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Growth Mindset v Fixed Mindset

Growth Mindset v Fixed Mindset

We believe that every player is uniquely intelligent. In fact, the latest research shows that intelligence is not fixed. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to reorganise itself by forming new neural connections throughout life.

Our brain-centred curriculum utilises the latest research to maximise a player’s learning habits, and to bring out the best of their unique physical, technical and mental intelligence to set them on a pathway of success.

But we’re always grappling with the question – how can we successfully get children to see that they are indeed uniquely intelligent?  We’re battling against the age of social media and the temptation of comparison banging on the door with every new social media post. And in reality when a child is in a class where it seems like they are far behind, why would they feel uniquely intelligent?

We have some strong opinions about the answers to these fundamental questions. Thankfully, they are opinions backed up by scientific research journals.

In short, we believe in the power of one’s mindset and beliefs. If those two essentials are aligned with truth, a person’s life on, and off, the field will always move in a positive trajectory, and they will believe they are uniquely intelligent.

First, let’s try to define these ‘linchpin’ words:

Success – what does success mean to you specifically, what does it mean to your child? We know our definition, but what is theirs? What is their dream? What makes them happy?

Mindset – this is something we believe should be worked on continuously. A mindset is a set of attitudes. Those attitudes determine what you think about and how you respond to anything in life.

Beliefs – Belief is the attitude that something is true.

These core words are operating in the background whether we know it or not. They determine how we navigate the journey of life.

Carol Dweck, Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, has done decades of research on thousands of children researching these very topics. The answer as to whether we can truly help a child believe they are uniquely intelligent lies partly, within her research.

Carol Dweck Two Mindsets

The Fixed Mindset v The Growth Mindset

In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.

—Carol Dweck, Stanford University

The number one goal for those with a fixed mindset is to look smart at all costs. But with a growth mindset, their cardinal rule is to learn at all times and at all costs. How many children at school or on the field are trying not to look or sound stupid to the detriment of their growth? How many children believe that they are dealt a certain level of intelligence that cannot be improved on?

The belief that if you have an exceptional ability at something means that you shouldn’t need effort, is the worst belief that a child could have. Trying hard does not mean that you’re less intelligent. But in a fixed mindset effort is a bad thing. They believe that talent should come naturally. Growth mindset people say effort is what activates their ability. They see challenges as an opportunity for growth, not as an affront to their intelligence. Football players work thousands of hours to accumulate the muscle memory, technique and game-intelligence that is needed to play at the top. Children with a fixed mindset believe successful football players are where they are because of talent.

Does your child see errors as something to learn from, or is it something they want to ignore and quickly move on from? Does their self-worth suffer when they have to try hard to achieve a football skill, or do they become more determined to achieve it?

How do you Grow a Growth Mindset?

Praising children’s intelligence can harm them. This is something that we find enormously difficult to put into practise. “You’re such a smart little guy,” or “Well done, you’re so clever,” are comments that we learn to use when we’re trying to positively encourage someone. Carol Dweck believes that this encourages a child to have a fixed mindset. She believes in praising process. But it’s more than that, it’s praising process within a growth mindset framework. It won’t work well to simply switch over from praising a child’s intelligence to praising their process, especially if the child is in a fixed mindset.

Rather, she encourages us to convey to children a new value system. She wants people to discuss the topic around the dinner table, to ask questions like ‘who had a fabulous struggle today?’ Dweck urges us to frame difficulties in a positive light. On the sports field it looks like asking children what they learnt when they lose a game, and encouraging them that there is always another opportunity to win, to see learning a new skill as something exciting and not daunting, and to help them to recognise self-limiting beliefs like ‘I can’t’.

Another practical tip in developing a growth mindset is what Carol Dweck calls the power of ‘yet’. If a child begins to try a new football skill and they think, ‘I’m not able to do this,’ no matter how much they try, their core belief will keep resisting their ability to improve. Like a strong wind against a marathon runner, they will be held back from their full potential. Whereas, a child with a growth mindset will think, ‘I’m not able to do this, yet!’

The word, ‘yet’, holds all possibilities and all potential. It says to the child’s brain that they are capable of achieving. Using words like ‘yet’ are absolutely key in determining a growth mindset.

If we’re to take the leap of taking on this concept and teaching the young ones in our lives to grow up with a growth mindset, we need to be sure that we believe intelligence can grow, and that talent is not the only thing that matters.

Intelligence can Grow

Forty years ago, scientists would have said that intelligence was fixed! They would have said, ‘you’re stuck with the genetic and default wiring of your brain’. Thankfully, they were mistaken and their science was flawed.

Science has shown that you can physically grow your brain. The more demands we put on our brains, the more our brains have to navigate, the more neurons have to grow in the area that has to work to complete the task at hand.

Some areas in our brain can’t increase in size but our brains can make circuits work faster. This is done by the process of myelination. When you focus intensely on a task for a lengthened period of time, you start forming sheaths on your brain cells called myelin. A brain circuit with myelin can transmit information up to ten times faster than circuits without myelin.

You can also increase the capacity of your brain through rewiring so that it activates neighbouring brain regions to assist with tasks. A great example of this is when a brain scan shows the left hand’s fingers light up for people who play guitar for a short period of time. But on brain scans of people who have practised for hours, over years, both the fingers of their left hand and the palm of their left hand light up. Their brains have been trained to use more of their thoughts to assist them in bettering their tasks.

So science has shown us that you can indeed grow your cognitive abilities. Unsurprisingly, those who have a growth mindset tend to study more deeply and grow their intelligence more. This is because they highly value learning and see effort as something positive.

We love Carol Dweck’s work, and her concept of the fixed and growth mindset is powerful. We believe that this is a life-long journey and that all of us have both mindsets operating in different areas of our lives. In a true growth mindset way, we’ll end off by saying we believe that it’s worth the effort to begin rewiring our mindsets and developing ways that will enable a child to embrace learning and growth, understand the role of effort in creating intelligence and maintain resilience in the face of setbacks.

We hope you’ve enjoyed the read! Do you think you have a fixed mindset or growth mindset? Have you found a way to grow a growth mindset in yours or your child’s life? Leave a comment below!


Mueller CM, Dweck CS. Praise for intelligence can undermine children’s motivation and performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1998:33-52.doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.75.1.33

Related tag: football training academy

Brain, Brain-Based Training, Brain-centred Training, Carol Dweck, Fixed Mindset, Growth Mindset, Mindsets, Neuroplasticity, Player-centred Model

Sean Szabo

Recognised as a leading brain-centred football coach in Gauteng, Sean Szabo is an English FA qualified coach who has worked internationally assisting player’s motor and technical football skills, as well as their cognitive development on and off the field. IQ Football was founded in 2015 by Sean as an amalgamation of his passion for football coaching, mentoring, and brain-centred research.

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