During your journey of coaching speed, these questions are important to answer. Each will create a different mental approach in defining progress for your athletes, since one is a “fixed mindset,” while the other is a “growth mindset.”
How does one define fast? Fast for track & field or team sports? Fast for a school, region, state, or country? Fast for college recruitment? The answer to each question demands comparison to others who play no role in the development of the athletes you coach.
Coaching “Fast” Athletes vs. Coaching “Faster” Athletes
The desire to coach “fast” athletes is a short-term motivator. It signals a deadline to speed development. By deadline, I am referring to a sports season, a calendar year, or an age group career such as high school or college. Although deadlines are a reality of our world, they are externally imposed by others.
Comparison with others and deadlines can lead to a fixed mindset where one either meets the standard or does not. The result of this is usually satisfaction or dissatisfaction. Whether athletes and/or coaches are satisfied or dissatisfied, a similar effect occurs: progress often stops. Why? Satisfied athletes and coaches have nothing more to prove, and dissatisfied athletes/coaches have a tendency to lose hope. In both situations, a fixed mindset reduces motivation.
A different way to approach coaching speed is through a growth mindset of developing faster athletes. The desire to coach “faster” athletes is a long-term motivator with no specific end. It signals to the athletes, assistant coaches, and others that there is no deadline to speed development. In addition, a coach who emphasizes “faster” signals internal improvement without comparison. The only comparison is to the athlete’s previous self, which could be years, months, or even days before.When comparison is removed, athletes and coaches begin to realize that competition is an opportunity for personal improvement rather than a final score, victory, or defeat, says @AthWestchester. Click To Tweet
The growth mindset of coaching “faster” is liberating—it sets no limits for progress and development. And, because comparison is removed, athletes and coaches begin to realize that competition is an opportunity for personal improvement rather than a final score, victory, or defeat. Therefore, a core belief emerges that progress has no limits.
The result? The desire to coach “faster” athletes enhances short-term AND long-term motivation for training.
The Impact of Youth Sport
Motivated athletes are driven to succeed. How they define success early on can play a significant role in the path of their long-term development. Extrinsically motivated athletes seek to avoid negative outcomes or acquire external rewards. This reward-based motivation can be very powerful in the short term, especially during elementary and middle school where ribbons, medals, and trophies for participation are commonplace. The intentions by adults providing these rewards are to keep young athletes confident while developing a “love” for sport.
However, these actions can backfire as athletes transition into high school and college. When these external rewards become more and more difficult to attain or don’t exert the same influence, the extrinsically motivated athlete tends to hit a wall because the experiences at younger ages define success as external.
Intrinsic motivation—beginning at the youngest ages—can set the path for a long-term career of improvement. The “reward” for intrinsically motivated athletes IS the challenge of improving speed. Internal motivation can be very powerful in the short term AND long term because external rewards are inconsequential to the definition of success. As a result, the “love” for speed becomes a long-term mission due to success defined by oneself rather than others.
Therefore, the environment we foster as coaches plays a significant role in developing intrinsic motivation and the mission of long-term speed development.The environment we foster as coaches plays a significant role in developing intrinsic motivation and the mission of long-term speed development, says @AthWestchester. Click To Tweet
The Role of the Coach
A coach plays a significant role in developing their athletes’ mindsets. Every word and expression of body language before, during, and after training and competition provides signals that others receive. When these signals are repeated over the course of a practice, season, and career, the coach’s mindset can strongly spill over into their team’s mindset.
From my personal experience, here are some coaching DOs to encourage a growth mindset of coaching “faster” athletes and things to AVOID to prevent a fixed mindset of coaching “fast” athletes.
What to Do and What to Avoid:
- Speak to your athletes about making progress by using the term mission. Missions are ongoing and never-ending.
- Do: “Today our mission is to become better accelerators.”
Avoid: “Our goal is to become .10 faster from 0-30 meters.”
- Leave current expectations and future expectations open-ended. In other words, don’t engage in communication that allows the athlete to think there are limits to their performance.
- Do: “Our mission is to be faster at the end of the season than the middle of the season.”
Avoid: “Our goal is to break a school record and qualify for the national championship.”
- During practice and competition, reflect on the athlete’s mental approach/mechanics of performance rather than the final time/distance.
- Do: “You executed the runway with aggression, speed, and consistency at takeoff but need to improve your flight and landing mechanics.”
Avoid: “In order to jump 7 meters, you must have better flight and landing mechanics.”
- During competition, refrain from asking about or commenting on the final number performed. Instead, ask how the athlete felt during the physical performance.
- Do: “You looked excellent during your float phase! How did you feel during the last 50 meters?”
Avoid: “Your 200m time was broken down with a 0-100m split of 11.2 and a 100-200 split of 11.7.”
What if you receive an athlete/team with a fixed mindset? Here are some suggestions:
- Minimize discussions about final performance metrics in practice and competition.
- Place a greater emphasis on mechanics. Video analysis of technique shows the “why” of a given performance. Regardless of the performance result, the discussion of improvement should begin with technique.
- When measuring speed in practice, use the first rep as a baseline. (Do not share the number with the athletes.) On the following reps, share whether improvement was made. This, combined with video analysis, can be a very motivating tool!
- Celebrate growth through % improvement rankings over the course of a season, career, or both. This is one of the best indicators of good coaching, because it values ALL athletes in the program versus a select few. See sample below.
- Risk taking – Each competitive event becomes an opportunity for athletes to experiment with techniques and strategies for growth, knowing that evaluation of the final metric performed is not an endpoint but a new beginning.
- Limiting the extreme highs and lows during and after competition – When athletes and coaches demonstrate extreme highs, it sends signals that goals have been accomplished. When athletes and coaches demonstrate extreme lows, it sends signals that goals are becoming impossible. Approaching competition with a growth mindset emphasizes the “how” of technical feedback rather than the “what” of the final performance and/or place.
- Trust between the athlete and coach – Athletes recognize that a coach who creates a culture with a growth mindset is there to help them improve rather than “using” the talents of the athletes for their own winning percentage, career advancement, etc.
- Increased respect/camaraderie among teammates – When coaches emphasize improvement over final performance, ALL athletes are invested. This creates increased respect/camaraderie among the team because self-worth and celebration are not just for point scorers and/or those who receive accolades but anyone who demonstrates personal growth.
- Intrinsic motivation – Coaches who commit to developing a growth mindset contribute to greater intrinsic motivation for the athletes they coach. The result can be a better follow-through with their team’s long-term training journey that can continue well into adulthood. This also means greater opportunities for the athletes to “pay it forward” to new athletes they encounter throughout their extended career.
This chart is valuable because of what is purposely missing. We do not know final times, rankings, or accolades. What this chart does is signal to the athletes we coach what is most valued: season and career improvement. In other words, coaching the mission of faster rather than the goal of coaching fast.
When coaches approach practices and competition with a heightened awareness to create a culture that values a growth mindset, their athletes will likely respond with:
Are these likely outcomes a coincidence? A coach with a fixed mindset says yes, but a coach with a growth mindset says no.