If I Could Choose One Quality to Give a Basketball Player It Might Be This

Note: In yesterday’s post I mentioned the growth mindset. But after publishing it, I realized that I had yet to write a post explaining what the growth mindset is and how it applies to basketball. That’s what this post is for.  

Imagine your coach tells you to choose a partner to play 1 on 1. Who do you look to first? The guy on the end of the bench who’s not very good or the best player at your position? 

Who you decide to play indicates whether you have a growth mindset or a fixed mindset. The mindset that you adopt has immense consequences for your basketball career and your life. 

But before we get there, let’s start at the beginning. Carol Dweck is the founder of the growth mindset paradigm. She's a psychology professor and author of the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. All of this information comes from her book.

The difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset stems from a simple belief:

Growth mindset: skill can be developed

Fixed mindset: skill is static

The belief you choose to hold will lead to different outcomes.

Believing skill can be developed (a growth mindset) leads to a desire to learn. Since skill can be developed, you value learning because it is the process through which improvement occurs.

Believing skill is static (a fixed mindset) leads to a desire to look capable. If you only have a certain amount of skill, it becomes paramount to prove that you have more skill than the next person. You feel like you have to prove that you are capable over and over again and therefore are worried about looking good. 

These diverging beliefs (the desire to learn vs the desire to look good) lead to a whole host of other tendencies including...

1) How You View Challenges

Fixed Mindset players view challenges as threats to the social perception that they’ve carefully cultivated. As a result, they avoid challenges.

Growth Mindset players embrace challenges because they're an opportunity to learn and grow. 

2) Your Behavior in the Face of Obstacles

Fixed Mindset players quit easily when faced with obstacles.

Growth Mindset players persist in the face of setbacks.

3) Your Effort

Fixed Mindset players see effort as a waste of time. Why work hard when you can’t improve anyways? Additionally, fixed mindset players often are afraid to give full effort because of how it will be perceived. If you give full effort and fail, it takes away all your excuses. You can no longer say “I could’ve won if I had tried.”

Growth Mindset players see effort as the path to mastery. They know it takes effort to learn and improve so they value it highly.

4) How You Respond to Feedback

Fixed Mindset players ignore useful feedback or see it as a threat to their image. If you can’t improve anyways, why should I listen to what the coach says? Also, negative feedback calls into question their ability, thus they reject it in order to protect their persona.

Growth Mindset players embrace feedback as a useful tool for development. They realize that they can learn from criticism so they listen openly when given negative feedback.

5) How You Perceive the Success of Others

Fixed Mindset players see success as a threat to their place on the hierarchy. So instead of being happy for teammates success, they resent it.

Growth Mindset players are happy for their teammates’ success and even find inspiration in it. Since they’re constantly trying to learn, they search for the lessons in others’ success that apply to them. 

It should be pretty clear at this point that the growth mindset is superior. But it’s amazing to look at the drastic impact of such a simple mindset shift. The difference between wanting to look good and wanting to learn has massive implications.

Players with the growth mindset are going to come much closer to reaching their potential while players with the fixed mindset will plateau early.

This is because players with the growth mindset thrive when they’re outside their comfort zone. On the other hand, players with the fixed mindset thrive when things are easy and non-threatening (i.e. when they’re solidly inside their comfort zone). 

Since improvement happens when you’re constantly operating outside your comfort zone, it’s obvious which players will improve faster. 

One thing to note: None of us are 100% growth mindset or 100% fixed mindset. We often shift in and out of the two mindsets in different situations or different areas of our lives.

We can have a growth mindset in our training but a fixed mindset in the classroom. We can have a growth mindset when it comes to our moral character, but a fixed mindset in our relationships. 

Back to my original question: who do you choose to play 1 on 1 against? 

If you have a fixed mindset, you choose the guy who’s not very good. The outcome is the most important thing so you first make sure you'll look good. It’s more important to protect the perception that you’re a good player (by easily winning) than improve.

If you have a growth mindset, you choose the best guy at your position because that gives you the best opportunity to learn. The greater the competition, the more you’ll improve. 

Mottos of the growth mindset:

“This is hard. This is fun.” - Carol Dweck

“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” – Albert Einstein

"I never lose, I only win or learn" - Nelson Mandela

“How you think when you lose determines how long it will be until you win.” – Gilbert Keith Chesterton

“Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill