One thing I love about youth soccer is that it provides an opportunity for me to share valuable life lessons with my son. This post was inspired by one such conversation while riding home from practice.
Like all dutiful soccer parents, I always encourage my son to use his weak foot – especially during training. One day he asked, “Daddy, why do you want me to use my left foot so much?” At first, I was going to give him the obvious soccer answer. Using both feet opens up the field in terms of passing options and allows you to shoot quickly from any angle. It also keeps defenders off balance…blah blah blah. Then I thought, this is a teachable moment that isn’t just about using his left foot. I want to help my son develop a mentality of self-improvement; also known as a Growth Mindset.
The concept of a growth mindset was developed by psychologist Carol Dweck and popularized in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. 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. Practically speaking, a soccer player with a growth mindset believes that even if they may not become the next Messi, they can always improve. Likewise, a coach who has a growth mindset invest time in the development of all his/her players and not just the few that are at the top at a given point in time. This mentality is a key success factor that transcends all areas of one’s life.
As I reflected on the growth mindset and how to relate it to my son, I determined that there are only four ways to get better at something.
1. Constantly Practice Your Strengths – People with growth mindsets understand that they can always improve. Steph Curry is arguably the best shooter of all time. Yet he still practices shooting relentlessly before and after practice. During one shooting drill, Curry actually sunk 77 baskets in a row. Now if two time MVP Steph Curry feels the need to work on his shot, I think the rest of us should have no problem honing our strengths as well.
2. Constantly Practice Your Weaknesses – Everyone has weaknesses. If you don’t think so, then arrogance and delusion are probably yours! Take Michael Jordan, the NBA’s best all-around scorer, as an example. After losing to the Detroit Pistons in the 1989 Eastern Conference Finals, Jordan went to work on getting stronger and playing better defensively. The following year, the Bulls beat their rivals and the rest is history (Trust me, I’m a Knicks fan – I know). He could have just worked exclusively on his scoring; but he realized that in order to beat the hard-nosed Pistons, he needed to improve those areas that were lacking in his game.
3. Admit Your Mistakes and Eagerly Make Corrections – This is probably the hardest action to do. How many times have you met a “know it all” that you just had to leave to his/her own devices? Never allow yourself to become that person. Always listen first, be humble and embrace the opportunity to change. For the most part, mentors, parents, and coaches want you to become successful.
4. Try New Things – While the fundamentals don’t change much, soccer, like all sports, is filled with new skills and concepts that youth players must learn. It’s natural for people to avoid doing new things because of a fear of failure. If trying new things is hard for you or your player, I recommend taking baby steps at first. For instance, try that double stepover among friends first, then during training and then maybe in the game. For parents, explain to your child that trying new things is the only way they will expand what they can do. Praise them for trying something new even if it fails. Also, find those fun moves that they want to try against you – this encourages creativity. When they finally get it, they have a huge sense of accomplishment which totally boost their self-esteem. They will then be willing to step outside the box even more.
But surely there more than four ways to get better? Yes of course. Think of this list as categories. All self-improvement actions fall into one of these categories.