Written by: Coach Kelley
“What if I’m not good enough?”
“What if I fail?”
“What if everyone else is better than me?”
“It’s too hard.”
When I was an athlete, these thoughts used to float around my head on an hourly basis. I was terrified of failing, feeling stupid, being unprepared, or just plain not good enough. It wasn’t until I got to college and my coach introduced us to visualization and positive thinking techniques that I realized those words determined the outcome of my practices or meets. And after taking a couple of sports psychology classes, I became really interested in a person’s ability to achieve anything they put their mind to. These days, you can’t open a self-help article without hearing about a person’s mindset.
Fixed mindset vs. growth mindset. What’s the difference between the two?
In a fixed mindset, people believe their abilities are fixed traits and therefore cannot change. Each individual has a certain amount of intelligence and that’s that. These people document their intelligence and talents rather than working to develop and improve them. It makes people afraid to try because they are afraid of looking incompetent or failing. They also believe that talent alone leads to success, and effort is not required.
In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. Brains and talent are just the starting point while intelligence and abilities can be developed. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.
The key to success as a gymnast is training your mind to believe you are a great gymnast and putting in the effort to make that happen. A gymnast stuck in a fixed mindset believes whether or not they are good at gymnastics can’t be changed. They tend to give up easily or not try as hard as possible. They think they’ll never be as good as the other gymnasts around them.
A gymnast practicing a growth mindset simply believes if they work hard, they can improve in gymnastics. They may not always succeed at every skill, but they know that with time and practice they can get better if they’re willing to try. Words are powerful and positive words can help you become a better gymnast, the same way negative words can stop you from becoming the best gymnast you can be.
A gymnast using a fixed mindset might say things to themselves like:
"I’ll never get a back handspring."
"I’m the worst one on the team."
"I always fall off beam."
"I should just give up."
Whereas a gymnast using a growth mindset, might say to themselves:
"Mistakes are part of the process. It means I’m trying."
"I’ll improve if I keep doing the work."
"It may be hard, but I’m up for the challenge."
"I might not be able to do that skill YET, but I will soon."
One way to move from a fixed to a growth mindset is to use positive affirmations. Positive affirmations are phrases or mantras that you repeat to yourself. They describe a specific outcome or illustrate who you want to be. At first, these affirmations might not be true, but with constant repetition, your subconscious mind will start to believe them. Have your gymnast make a list of positive words and make a habit of reading this list of words to themselves EVERYDAY. Say them every morning before your day starts. Say them when you’re in the gym learning a new skill. Say them right before a big meet. The important thing is that you say these words over and over to yourself every day. The more you read your positive words, the more you’ll start to believe them.
When thinking about using positive affirmations with your gymnast, know that praising them too much can hinder the goal of developing a growth mindset. It can steer them toward a fixed mindset and turns them off to challenging learning. They may develop a fear of failure if they aren’t perfect. Instead, try praising the process of learning and you will continue to see growth from your athlete. The desire to learn will cause them to seek out harder tasks. Don’t focus on scores or medals, instead focus on skills achieved, confidence gained, and lessons learned.
As a parent, ask your gymnast what they struggled with at practice today. As a coach, if practice seemed easy, give them a more challenging task.
Remember: “I might not be able to do it…YET!”