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Developing football players: Grit and growth

Introduction

From a football coach’s perspective, developing players is a constant concern and issue of confusion. Conversely, football players struggle psychologically with increasing their value to their coach and team. Thankfully, it can be argued that having personal grit with a strong mind-set of growth can immensely enhance the professional development of football players’ performances. Thus, this post will address two points. Firstly, it will look at the concept of grit, before looking at what it means to have a growth mind-set, within the context of football player development.

Grit

Do people succeed because of their talent or effort? Fortunately, the answer to that question has been answered to some degree. In her book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance , Angela Duckworth (2016) contends that peoples’ “naturalness bias” is a hidden prejudice against others who have achieved what they have because of hard effort, and simultaneously it is a hidden preference for those whom they think arrived at their place in life because of their perceived natural talents. This “naturalness bias” can explain the phenomena behind peoples’ obsessions with “geniuses”. Duckworth (2016) defines talent as how quickly our skills improve when effort is invested. This can be illustrated with an equation:

Talent x Effort = Skill

She also defines achievement as being an outcome when an individual takes their acquired skills and uses them (Duckworth 2016). Again, this can be illustrated with an equation:

Skill x Effort = Achievement

Essentially, Duckworth’s (2016) theory claims that what each individual achieves is dependent on two key variables, talent and effort. Talent matters to some extent, but effort matters more, as seen by its inclusion in both equations (Duckworth 2016). To elaborate, effort builds skills, but simultaneously effort makes acquired skills more productive (Duckworth 2016).

 

Duckworth’s (2016) research on having grit was derived from interviewing men and women, who embody the traits of passion and perseverance. Her findings concluded that there are four psychological assets that these men and women have in common. The first psychological asset comes in the form of interest, which means having an enduring childlike fascination with what any individual could be doing (Duckworth 2016). The second psychological asset, a much familiar concept to anyone, is practice (Duckworth 2016). Thirdly, having purpose means identifying work as being both personally intriguing, while also being integrally connected to the well-being of others (Duckworth 2016). Lastly, having hope means having “rising-to-the-occasion kind of perseverance” (Duckworth 2016). To sum it up, and in no order, you need to have interest, practice, purpose, and hope to accomplish goals.

Growth mind-set

'What young players NEED to make it' - Jürgen Klopp Advice

In this video, Jurgen Klopp indirectly relates to the concepts of grit. While he talks about talent, he later acknowledges how that is not enough in today’s context. Having grit means having a will to persevere, while also deriving a sort of purposeful satisfaction from a goal, as both Klopp and Duckworth have already claimed. While Duckworth acknowledges the role talent plays, she does not pay enough attention to the concept, and whether it can be nurtured with effort too. Hence, as a complement to Duckworth’s work, and also filling in her research’s gap, Carol Dweck’s concept of having a growth mind-set helps shed insights into how talent functions, and how it can be nurtured with effort.

 

With a different perspective, Dweck (2016) argues that individuals who believe that their talents can be developed through effort (E.g. Hard work, good strategies, and constructive input from others) have a growth mind-set and they achieve more, compared to those with a fixed mind-set (I.e. Those with the belief that their talents are innate gifts). Furthermore, those with a fixed mind-set believe that their talents, and abilities, are fixed at a certain threshold (Dweck 2009, p. 4). From her argument, Dweck presents three indicative rules that enable a growth mind-set in any individual. The first rule is to learn, learn, and learn (Dweck 2009, p. 4). The second rule involves working with passion and dedication, where effort is important (Dweck 2009, p. 5). The third rule involves embracing mistakes and confronting weaknesses (Dweck 2009, p. 6). For football players, this means that while their degrees of talent can vary, their efforts can help bridge gaps. Within a football team, hypothetically there is a possibility for players to reach equal levels of playing proficiency, though other factors can compromise that possibility, as Klopp has remarked. A growth mind-set is also applicable to football coaches too. A football coach with a growth mind-set is empirically more likely to foster teamwork and team spirits (Dweck 2009, p. 6). On one hand, when football players know that their football coaches value passion, learning, and improvement, they can all come together to produce those outcomes (Dweck 2009, pp. 6-7). On the other hand, when football coaches have a fixed mind-set, they implicitly convey their preference for players with natural talent, and are very selective with which players they coach, based on those talents (Dweck 2009, pp. 6-7). Consequently, players will only be eager to please their coaches, and vie for their attention (Dweck 2009, p. pp. 6-7), which makes for a highly dysfunctional football team.

How to grow your grit

 

Recall that having grit means having interest, practice, purpose, and hope. Moreover as mentioned earlier on, having a growth mind-set involves learning, working with passion and dedication, whilst addressing mistakes and weaknesses. If we combine the logic of grit, with the logic of a growth mind-set then what we get is an iterative, non-linear, process of having a strong interest that compels an individual to purposefully practice to learn and correct mistakes, and to cope with their weaknesses. Moreover the satisfaction of fulfilling goals, gives individuals the hope that they have agency in improving their personal value, and thus it sustains their interest in whatever they are focusing on. This line of reasoning is consistent with Klopp’s position that people are built upon weaknesses too. So then, how would this apply to football players and coaches? The following applications and hypothetical scenarios that will be described, only indicates the possibilities players and coaches could go through. It is by no means definitive, or exhaustive.

 

For new football players, having the curiosity for the sport is a reasonable starting point to get into the sport. This could involve researching online for the rules of the game or getting familiar with the seasons. For regular players, interest could mean being intrigued in areas that they are lacking in (I.e. Diet, recovery, muscle conditioning). Players would then practice their interests through training sessions with their preferred football coaches, perhaps online through Treiner, to diagnose their strengths and weaknesses. After which, players would learn how to correct their mistakes and developing coping strategies for their weaknesses. Having a purpose for their efforts (E.g. Working towards a scholarship) is important for players, as it gives hope that their dreams are attainable.

 

For football coaches, having interest means having a child like curiosity about their players. Practice in this case, would involve the practicing of their patience, as they go about de-constructing their players’ learning curves and requirements. For example, coaches could rely on video recording analysis to gauge their players, and also testing their physicality through obstacle training. Uniquely, coaches would need to remind themselves of their purpose when training their players, to prevent coaching burnouts and frustrations, especially when their players do not meet their expectations.

Conclusion

So to sum it all up, having a degree of talent gives a football player a leg forward in the game, but other players can help close the gap by putting in effort into their own skill development. Moreover, having a growth mind-set means that football players and coaches can work together to produce outcomes, where talent can nurture and flourish. So it is important not to get discouraged by the lack of talent in football players. Talent is over-emphasized and it is misleading to think that it is a good indication of a player’s value. Going back to Klopp’s point about factors, anything can happen, but so long as a player has effort and grit they can excel, as much as the players that he has coached himself.

Reference:

  1. Duckworth, A 2016, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance,
  2. Dweck, C 2016, What Having a “Growth Mindset” Actually Means, viewed 17th October 2019, <https://hbr.org/2016/01/what-having-a-growth-mindset-actually-means>.
  3. Dweck, C 2009, “Mindsets: Developing talent through a growth mindset”, Olympic Coach, vol. 21, no. 1, pp. 4-7.
 

 

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