Recently, the coach of the Dutch women’s field hockey team spoke about talent to an audience of filmmakers. When selecting players, he would often give the assignment to change their technique some way. Later, he would check and see who had picked up his advice most. He wasn’t just looking for talent. Coachability is also key. And it doesn’t just apply to field hockey.
Stanford psychologist, Carol Dweck, would probably argue that the mindset required to be coachable is even more important than talent. In her book, Mindset, she discusses research on the impact of what she calls a “fixed mindset” as opposed to a “growth mindset”. When you believe that things like intelligence and personality are a given (e.g. you are either born smart or you aren’t), you probably qualify for the former. If, however, you believe that someone’s IQ can improve through hard work, you probably have the growth mindset. And Dweck’s research shows that it makes a huge difference in how people feel and perform at school, work and in their lives.
Labelling did it One of the causes of the fixed mindset is labeling. I can’t cook. I’m not creative. He’s stubborn. She is a genius. He is a real talent. Yes, even positive labeling leads to the fixed-mindset and can be detrimental. The problem with the positive labels is that people get used to feeling validated by them. Then, mostly unwittingly, they become defensive of their labels.
If you’ve heard too often that you are a talent, you become reluctant to seek out situations in which you may look bad. Bright kids with a fixed mindset stop seeking challenges at school that might make them look dumb, because part of their status is tied up in looking smart. Their mindset is shaped every time they get praised about being smart, instead of being praised for working hard or not giving up when the going get tough.
Passion not genius Your mindset is not fixed (if you thought it was, you simply may be in a fixed mindset right now). In fact, it can be influenced just by the language someone is exposed to. In one study, Dweck organized math classes spiced up with stories of great mathematicians. Half of the students were told about great mathematicians as genuises – people who easily came up with their discoveries, who were ‘born for it’. The goal was to test the effect of that way of talking on the students. They discovered, it put them in a fixed mindset
The other half of the students heard that great mathematicians had a passion for math, worked hard and ended up making these discoveries. This brought the children into a growth mindset. The underlying message in the second class was “skills and achievement come through commitment and effort”. Our brains sniff out the underlying messages of how they are being talked to, even if they don’t do that consciously.
The good news is coachability itself is in principle coachable. But a strong fixed mindset isn’t going to give up without a fight. So it may not be easy, but the rewards will probably be astounding – because your mindset influences so many aspects of how you feel about yourself, what you think is worth striving for and how you relate to others.
So there is huge hope for all the young women who feel passionate about hockey but think they aren’t great talents – if they can see their brain as a muscle, something that can grow if it is exercised. And by combining their passion with commitment, effort and coachability, they may be getting tips from the national coach himself soon.