Your coaching mindset, whether it is ego mindset or mastery mindset, is the #1 thing that can get you and your athletes where you want to be, or not. You just have to decide where you get the most benefit and unlock your potential. And mindset can be referred to in different terminologies – ego versus mastery, winning versus losing, or fixed versus growth – but the concept is similar.

I’ve been reading and watching a lot of Carol Dweck’s work lately. It’s brilliant. Her research, seemingly quite simple, encompasses most all of the mental competencies in two mindset concepts – fixed versus growth. What Dweck’s research has uncovered is not new, but it is delineated into such a simplistic way, anyone can understand it. She makes it easy to not only figure out whether you are a person with a fixed or growth mindset, but also which mindset facilitates development and how to adopt a more success-filled mindset.

Tabula rasa

In a talk, I gave last month I talked about the difference in girls versus boys. When kids are first born, there are not a lot of differences. You may have heard the concept tabula rasa. It means blank slate and can be traced back to the writings of Aristotle. We are born a blank slate and who we become is a product of experience. Our experiences stem from our interactions with parents, teachers, and coaches. Because kids don’t have the mental capacity to develop their own thoughts, feelings and perceptions, they learn and are influenced by the adults in their environment – rights and wrongs, good and bad, wins and losses, etc. Children pick up all of this information from their environment, directly and indirectly, and that is how kids are shaped. For example, if a child grows up in an environment where they perceive perfection to be important, they will strive for perfection in everything they do. If someone hasn’t verbally conveyed this message, kids pick it up from other subtleties like body language or rewards.

Regardless, the bottom line is, we shape children. All of the good and bad qualities that you see in children as they get older all come from experiences they’ve had with parents, teachers, coaches, other kids, other adults, and the list goes on.

Fixed versus growth

With that being said then, a child will be shaped to see the world with either a fixed or growth mindset. In a fixed mindset, children believe that their abilities are set in stone. They believe they can’t be more athletic, intelligent, funny, or artistically inclined than what they are currently. Those with a fixed mindset are challenged by seeing the glass half empty. Things are black and white, negative, and a direct measure of their worth.

Children who are raised with a growth mindset understand that everything can be developed over time. They believe in the gray areas of life, are more positive and realistic, and realize that not winning is all about doing better the next time.

There has been much research over the years about how the brain is a muscle that can grow and expand similarly to other muscles. It seems to be true that every time you work hard, stretch yourself, and learn something new, your brain forms new connections and over time you actually become smarter. A very simple example of this is education. As kids go through K-12 grades, they learn new information, their brain expands, and they become smarter. And so forth with college education and other continuing education classes, you become smarter.

In Dweck’s research, people with a fixed mindset struggle and are less likely to flourish than those with a growth mindset. If you come from a fixed mindset now and want to develop habits of a growth mindset, it can be learned and developed. It’s never too late

Which approach

If you are a parent, teacher, or coach reading this, it’s not too late to change. You are probably parenting, teaching, and coaching the way you were parented, taught, and coached but you don’t have to continue if you are in a fixed mental state. I give a lot of talks to adults about being conscious of their role. We stumble into being parents, teachers, and coaches but that doesn’t mean we should just go with the flow and not make a conscious choice about how we want to proceed with our responsibilities and what we have the ability to influence.

You can consciously learn what role you play in the world and can consciously choose to change it; if you want. I usually have this conversation from the perspective of ego versus mastery, but it’s the same conversation – fixed (ego) and growth (mastery).

From a parent, teacher, and coaching perspective, it may be good to look at it from the ego versus mastery perspective – how do you talk to kids? How do you influence their performance?

Ego mindset versus mastery mindset
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Now, how to coach a growth mindset

Carol Dweck (2016) talks about many great ways to adopt a growth mindset.

1. Model the behaviors you want to see.

Dr M: As adults, we talk to kids about a lot of things but don’t often practice what we preach. Be the best role model you can be.

2. Emphasize the joy of learning.

Dr M: Learning in school and in sports is important and can be fun. It is one of the top three reasons why kids play sports.

3. Help kids set realistic expectations and provide support.

Dr M: It’s fine to have realistic expectations of your kids. It is important to communicate those expectations but also important to help them develop their own and provide support for all of them.

4. Be mindful of the direct and indirect messages and how kids interpret them.

Dr M: Conscious parenting, teaching and coaching is critical to a successful outcome. Be more mindful of what you say and what you do.

5. Emphasize progress not results.

Dr M: Kids can grow and learn as they progress through the process of getting better. Getting really good at being present in the process is what gets kids the results they are looking for. Telling a kid at the start of competition to go out there and win, or beat their opponent gets them stuck in overanalyzing and thinking about the win versus thinking about what they need to do in each moment that will (hopefully) get them the results they desire.

6. Allow mistakes to be an opportunity for growth.

Dr M: A mistake or an error is the only ways to get better at anything. You may not be trying hard enough or smart enough if you aren’t making mistakes.

7. Provide honest, constructive criticism that emphasizes growth.

Dr M: Kids see BS a mile away. They respect honesty. Honesty and criticism go hand in hand but growth criticism isn’t always part of the equation. Give feedback that a kid understands and that they can immediately translate into a learning and growth opportunity. I always recommend asking questions. For example, if you say, “you could have won that match by playing better defense” does not translate well. But, “what’s one thing you think you could have done better?”, makes the child think and come up with something concrete.

8. Take reasonable risks, and encourage your child to do so.

Dr M: Talk about being afraid and what you’ll take away from the experience.

With all this, you can see which approach leads to helping a child flourish and succeed, and have more awareness of how these two different mindsets can lead to a more positive outcome. Hopefully it’s also clear that you have a huge influence over a child’s growth. You are a key element to where a child’s understanding about the world comes from. With this information in mind, where do you want to go and what are 2-3 of the next steps from the list above to get there?


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About Dr Michelle Cleere:

Mind Expert
In her own private practice as an elite performance expert, she helps top athletes, musicians, and executives in competitive fields unlock the power of the mind and create the mental toughness to be the best. Having struggled most of her life with her own performance hurdles, she is driven by not wanting others to experience the same battles. Dr. Michelle’s extensive academic background, which includes a PhD in Clinical Psychology and a Masters in Sport Psychology, allows her to help clients deal with performance anxiety, gain more confidence, and build resilience. As many clients attest, their experience with Dr. Michelle is exactly what they needed and more than they expected – it was life changing.

Author and Speaker
In addition to personal coaching, Dr. Michelle takes on many roles – a best-selling author, athlete, national speaker and teacher. Dr. Michelle’s bestseller, Beating the Tennis Demons, helps professional, college and juniors develop practical skills to gain more control over competitive environments and mitigate the interruption in play to overcome intense odds and defeat adversity. Dr. Michelle developed simple and effective tools to that used by coaches around the world. She’s presented with PTR, USPTA, and WTCA. She’s written for Tennis Pro Magazine, ADDvantage Magazine, Tennis Industry Magazine and National Senior Women’s Tennis Association.

Visit Dr Michelle’s website:

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