“Would love to see what this kid’s parents look like.”
“Just bad genetics. I mean look at the kid. For cryin’ out loud.”
You get the idea. Now, if you’ve ever attended a high school football game, or any game for that matter, you know that you’ve got the SUPERFANS, ASSISTANT COACHES and overall CRITICS all around you. They’re the ones who don’t keep their mouths shut, offer their opinion on every play and even suggest their own play calling right from the stands.
It immediately made me realize that if these very people, parents of players on the same team, were so critical of someone they probably didn’t know well, how could it be any different than those who ACTUALLY knew the player?
Could the athlete’s coach(es) be saying the same thing? Limiting the potential of a young man simply because they saw him for what he is now, not for what he could become?
A topic that I have begun to read more and more about refers to this very premise; fixed versus growth mindsets and its impact in coaching.
Take the above scenario and find maybe three words that describe the parent’s interaction best.
Now, take the same situation described above and apply a hint of personal value to it. Let’s say, that was your son out there. How would you describe his ability and actions that were portrayed in front of the stands that moment?
Not there yet, but closer?
Determined not defeated?
The ideas of fixed and growth mindsets are explored in detail by one of my latest readings, Mindset by Carol Dweck. In Mindset, Carol describes two types of beliefs in regards to intelligence and aptitude.
Within the “fixed” mindset, individuals simply have it. They’ve got the talent and are natural at the tasks they are given. They’ve got the juice and just go with it.
Then there is the “growth” mindset, where the abilities are developed and learned over time, through trials and tribulations, personal values, and what we are willing to work on.
So, my question to you is…
Are you “fixing” your mindset before you even give the athlete a chance?
Coaches who hold a fixed mindset limit their options for success by narrowing their vision so tight, they can’t see the forest from the trees.
They reply back in recruiting meetings with answers like “Can’t change that. Bad genes. No shot. Complete nonner. Who’s next?”
They look at an athlete who is nothing but skin and bone and crush his spirits when he says he wants to put on 25lbs of muscle.
They refuse to work with the walk-ons because they’re not good enough.
But what about the coaches who open up their eyes, hearts and minds to the unknown, to the possibilities that lie ahead?
They’re the ones who reply “I can fix that. Not his/her fault, let’s see what we can do. We can work with that. Let’s get to work!”
They see each athlete as a blank canvas, a masterpiece waiting to come to fruition.
They view each experience as an opportunity to not just change numbers, but lives as well.
Fixed mindset coaches don’t ask questions. They go with the flow. They look to others worse than them to make themselves feel better.
Growth mindset coaches seek to understand. They demonstrate poise under adverse situations. They look to others better than them to learn and grow.
If you’re a collegiate strength and conditioning coach, there’s no doubt that you’re looking at physical attributes on recruiting visits. You’re thinking “What does this athlete have and how can he/she help our program?” But, aren’t you surprised by the few that maybe don’t catch your eye at the beginning or take a little bit longer to mature and turn out to be your MVP’s, team captains and IRON award winners?
Maybe you’re heading up a high school program where you simply don’t have the numbers to field a great team and you can’t perform cuts. More often or not, you’re going to have players that can’t get the job done for you now, but isn’t that why they call you COACH?
Or better yet, you’re the awesome parent who volunteers to coach the little league team and teach them about hard work, discipline and having fun but only play the stars of the team because we all know how much ESPN wants to highlight YOUR success with a bunch of 6-8 year olds.
Whether it’s coaching at the college, high school or even private sector level, we all have pre-conceived notions and opinions as soon as we set our eyes on our athletes. But, if we’re getting paid to DEVELOP athletes, we have to dismiss these notions and get to work, regardless of who is in the program. We should be developing and constructing the next set of all-stars and maximizing each and every athlete’s potential, both on and off the field.
Do you wish you had some extra toys or better athletes around the facility to help you write some really AWESOME programs? Do you tell yourself “If I only had A, then I could do B and C would happen?”
Well, often more times than not, the best programs are coached and written without fancy auto-regulators, accessory equipment and thoroughbred athletes.
Do you feel stuck in a position where there is no growth? Maybe you’re coaching at one of the worst ranked schools in terms of winning and you feel like if you were only at a better school with better incentives, you would coach better?
Why don’t you maximize and continue to grow as a coach regardless of where you’re blowing the whistle or coaching squat depth? Or listen to Joe Kenn and become the very best in the job you’ve got before you worry about the job you want?
If there is one piece of advice I’ve heard over and over throughout my coaching career, it is…
“Do the best you can, with what you have, where you are” (Theodore Roosevelt).
So instead of looking for a way out, search for a way into the athletes that you have the opportunity to mold and develop.
Look for bright spots along the way and illuminate the path for all to see.
And remember that we’ll never know where effort and time will take someone in their endeavors and aspirations, and that potential simply requires a little patience and persistence.
Special thanks to my nutrition coach, KSD, for the insight.