Developing a Growth Mindset

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Why do some players look so natural when they play but do not reach an elite level? Why do some players not look like natural table tennis players but  persist and succeed in reaching a high level. Recent research suggests it could be because of their mindset. Research into motivation and development by Dr Carol S. Dweck of Sanford University has indicated that there are 2 types of mindset that people can possess; a growth mindset or a fixed mindset.

England’s Liam Pitchford at the 2016 World Team Championships – Photo by: ITTF Flickr

Players with a fixed mindset believe that their intelligence and “talent” is static. Having this belief leads to a desire to look smart and talented. They try and protect their status as intelligent or talented and as a result tend to avoid challenges. They get defensive about their ability and tend to give up easily. They believe that they shouldn’t have to put effort in to get good. Putting effort in is like admitting that they aren’t talented or intelligent. They may feel threatened by others achievements as this would make them feel less talented than they think they are. Finally, they may ignore useful feedback because what does it matter? They’ve either got it or they don’t. As a result of their fixed belief they don’t reach their full potential through missed opportunities and lack of effort.

The players with a growth mindset however, believe that everything about them can be develop. Their talent can be developed, their intelligence, nothing can’t be changed with a little effort. This desire to learn leads the players to embrace the challenges they come across. They persist in the face of setbacks. They see them as opportunities to grow and get better. They learn from feedback, it is there to steer them in the right direction. They find the inspiration from others and find lessons in others endeavours. Finally, they see the path to mastery through effort and as a result keep striving to reach higher levels of achievement.

So a growth mindset would seem to be something a coach would want in their players. Well luckily for us the mindsets can be taught and developed. Here are some behaviours to encourage:


This is the obvious one. If you praise the effort of trying to reach a goal it has been shown to increase intrinsic motivation. Show the players that you appreciate their effort. However, praising players for their effort alone is not enough. If the players are trying hard but not reaching the outcome they want they need to try something different. Encourage the players to ask themselves what they could do differently. This will help them to not repeat the same mistakes. As coaches we should be trying to show players that effort is a way to progress and learn.

Focus on Learning

Where possible put a focus on the learning and development that could take place in the practice. If the players view practice as an opportunity to out-do or outscore the other players, this may be cultivating a fixed mindset. However, if the players are more task-oriented it is has been linked with research suggesting they will have reduced anxiety combined with increased motivation, confidence and self regulation.

Seeking Feedback

As well as helping the player to progress by giving technical/tactical feedback, praise should also be directed towards the player asking for feedback. Hopefully this would lead to the player seeking more feedback in response to future failures and successes.

Choosing Difficult Tasks

Mistakes are a massive part of learning, by choosing a tough task knowing that you may make a mistake will develop courage and curiosity for new solutions. Players fearing that they may look bad and that play safe will lead to having a lower performance in the long run and will learn significantly less.

Below is a video of Dr Carol Dweck outlining some of her research and providing tips on how to develop a growth mindset.

Also check out Dr Carol Dweck’s book Mindset for a deeper understanding of the concepts.

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