Written by Meghan Gardner

This month, we had a guest appearance at our Instructor Training class from a Junior Olympic Volleyball Coach and Club Director of Gators VBC. He had just returned from a week of intensive training for his level 3 Coaching Accreditation in Colorado Springs at the Olympic Training Center. And since he is also my husband, Frank Gardner offered to share an overview of the exceptional training he received from Karch Kiraly, the Head Coach of the USA Women’s Olympic Indoor Volleyball Team.  The training Frank shared with us was about Growth Mindset versus Fixed Mindset (from Carol Dweck’s book entitled “Mindset”) and how your frame of mind can make a critical difference in your ability to learn. It also explained why it might not be a good idea to label someone as “smart”…

Frank explained that a Growth Mindset is one based on process and learning with a focus on continual improvement.  In the Growth Mindset, success is measured by improvement as opposed to outcome. The foundation of this mindset is the belief that abilities are flexible and can be improved with effort and practice. Growth Mindset learners compare their abilities to how they were before their training and practice. Growth Mindset learners also thrive at the edge of their comfort zone – stepping out of it enough to allow themselves to fail on occasion.

The opposite of the Growth Mindset is the Fixed Mindset. When a learner has a Fixed Mindset, they focus on outcome and results. As well, results are strictly based upon success or “winning”. In Fixed Mindset, the learner sees their abilities as fixed or set (either born with it or not) and they measure any progress by comparing themselves to other learners.  Fixed Mindset learners stay inside their comfort zone because they fear failure.  Failure means they don’t “have it” and because they believe their attributes are fixed, they don’t understand that you can “earn it”.

As instructors and coaches, it’s our goal to emphasize the Growth Mindset.  One way this can be accomplished is by making sure our feedback uses praise for the learner which is specific and focuses on the Growth Mindset.  Examples include:

1. You are being creative
2. You show resilience
3. You are tough
4. That was proactive
5. You are hard working
6. Good job with being persistent
7. You are showing patience
8. You are considerate
9. You are being resourceful
10. Good diligence!

These are all attributes and actions that can be learned and improved upon.

Fixed Mindset is reinforced with praise that focuses on attributes that are inherent in the learner instead of those that can be learned.  Examples include:

United Sword Heroes1. You are a natural
2. You are smart
3. You are gifted
4. You were born with this skill
5. You are talented

This isn’t to say that you cannot say that a learner is “smart” as long as you back it up with how they earned being smart with their hard working, persistent, and diligent practice.  As well, it’s important to have the learner understand that once they consider themselves “smart”, they still have to work hard at continuing to be smart through their effort and willingness to fail.  So it may actually be best to just use praise that focuses on abilities that they can improve upon, instead of using terms that make the learner feel that they were “born with it”.

The Guard Up instructors gave some excellent examples of praise and scenarios on how to help shift a learner’s mindset. Frank ended his training with a great quote he picked up (unknown author): 

“A comfort zone is a wonderful place but nothing ever grows there.”