I Think I Can’t, And Here’s Why… Pt III

In this series (Parts I and II) we have seen that words people use can say a lot about their belief they can achieve their goals and change their environment. If you have read other posts on this site you will know that I am not a fan of corpspeak and cheesy little motivational quotes, but there are some that have truth in them. Henry Ford said “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.”

Whether you love him or hate him, Cristiano Ronaldo has become one of the best soccer players in the world, and if you hear what his team mates say about him he is at the top of the game simply because he practices harder than everyone else. Sure, there is an amazing level of natural talent, but he works really, really hard. Messi by all accounts trains like any other elite player. Ronaldo’s parents could have said “Look, little Lionel over there is amazing. He has natural talent beyond what you have (low locus of control) and no amount of hard work will get you to that level (low self-efficacy)”. Both of these players had to practice, and likewise we have to practice to achieve the goals we want to achieve. Most of us can’t simply “do” things without practice. Think about a gymnast being upside down doing handstands on a tiny beam of wood. It takes practice to feel confident, but it also takes learning in steps.

There were two ways for parents to constructively to approach the debrief of the game (if they felt one was needed and wanted to help their son or daughter with their performance):

1 – Immediately defend the loss, blame something external and declare “It was the other team’s fault you lost (low locus of control). They had the audacity to play a more intelligent game than you, and you were powerless to resist.” (low self-efficacy).

2 – Go get some ice cream, talk about the highlights of the day*, and when the disappointment has faded ask “What can we learn from this, and what will we do different next time?”

One of the (many) things I really like about my son’s coach is that there is always a take away. There are always positives, and there is always something to work on. Always. Even if they win every game 10-0 there is still something to improve on (although that wouldn’t happen because he would look for tougher competition before taking easy wins). This is every bit as important as working to improve when you are losing. Failing to identify ways to grow because of continual success can result in complacency and a decline in a growth mindset. A coach who is invested in long-term results instead of short-term wins will practice the right things to inspire confidence (high self-efficacy), and instill a belief that external factors are obstacles that can be overcome (high locus of control).

The problem of teaching learned helplessness is two-fold. The first is that it doesn’t teach the player that they can improve. It doesn’t inspire them to practice more, because, well, what’s the point? If the Soccer Gods have chosen the outcome, so why bother working harder just to keep losing? The secondary problem is that this also teaches that a win is down to the will of the Soccer Gods as well. Why did you win? A strong mindset says “We practiced hard, we worked for this, and even though we won/lost, we can see how we have got better and we also see where we need to improve.”

Here are the three takeaways for today:

1 – Keep it temporary when you lose. Accept that this just wanted the day to shine, it’s an opportunity to learn, and there will be other days..

2 – Encourage practice for improvement. Personal growth and practice will lead to an increase in confidence and bring high self-efficacy.

3 – Think about the approach to the environment. Were there factors causing the poor performance that need to be accounted for and adapted to? How can you change your world to suit your goals?

The only thing you can control is your own performance, and if performances continue to improve, the results will naturally follow. If they don’t, it is because there is something wrong in the preparation.

*A ritual we have begun after games is asking “What was your favourite part of the game?”. It immediately takes the thoughts away from the result (whether it was a win or a loss), and gets my son thinking about a specific something positive, which is often something funny from the game, or something he did well. It’s a great way to scale back the stress and think about events, not results.

There is always time to analyse later, but right after a game when emotions are still high is not the time. For more on not ruining the car ride home check out Dr. Rob Bell: Don’t “Should” On Your Kids: Build Their Mental Toughness

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