Speed and perfection is the enemy of difficult learning

…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.


One Response to “Speed and perfection is the enemy of difficult learning”

  1. Providing meaningful feedback | Coaching Volleyball Says:

    […] Mark Lebedew pointed out a couple of interesting posts by blogger Hugh on the subject of feedback (here and here). Being good at providing meaningful feedback is definitely a key coaching skill – […]

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