Success Through Improvement, Part 1: Growth Mindset

"Believing that your qualities are carved in stone- the fixed mindset- creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over...There's another mindset in which these traits are not simply a hand you're dealt and have to live with, always trying to convince yourself and others that you have a royal flush when you're secretly worried it's a pair of tens. In this mindset, the hand you're dealt is just the starting point for development."

Excerpted from Mindset by Carol Dweck

It is a myth that people are blessed with greatness. We are not born into athletic success any more than we are born into legal or medical prowess. By the same logic we are not born into excellence in one sport any more than we are born into excellence in another sport. Nothing is written until we write it.

We all have advantages and talents that make us more likely to succeed in one area versus another. That is just the starting point, however, and how well we leverage our gifts into excellence is not known in advance.

Over the years I've walked the deck at many summer league and local Grand Prix meets, where our next generation of youngsters get their start. Despite the youth and inexperience of many of the swimmers, I continue to be amazed at how often parents (and even coaches!) accidentally embrace the fixed mindset. "Oh she's just not a breaststroker," or "he's not very good at swimming, he should stick to basketball," or "he can't do butterfly, don't let him swim it." You get the idea. People surrounding and supporting the athlete are unwittingly teaching the athlete that skills can't be changed, and success (or failure) at competition simply reflects the level of "talent" someone has.

The fixed mindset is wrong in so many ways, especially in swimming. No one, not even the coaches, can know the potential for a specific child. Just getting familiar and competent on "Planet Water" takes a lot of consistent practice for years. And mastering competitive swimming takes many more years. Given how long it takes to sort out the best and the rest, why would we dare predict how far our kids can go?

And related to a previous post, how do we plan to motivate youngsters to keep swimming if we implicitly tell them "your success is not under your control" when we slip into the fixed mindset (as in the examples above)? How will Charleston become a swimming power if we continue to slip into the fixed mindset?

Kids enjoy swimming more when they understand success is within their grasp via improvement, not via their ranking. And the more and longer they enjoy swimming, the more successful they become at swimming. Adopting the Growth Mindset therefore means not only more success for swimmers, but also more joy in the process.

Nothing is written until we write it. We adopt and teach the Growth Mindset because we believe in our kids' potential, no matter the unique challenges each must face. As a result, our kids achieve more than they (or their parents or summer league coaches) thought possible. Most importantly, they enjoy the sport more and are happier in general. What more could you ask for?

Courtney Faller