I recently came across a post on Twitter from the What Drives Winning organization which featured Dr. Carol Dweck, the author of Mindset. She challenged parents to ask their children two questions about their sport experience:
Previously, I have written about telling your children, “I love watching you play.” (Click HERE to read the article.)
Recently, my son participated in a basketball shootout where he played 3 games in one day. He played well but there were a few things I noticed that I thought he needed to focus on getting better at.
However, I decided that I could address them later that night or even the next day. It was not anything I was upset about, but simply some suggestions for improvement. Unfortunately, I would not get the chance to bring it up with my son.
After the last game, Nathan was walking towards me and wanted to know where we were going to eat because he wanted to invite one of his friends from the team. I told him that I had already planned to let him pick where to eat. So Nathan picked the spot and invited his friend.
As we were walking out of the gym I told Nathan that I loved watching him play and that I thought he was really making some big improvements.
Then in the car on the way to the restaurant Nathan asked, “Do you have any suggestions for improvement?”
Verbally, I gave Nathan the few simple suggestions that I had been wanting to tell him to help him improve, but internally I was like Rocky Balboa at the top of the steps to the Philadelphia Museum of Art!
According to Dr. Dweck’s work this is a sign of a growth mindset. While people with a fixed mindset believe their talent level or intelligence is set at birth so they are constantly trying to prove themselves, people with a growth mindset understand that they are competing against their best self and are constantly looking for ways to improve.
When parents praise their children’s talent or abilities they are promoting a fixed mindset. The response to this is not to improve, but to compare yourself to others so that you can prove your superiority. If you need to put other people down to do this then so be it. If you need to blame the referees or the coach to do this then so be it.
But when you praise their effort and simply love watching them play, you take away all the pressure they have to try to prove themselves. They have nothing to prove because they know they have your love either way. They will see that effort leads to improvement and everyone loves to get better.
One of the lessons I learned from this is patience. I could have yelled my suggestions to Nathan during the game. I could have immediately given him my suggestions after the game. But by being patient I found out that Nathan has started to internalize his level of effort and his own improvement.
I have also learned that if you create the right environment people will display greatness on their own. My wife and I have started telling our kids we love watching them play over the last couple years. Sometimes we get no reaction from them. But no reaction does not mean no impact.
One of the reminders I have for you as a parent when you start telling your kids you love watching them play is that it will often feel awkward in the beginning. But have a growth mindset about being a parent who is helping their child with their competitive experience. When we are traveling on The Success Road we often get off course and need some gentle guidance to get back on track.
Maybe you already know the answer to the two questions Dr. Dweck wants you to ask your children. Maybe you are scared to ask the questions but I would encourage you to do so.
Remember that people are motivated by fear, incentive, and love. And one of these will not only endure longer than the other two, but it will make the ride a whole lot more enjoyable!
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