athlete mindset

Growth Mindset and How It Affects Athletic Performance

Talent and skills are not the only characteristics that separate athletes from the rest—there’s also the mindset. A positive mindset is one of the biggest contributors to an excellent sports performance. Athletes’ mental outlook enhances their natural and technical abilities, helping them focus on the competition and achieve their goals.

Athletes with a next-level positive mindset, however, don’t magically appear during competitions. They need to be honed—constantly. With that, let’s talk about the athlete’s mindset, along with its benefits and development, to help you improve your mental game and prepare you for your next competition.

What Exactly Is A Mindset?

One’s mindset constitutes the person’s set of beliefs—everything that shapes how they view themselves, the people around them, and the world. Through these views, one’s mindset then influences how one thinks, feels, and acts in a given situation.

As each person has a different background, culture, and upbringing, each also develops a different mindset—depending on the situation they’re facing. Dr. Carol Deck, an influential American psychologist from Stanford University known for her groundbreaking work on the field of mindset, helped introduce the two types of mindset to the world. In her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Deck mentioned the topic of growth mindset vs fixed mindset.

Fixed Mindset

With a fixed mindset, a person believes that his or her talent, intelligence, and other qualities are innate and static; hence the term “fixed”. One can be good or bad at something based on inherent nature alone.

“In a fixed mindset, students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount, and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb.”

— Carol Dweck on Fixed Mindset

Growth Mindset 

Meanwhile, a growth mindset, is not as limiting as a fixed mindset. A person with a growth mindset believes that his or her intelligence, talent, and other qualities can be developed with practice, time, and effort.

“In a growth mindset, students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching, and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.”

— Carol Dweck on Growth Mindset

Importance and Benefits of Growth Mindset In Athletes

A person or an athlete can develop these two types of the mindset anytime, anywhere, and in any situation. People are capable of changing their brain functions and thinking patterns. But of course, when we consider the two: growth mindset vs fixed mindset, the ideal type of mindset to adapt in any situation is a growth mindset, so athletes should always know its benefits and importance to develop it constantly.

Here are the top benefits of having a growth or positive mindset:

Appreciation For Lifelong Learning

Lifelong learning means gaining knowledge and learning new skills throughout one’s life. Athletes with a growth mindset are always open to more information. Due to this, they can appreciate lifelong learning and help themselves develop new skills, techniques, and knowledge that can improve their sports performance. Athletes with a growth mindset are always hungry for more.

Career Growth and Success

Career growth and career success will always come to those athletes who constantly develop a growth mindset because of their willingness to improve and strive for new things. A stagnant or fixed mindset will hinder growth and negatively affect an athlete’s career.

“Being in learning mode is proposed as a self-regulatory meta-competency that shapes self-directed learning regarding how to tackle sustainable career challenges. People are in learning mode when they hold a growth mindset as they cycle through relevant approaches, action, and reflection on experiential learning processes,” proposed a study published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior.

Development of Self-Esteem

A growth mindset doesn’t just affect an athlete’s personal performance; it also touches the athlete from within. When a person believes that he or she can always improve, regardless of failures and mistakes, self-esteem easily appears on the surface. They can maintain their found confidence and resilience.

Better Training Habits

Various studies have shown that students with a growth mindset develop better study habits. With that, the same can be said for athletes. Athletes who constantly seek new things for self-improvement can develop better training habits based on the challenges they’re facing.

“Individuals who believe that intelligence can be increased through effort were more likely to value the pedagogical benefits of self-testing, to restudy, and to be intrinsically motivated to learn, compared to individuals who believe that intelligence is fixed,” confirmed a study about self-regulated learning published the Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition.

Adaptability and Flexibility

Athletes with a growth mindset can handle physical, environmental, and emotional changes better. With the resilience they develop from having a positive mindset, they can cope better with changes when exposed to new and unfamiliar environments. As such, they can focus on furthering their personal development, regardless of the situation. This heavily applies to athletes who compete in different places or do cross-training.

How Can Athletes Develop A Growth Mindset

Developing a growth mindset isn’t a walk in the park because if it is, every athlete can simply become an elite athlete with no losses to his or her name. There’s no secret, really—the main ingredients are consistency and the combination of various mental, emotional, and other personal factors.

According to Bola Ikulayo, a pioneer sports psychologist in Nigeria, a proper mindset is important when preparing an athlete for a competition. And this mindset is a combination of many things.

“Psychological factors which must be considered for peak performance in sports include; personal factors, motivational factors, and mental factors. To achieve excellence in sporting events, all of these factors have to interact positively to enable actors to reach a harmonious state of readiness, physically, mentally, and emotionally. This could be done by developing the strategies which will prepare the athlete to enter the competition with the proper mindset”, cited a study about Ikulayo’s research published in the Journal of Education and Practice.

