By Don Patterson
NASA reasoned long ago that people whose job applications were filled with nothing but success stories wouldn't be the best astronauts. Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford, writes about it in her book "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success," noting that NASA chose candidates who had experienced "significant failures and bounced back from them" rather than those who had always landed squarely on their feet
The theme of Dweck's book revolves around the difference between a "growth mindset" and a "fixed mindset." People with a growth mindset, she explains, embrace challenges, accept failure as a necessary learning tool and set themselves up for success by continually finding ways to get better. Those with a fixed mindset view intelligence and skills acquired in life as influenced mostly by the genetic hand they were dealt, which means they might say things like, "I'm not good at fielding ground balls" and leave it at that.
Dweck's book and her research urge us to reject the fixed mindset mentality and embrace growth. Andrea Becker, a sports psychologist and professor at Sacramento State University who played softball at Sacramento State from 1997 to 2001, encourages this mindset too. From her perspective, the failures that go hand in hand with stretching outside of your comfort zone are essential to the development of any athlete - or anyone seeking to maximize their potential in a chosen profession.
"Failure is important for so many things - namely, confidence," she says. "Kids who are protected from failure are not confident in the face of failure as young adults." Similarly, coaches who win very early in their careers often "fall victim to thinking they know it all," she says. "But coaching is really hard and eventually they are struck by the reality that winning doesn't always occur in the same way when you're dealing with different people."
Dweck's book ends by telling us that changing from a fixed to a growth mindset takes a lot of effort. This is important to note, and it's equally important to note that it won't all be fun. Stephanie Schleuder, a former volleyball coach who won more than 700 matches in her collegiate coaching career at University of Alabama, University of Minnesota and Macalester College, agrees.
"To be able to do what you enjoy," Schleuder says, "you have to do some things you don't enjoy - e.g., homework, library research, lifting weights."
In other words, whether you're changing your brain or changing your game, the formula is the same. You work at it. And then you work at it some more.
Don Patterson is the senior content director for Art of Coaching. Previously, he was a sportswriter for the Los Angeles Times and an editor at CBS Sports.