By: Emma Glasgow
“I’m just trying to turn pessimists into optimists.”~Fred Stride
During one of my teaching placements I heard this teaching philosophy  from a gentleman who had come to teaching as a second profession. He was often sidled with the “undesirable” courses, the mandatory grade 9 and 10 classes that many kids take simply because the government has made it a requirement to graduate. They don’t want to be there. But he does. Each semester, he sets an optimistic goal, to turn his students into optimists.  He wants to change their fixed mindset from the ” I don’t want to be here” and “I can’t do it” to the growth mindset of simply having them try. Engaging in the process to see what they can learn.
It has been my experience that all children innately possess a growth mindset. That is, they want to learn, embrace challenges, have a high level of persistence/resilience, learn from criticism, learn from others and continually achieve more. It is the messages that they receive from society, teachers, peers, parents, media, etc., throughout their young learning experiences that shapes their mindset. Repeatedly receiving negative messages regarding performance, and comparison to peers, begin to tell them that they are the way they are, and changing that would be against their nature so why try? The child becomes a pessimist in regards to their own potential.
I’ve associated the pessimist as fixed and the optimist as growth in terms of mindset. The flow chart below, created by Nigel Holmes, uses intelligence as an example but outlines the opposing mindsets well.
Michael Graham Richard broke down the steps a littler further on his own blog (link provided below). This may be helpful in understanding the chart and thought process a little better. I’ve used talent interchangeably with intelligence and re framed it towards the athlete, but the process is otherwise the same.

Fixed Mindset

Let’s have a look, starting with the Fixed Mindset side:
Player believes that their talent is fixed, that “they are the way they are”, but that doesn’t mean that they have less of a desire for a positive self-image than anyone else. So of course they want to perform well and look smart or talented. But to achieve these goals they will have to face challenges.
By definition, a challenge is hard and success is not a definite outcome, so rather than risk failing and negatively impacting their self-image, they will often avoid challenges and stick to what they know they can do well, which could possibly mean leaving the sport altogether.
Same with obstacles. The difference here, as I see it, is that challenges are things that you can decide to do while obstacles are external forces that get in your way.
What’s the point of working hard and making efforts if afterwards you are still on square one? If your worldview tells you that effort is an unpleasant thing that doesn’t really pay dividends, then the smart thing to do is to avoid it as much as possible.
Feedback that is negative or constructive is either ignored, taken as an insult or used as validation of the self-image the player has of themselves.  The Fixed Mindset logically leads you to believe that any criticism of your capabilities is criticism of you. This usually discourages the people around and after a while they stop giving any negative feedback and possibly all feedback, further isolating the person from external influences that could generate some change.
The success of others is seen as a benchmark against which the person looks bad. Usually when others succeed, people with a Fixed Mindset will try to convince themselves and the people around them that the success was due to either luck (after all, almost everything is due to luck in the Fixed Mindset world) or objectionable actions. In some cases, they will even try to tarnish the success of others by bringing up things that are completely unrelated (“Yes, but did you know about his…”).
As a result, they don’t reach their full potential and their beliefs feed on themselves: They don’t change or improve much with time, if at all, and so to them this confirms that “they are as they are”.

Growth Mindset

Let’s now look at the Growth Mindset:
People who hold the Growth Mindset believe that intelligence or talent can be developed, that the brain is like a muscle that can be trained. This leads to the desire to improve.
And how do they improve? First, these players embrace challenges, because they know that they will come out stronger on the other side.
Similarly, obstacles – external setbacks – do not discourage these players, at least not for very long. Their self-image is not tied to their success and how they will look to others; failure is an opportunity to learn, and so they take the optimistic approach.
Effort is seen not as something useless to be avoided but as necessary to grow and master useful skills. These players recognize that mastery is a process, and the more effort they put in the more likely they are to achieve a desirable result.
Criticism and negative feedback are sources of information. That doesn’t mean that all criticism is worth integrating or that nothing is never taken personally, but at least the Growth Mindset individual recognizes that he or she can change and improve, so the negative feedback is not perceived as being directly about them as a player, but rather about their current abilities.
The success of others is seen as a source of inspiration and information. To Growth Mindset individuals, success is not seen as a zero-sum game.
And so, Growth Mindset individuals will improve and this will create a positive feedback loops that encourages them to keep learning and improving.
How can you change a pessimist to an optimist?
Regardless of the mindset players enter the gym with, there is a way to cultivate a growth mindset, to turn players from pessimists to optimists. The solution is simple, focus on the process not the outcome.
1. Embrace challenges by creating challenging opportunities for everyone.
“If you’re not chasing after the ball, you’re not working hard enough!” This was a phrase I heard during almost every dribbling drill growing up. The idea was that no matter the skill level, you can always push the ball harder, faster, further. If you were chasing after a ball, it meant you were successfully pushing your limits. Have players challenge themselves, and if they you don’t feel they are, provide some feedback.
2. Create an obstacle for the entire team.
This could be as simple as presenting an seemingly impossible task like a scrimmage with an older team. Many players, even the optimists on your team, may feel dejected. Turn it into a learning experience by having the other coach or players provide feedback to your team. Focus on the small improvements, not the score at the end.
3. Reward effort!
Whatever way you frame eff0rt–hardwork, hustle or heart–praise it! Everyone has the ability to work hard and all players will exhibit that effort in their own way! Praise sweat and bruises! A mentor of mine gauged every practice by whether the players were “sweatin’ and smiling”. Sometimes those smiles may be grimaces, but either way reward the effort!
4. Give descriptive feedback
The “good job’s” and “nice try’s” often serve as feedback, but they aren’t enough. They focus on the outcome! Once again, shift focus towards the process. Feedback is most effective when it is specific. If the player is having difficulty with a lay-up, ask them to focus on their feet, then reward their improved footwork on the next repetition! Offering constructive, descriptive feedback to all players, regardless of outcome, will help the learning process! Don’t forget to keep things positive!
5. Find inspiration from others
Have player look to other people for inspiration! You may need to facilitate this. Maybe a fellow teammate or an older player has had a similar experience, buddy them up! Sharing in the experience and seeing that player’s eventual success, may inspire your player and provide a sense of comraderie. The feeling that they are not alone in their successes and their failures is comforting.
Changing pessimists to optimists is no small task. As is true of most things, pessimism and optimism occur on a spectrum, we all have moments of both. Inevitably you will not reach every may be the key! Are you up for the challenge?player; it’s a process.  Adopting an optimistic, growth mindset of your own like Mr. Stride, is key! Are you up for the challenge?
Feel free to share your thoughts and comments below!
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