Keeping these factors in mind, here are the best practices to help athletes adopt a growth mindset and reach their full athletic potential.

Always Seek Learning Opportunities

Commit to lifelong learning throughout your entire athletic career—and even after your career. Seek out the best sources of resources from within and outside your field of sports. You can seek help from experts, coaches, or athletes above your current level to improve your skills and eliminate your weaknesses. At the same time, you can also read books, journal articles, or blogs that can help you improve your motivational techniques. Learning is endless, limitless, and boundless.

Don’t limit yourself to the things you can learn and improve on, as you can find various resources anywhere. However, also learn to avoid things unessential to your field so you won’t be overwhelmed with information.

Be Inspired By Role Models

Positive role models can change a person’s life. Simple motivational quotes from athletes you look up to or advice from coaches can improve your mindset. “Role models play an important role in the construction of a professional identity. Role models provide an example of possible selves that can be tested and evaluated for further self-enhancement. These relationships can take the form of a single direction whereby one is looking to the role model for perceived similarities or it can span into more interaction, such as in a mentorship relationship,” said a study published in the Penn Libraries of the University of Pennsylvania.

Considering the importance of role models, try to take inspiration from leaders, innovators, and athletes in your field of sports. Choose the right models with the same principles as you or with principles that you wish to follow. They could be athletes, coaches, leaders, or family members.

Always Measure Progress

It’s not easy to maintain the consistency of having a growth mindset, but you can always find ways to improve, adapt to changes, and develop optimism through progress. If you have a clear picture of your strengths, weaknesses, achievements, and gaps, you can develop the motivation to do better next time and achieve the goals you have yet to accomplish.

“Monitoring goal progress is a crucial process that comes into play between setting and attaining a goal, ensuring that the goals are translated into action,” said lead author Benjamin Harkin of the University of Sheffield in the study, ‘Does Monitoring Goal Progress Promote Goal Attainment? A Meta-Analysis Of The Experimental Evidence’.

Progress is constant, even if it’s fast, slow, gradual, or incremental. So, it’s advisable to always measure your progress in all your training and competitions. Here’s how to track your progress as an athlete:

  1. Keep A Schedule – You can easily record your progress and keep track of your goals if you stick to your training. Keeping a schedule will help you be more consistent and responsible.
  1. Keep A Workout Log – Record your gains and gaps in a workout log, so you can adjust your training and performance as needed.
  1. Track Health-Related Factors – Keep an eye on health-related factors that usually undergo changes when you train and compete, such as heart rate, muscular strength, and flexibility.
  1. Take Body Measurements – Log your measurements to get more data concerning the positive or negative changes happening in your body.
  1. Take Photos – Photos can function as data and motivational memorabilia. These are visual proof that you’re progressing, so photos can further motivate you to do better and see more changes in the future.
  1. Compare, Compete, and Progress With Friends – Have your friends or acquaintances help you track your progress through friendly comparisons, competitions, and team sessions. You don’t always have to be better than anyone because your goal should always be beating your personal record.

Challenge Your Beliefs, Skills, and Knowledge

Challenge all the lessons you learned as an athlete since you started. One of the most critical steps to determine the difference between a growth mindset vs fixed mindset and completely eradicate a fixed mindset is to challenge your personal system. Eliminate beliefs that limit you and constantly improve the current skills and knowledge you have to beat your personal record.

While you’re in the process of challenging yourself, it’s also best to identify the specific skills, knowledge, and other factors that need to be improved (e.g., teamwork, communication, and self-esteem). Doing so can save you time and effort and help you focus on the task at hand.

Set and Define Goals

Set and define goals, so you can always have a plan in motion. You can push yourself to start from somewhere, remember every milestone, follow deadlines, and be held accountable when you have concrete short-term and long-term goals as an athlete. Goal-setting is a proven and effective technique in achieving goals.

“Setting and attaining goals is an important step in achieving success academically, in the working world, and life in general…Writing down your goals, committing to action steps, and developing a support network dramatically increases success in attaining them,” said a study from the Michigan State University Extension.

You can start by identifying your goals and writing them down. Then, revisit your goals frequently to see the things you’ve achieved and the things you have yet to accomplish. You can set new goals from time to time for further self-development. Remember that a growth mindset is always ready for a challenge.

Final Words

The goal, of course, is to constantly develop a positive mindset in various types of situations. Developing a growth mindset should be done consistently, so an athlete should always be ready for changes and improvements while appreciating the value in his or her journey. Remember that in sports, success and failure all come down to mindset. From this day on, embrace challenges with an open mind and heart.