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Fixed vs Growth Mindset

Joe and boyhood coach



Considering the key role mental ‘fitness’ plays in sports performance, it’s crazy that mental training rarely features, especially now research suggests mindset rather than talent sets athletes apart. By adopting a growth mindset approach, athletes are free to challenge previously unhelpful beliefs about their ability to improve, increasing the likelihood of achieving their performance potential.

Carol Dweck, a psychologist renowned for her research into mindset and motivation, introduced the concept that people have either a fixed or growth mindset which in sports, impacts how an athlete views their ability to learn and improve. 

Brain scans have shown differences in brain activity between people with either a fixed or growth mindset after experiencing a failure, demonstrating that something fundamentally different is happening. This supports the theory that those with a growth mindset are able to interpret failure with a positive spin, seeing it as a means of learning and as a valuable experience.

Growth mindset athletes:

  • Believe effort will improve performance motivating them to work hard to obtain results. 

  • Believe it’s not just about talent but hard work too.

  • See feedback as an opportunity to learn and improve. 

  • See failure as an opportunity to learn and improve. 

By definition, this mindset opens up countless possibilities for improvement. Because they’re not scared to fail, they are happy to challenge themselves which brings improvement whilst also increasing both motivation and resilience.

Fixed mindset athletes: 

  • Believe their ability/skills are pre-set.

  • Believe that others are better due to talent alone. They get caught up comparing themselves to their competitors.

  • Believe they can’t improve through practice and therefore have no motivation to try.

  • Are scared to fail as they see this as proof that they’re not capable. This is problematic within the training environment as staying within their ability zone prevents improvement.

  • Find it hard to rebound after defeat.

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How You Can Help

The type of feedback an athlete receives can have a BIG IMPACT on their mindset…. 

  • Praising effort encourages them to challenge themselves (eg in training) = improvement = encouraging a growth mindset.

  • Encouraging them to view failure as an opportunity to learn and improve increases the likelihood of improvement.

  • Once they’ve processed a frustrating performance, remind your athlete that losing is learning. (Don’t attempt this immediately after… they won’t appreciate it and you won’t appreciate the response!!).


  • Try not to tell them they’re smart or talented too often as they could then feel a need to preserve those ‘labels’. This can result in them choosing easy options over challenges to avoid failure which is problematic because to improve, they need to challenge themselves. Instead, praise their hard work and effort.

  • Focusing only on results ignores the effort that goes into a performance. This signals that you only value them when they do well… Again, praise their hard work and effort.

Take Home Point

Mindset CAN be changed. Moving from a fixed to a growth mindset can result in performance improvement, increased motivation, and increased resilience.

  • A growth mindset increases success and enjoyment.

  • A fixed mindset can limit performance improvement, reduce enjoyment, and shorten an athlete’s sports career.

Promoting a growth mindset at an early age can seriously benefit an athlete later on in life eg. when they start work or take on new challenges beyond their sport. It is certainly an asset that any future employer would recognise and be drawn towards, potentially increasing the athlete’s career prospects.


Evidence-Based Research


Our content is supported by the following evidence-based research:

  • Dweck, C.S., 2000. Self-theories: Their role in motivation, personality, and development. Psychology press.

  • McNeil, D.G., Phillips, W.J. and Scoggin, S.A., 2023. Examining the importance of athletic mindset profiles for level of sport performance and coping. International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, pp.1-17.

  • Potgieter, R.D. and Steyn, B.J.M., 2010. Goal orientation, self-theories and reactions to success and failure in competitive sport: psychological perspectives. African Journal for Physical Health Education, Recreation and Dance, 16(4), pp.635-647.




Recommended books:

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck (2008). New York: Random House. (Buy here)

Changing the Way You Think to Fulfil Your Potential by Carol Dweck (2017). Hachette. UK. (Buy here)


See below for additional PDF resources.

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