Jul 01

My Kid Stopped Trying! What Now? (John O’Sullivan)

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This article is adapted from “My Kid Stopped Trying! What Now?” by John O’Sullivan, February 13, 2013.
The article is somewhat modified.

One of the questions I am often asked is “how do I change my kid’s attitude toward sports? (O’Sullivan, speaking). He just does not seem into it anymore and he is not putting any effort in.” This is a situation that can be very confusing and discouraging for both children and parents, as well as cause stress in the parent-child relationship. If you find yourself in such a situation, do not despair!

Famed Stanford researcher Dr. Carol Dweck has found that there are two types of ‘mindsets’ when it comes to performance. Understanding the difference is crucial to helping children exert effort, and thus perform their best in sports. A person with a fixed mindset usually judges situations in terms of how they reflect upon their ability, which in children’s mind is permanent. In other words, if they do poorly on a test, they are not smart.

If she plays poorly in a game, she is not a good player. As a result, ‘fixed mindset individuals’ rarely seek out opportunities to learn or challenge themselves because failure is vindication of their lack of self-belief. In their mind, risk and effort are likely to expose their weaknesses and lack of ability. They instead choose to seek easy achievement activities, fear failure, shun effort, and are constantly finding excuses to not perform their best.

Growth mindset individuals, on the other hand, see their abilities as capable of being cultivated. They recognize that challenging oneself is an exciting part of learning, and that failure is a necessary component of success. Their attitudes towards a poor result on a test are “Next time I just need to study harder.” When confronted with a difficult task, they embrace the challenge. They are not afraid to fail, pick themselves up, and try again.

In Dweck’s words, “a belief that your qualities are carved in stone (fixed mindset) leads to a host of thoughts and actions, and a belief that your qualities can be cultivated (growth mindset) leads to a host of different thoughts and actions, taking you down an entirely different road.” ‘Fixed mindset individuals’ will not put forth effort, for they believe that if they were smart (or talented) they would not need to try hard. Effort is a bad thing! For a ‘growth mindset individual’, effort is the secret sauce that makes one talented! Effort is everything!

If your young athlete has stopped putting effort into his sports, you may need to figure out whether he has taken on a fixed mindset when it comes to sports. Does he view failure as evidence that he is not good? Does he fear failure, so he has given up trying, lest he gives his best and fails? If so, he needs a mindset adjustment! He needs to shift his beliefs, no matter how strongly they are held. You can help!

Link to Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. It is a great read, and I highly recommend it.

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