When we watch Olympic Gymnastics, it’s safe to say that we’re all (gymnasts and non-gymnasts) mesmerized. The first thing that’s usually said about these athletes is “Wow, they’re so talented!” While they've all been given a gift of the natural ability to bend and flip in incredible ways, let’s not be dismissive of what it takes to get these gymnasts to the Olympic stage.
While most people understand that professional sports comes with an insane amount of work, dedication, and sacrifice, there’s something else that can determine the success of an athlete - mindset. With a unique sport like gymnastics that can be just as much mental as it is physical, there comes the assumption that you must have natural talent to have a successful career. Sure, talent plays a big role, but there’s a stigma there that your success is determined by something completely out of your control. The problem with that "fixed" mindset is that it focuses on talent rather than effort. Not a single Olympic athlete made it to the international stage on talent alone; they believe in the ability to grow and improve, regardless of talent, which is why they’ve reached the pinnacle of success. This “growth" mindset is the idea that whether one succeeds or not is determined by effort, i.e. “I can get better if I work hard.”
Angela Lee Duckworth has a great speech on this and her theory of grit:
"GRIT is passion and perseverance for very long term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in and day out, for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Talent doesn’t make you gritty."
When we're dealing with children that have big dreams, like going to the Olympics, we have to remember not to get caught up in the Talent Trap. Athletes and parents who get stuck in that fixed mindset tend to get discouraged and sometimes end up quitting the sport altogether because they feel they don't have what it takes. This is when we need to foster that Gold Medal Mentality.
The athletes that have both talent and grit are the ones we see reach their Olympic dreams. The athletes that have grit, but are lacking in natural ability, are able to unlock the possibility of reaching an elite level, and even if they don't, they are still successful due to their mindset. If you look at Simone Biles and Aly Raisman, you could say that Simone has more natural talent while Aly has more grit. Both gymnasts have tremendous success; however, Aly has had to work even harder for things that come more naturally to Simone. Aly could have given up after the 2012 Olympics when she lost out on the Bronze medal due to a tie breaker with Russia's Aliya Mustafina, but because of the growth mindset she maintained, she got to work and came back to win a silver medal four years later.
Our success is not measured by our accomplishments, but how we flourish along the way. Even if you don't reach your ultimate goal, the lessons you learn along the way are much more important and valuable in the big picture. This mentality has helps gymnasts realize their potential and keeps them focused on the effort, which puts them in control of their destiny. That is what we want for our students. Regardless of where you start, if you believe in the ability to progress and improve, you will reach success!