There are two, vastly different headsets that an athlete can take into a competition. The first will help that athlete stay loose under pressure, take risks and perform more freely, and thus closer to his/her potential. The second will cause the athlete to consistently wilt under competitive pressure and play tight and tentatively, a mere shadow of his/her capabilities.
The first headset is the one that you’ll almost always find in champions. It allows them to approach a contest with what Carol Dweck in her excellent book MINDSET has called a GROWTH MINDSET. That is, they see all competitive situations as opportunities to learn and improve. They see their abilities and talent as a direct product of how much effort they put into their sport, and therefore not limited. When this kind of athlete fails, he/she tends to look for things that they can work on to get better. Because they value learning, improvement and growth over winning, they are more freed up to take risks, try new things and thus, paradoxically, tend to have a greater chance of achieving a peak performance whenever they enter competition.
The second headset is one that you’ll always find in athletes who tend to choke under pressure and/or who get stuck in repetitive performance problems. This mindset is what Dweck calls a FIXED MINDSET. In this mindset, the athlete views their potential and talent as something that is fixed, you either have it or you don’t! As a consequence, they view competitive situations as threatening in that they need to prove themselves and their ability. In competitons, they are vulnerable to losing and having to deal with “evidence” that perhaps they are no longer as good as they once thought. To this kind of athlete, failure is a direct reflection on their self-esteem and ability rather than something which would motivate them to work harder to improve.
Growth mindset athletes tend to look forward to competing and are far more likely to enjoy the process. Fixed mindset athletes most often times dread competing, rarely have fun during the process unless they’re winning and are greatly relieved after the contest is over.
The over-focus on outcome (winning or a fear of losing) so characteristic of the fixed mindset athlete is a terrible burden for anyone to carry into a competition. It will weigh you down and ultimately paralyze you. Furthermore, this headset will stunt your growth and development as an athlete. You will never feel freed up enough to really work on changing and improving your game because your over-focus with winning and not losing will always trump your ability to let go and try new things, so critical to improvement.
The only way you can consistently enjoy your sport, continue to improve and become the best that you can be is by learning, that’s right I said LEARNING, to develop a growth mentality. You, your parents and coaches must learn to change the priorities with which you approach your sport and competing. You must let go of that obessive need to win or beat others (which is actually limiting you) and instead focus on being the very best that YOU can be. Simply put you must make your goal improvement, NOT winning.
Part of this involves changing your relationship with failure and losses. They are not the devil! They are NOT a reflection on your ability or talent as an athlete. They are simply expected and normal events in the career of EVERY athlete. Loss and failure are NOT evidence of your inadequacy as a competitor. They provide, instead, invaluable information about what you need to do to get better for next time! Failure isn’t fixed. It’s temporary and necessary for you to go through over and over again to ultimately achieve your dreams.
Here’s the really funny thing that will happen to you when you begin to change your headset from a fixed to growth orientation: YOU’LL ACTUALLY START PLAYING BETTER AND WINNING MORE!