Archive for June, 2014

Giving feedback on failure

June 24, 2014

Carol Dweck’s work is just amazing and I keep finding pearls of wisdom and stuff useful to coaching all the time.

In particular is a scenario presented in Mindset about “Elizabeth”, a child who competes in a gymnastics meet and is disappointed  to not win a single prize at the event. The scenario gives the reader 5 possible things Elizabeth’s father can say to Elizabeth and asks them which they would pick:

  • Tell Elizabeth you thought she was the best
  • Tell her she was robbed of a ribbon that was rightfully hers
  • Reassure her that gymnastics is not that important
  • Tell her that she has the ability and will surely win the next time
  • Tell her she didn’t deserve to win

Interestingly (and disturbingly), the options are all common things parents, peers, teammates and coaches say.

The best and worst responses aren’t immediately obvious:

  • Tell Elizabeth you thought she was the best – Insincere. She was not the best—you know it, and she does, too. This offers her no recipe for how to recover or improve
  • Tell her she was robbed of a ribbon that was rightfully hers – Places blame on others, when in fact the problem was mostly with her performance, not the judges. Do you want her to grow up blaming others for her deficiencies?
  • Reassure her that gymnastics is not that important – Teaches her to devalue something if she doesn’t do well in it right away.
  • Tell her that she has the ability and will surely win the next time – May be most dangerous message of all. Does ability automatically take you where you want to go? If Elizabeth didn’t win this meet, why should she win the next one?
  • Tell her she didn’t deserve to win – Sounds hardhearted but correct. This is what he actually said: “Elizabeth, I know how you feel. It’s so disappointing to have your hopes up and to perform your best but not to win. But you know, you haven’t really earned it yet. There were many girls there who’ve been in gymnastics longer than you and who’ve worked a lot harder than you. If this is something you really want, then it’s something you’ll really have to work for.” He Also let Elizabeth know that if she wanted to do gymnastics purely for fun, that was fine. But if she wanted to excel in the competitions, more was required.

So don’t tell a losing team that you thought they were the better team, don’t bitch about the referees, don’t tell them “it’s just a game”, or that “we’ll get the next one”. While these sentiments may not be entirely inaccurate, they do little to help the team succeed.


Speed and perfection is the enemy of difficult learning

June 23, 2014

…is a phrase that really stuck with me from Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset.

In it, she states that praising people (children in particular) on how effortlessly they accomplish easy tasks promotes the Fixed Mindset.

How does this relate to volleyball. Getting good at volleyball takes years of difficult learning in mastering “open” skills such as spiking, blocking and receiving serve. But in the beginning, winning requires being good at a relatively easy “closed” skill – serving.

We praise children for serving in, and/or scoring aces against low-skilled players on a low net. We celebrate how many points they win in a row, how quickly they won the set or how few errors they make. Sometimes I hear coaches excitedly telling me how their team went and hear things like “Jill served 13-in-a-row to close out the set and we won it in 15 minutes.” In essence praising them on speed and perfection. By doing this, we may be getting the “quick wins” we think we need to keep people engaged in the sport but risk creating the wrong expectations in players’ minds and the wrong mindset to succeed.  With the best intentions we are ruining our athletes. I was guilty of this for years.

To promote the Growth Mindset, Dweck suggests denying praise in these situations, and instead making the focus on harder challenges they could learn from.

With the last group of U15s I coached, I made very little emphasis on serving and winning lots of points on serving. Of course we won many of our points on serving but we never commented on it. We commented on how well they executed putting float on the ball and pushed them to jump serve. Instead all the praise went to the “difficult learning” skills – Receiving serve, lateral passing, spiking with a max jump and big swing.  In the end we made it to the gold medal match where we lost because of terrible serving to a team that served great. Losing a gold medal match sucks. But it definitely doesn’t feel as bad as knowing you have ruined a group of players.