Ever came across “positive” coaches who praise athletes for almost anything they do? I vividly remembered a rollerblading coach who was constantly praising kids even when they performed the drills incorrectly. There was this one kid who told her that he needed to leave early and her reply was “Good Job! Go ahead”.
How is leaving early deserving of praise I wondered…
“Why Good Job is not Good enough…”
Coaches and educators who have been indoctrinated by the Cult of Optimism generally feel they are helping their athletes foster the Growth Mindset by being “positive” all the time. On the contrary, such empty praises can exacerbate some of the very problems that Growth Mindset is intended to counter!
Observe the traits of the Fixed (desires to be seen as perfect) and Growth Mindset (desire to learn and improve) below.
When we reward effort with a “Good Job”, what are we focused on? Are we are focused on the specific effort that leads to progress, OR, are we focused on what is achieved and how good the person looks?
To further comprehend why “Good Job” may promote the Fixed Mindset, we need to be aware of the two different types of positive reinforcements. There is the reinforcement from praises and external rewards (extrinsic motivation), and the reinforcement from simply seeing yourself get better and better (intrinsic motivation).
Which do you reckon is more powerful and sustainable?
Persons who experience the inherent satisfaction of the activity itself are described as being intrinsically motivated, and this is associated with the flow state where you are so engrossed in an activity that you lose track of time and space! This is where the more effective learning takes place.
When your athlete is driven by praises, he or she may end up being more concerned about how she looks and if you are going to praise her rather than putting in actual effort that leads to learning and growth…and what happens when the praises stop? What do you reckon would happen to her motivation then?
Note: It is possible for an athlete to be high on both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, i.e., they are on separate continuums.
Does that mean you should not praise athletes?
Of course not! You just need to practice some awareness to praise the actual effort that leads to learning and growth, Be Specific, and do not confuse Energy with Effort. The slide below provides us with some good examples on how such feedback would look like (right column).
I’m not saying that we should do away with “good job!” or “Well done!”
Instead, adopt a situational approach and try mixing up external praises with feedback based on the actual effort that leads to learning (process based feedback). That way, you are in a better position to help athletes foster the Growth Mindset and influence them to be directed by both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.
Besides making use of Process Based Feedback, another way to help athletes foster the Growth Mindset is through the ESL (Effort, Support, and Learning) reflection model which I will be sharing on my next post.
Note: All slides were taken from the Coaching and The Growth Mindset workshop