Basketball on the Edge – Do You Want to Know The Secret to Being a Better Player?


Let’s imagine a scenario. You are given an opportunity to enter a one on one tournament. Your coach says that there are two skill divisions and your skill level is right in between the two divisions. In the lower division you might be one of the favorites to win the tournament. In the higher division, you will probably struggle, but have the chance to be competitive and win some games. Which division would you choose to play in?

The truly competitive player will choose to play in the higher division. Why? Isn’t winning important? Doesn’t it build confidence? And self-esteem? The answer lies in your approach. The player that chooses the higher division is exhibiting the characteristics of a growth mindset.

If you don’t know much about “growth mindset” you can learn more by clicking here. Carol Dweck pioneered the research on growth mindset. Dweck is a psychology professor at Stanford University and author of the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

The major difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset boils down to a very simple concept:

People with a Growth Mindset believe that skill can be developed. (I can get better at…)

People with a Fixed Mindset believe that skill cannot be changed. (I’m not good at…)

The mindset that you adopt has a huge impact on your basketball career and your life in general.

A growth mindset increases your desire to learn. Improvement only occurs through learning. Learning is often a struggle. We learn best when we practice deliberately at the edge of our comfort zone. Players with a growth mindset are not afraid to make mistakes or look bad when they are learning a new skill. These players know that the only way to improve and get better is to work hard and accept challenges.

A fixed mindset increases your desire to look good. When we believe that we are either “good” or “bad” we seek out activities or competition that makes us look good. We’d rather play against competition that we can easily beat because it makes us look good rather than challenge ourselves because then we risk looking “bad”.

Let’s look at some common basketball situations and how the two mindsets differ in their approach.

Responding to a coach’s feedback (constructive criticism)?

Growth Mindset – The player looks at the coach’s feedback as a tool to help them improve. They are open to coaching because feedback is a way for them to learn and develop their skills. Great players want to be coached.

Fixed Mindset – The player looks at the coach’s feedback as an attack on their skill level. They don’t believe they can improve so why listen at all. They think, “I’m already good, why is the coach picking on me?”

Accepting challenges?

Growth Mindset – The player seeks out challenges. They want to guard the best player on the other team. They want to play a tough schedule. They want to play against the best teams. Accepting a challenge is a risk worth taking because it offers opportunities to improve and grow.

Fixed Mindset – The player looks for the easiest route. They want to guard the weakest player on the other team. They want to play the easiest schedule. They want to play against the worst teams. Accepting a challenge is a risk not worth taking because they might look bad.

What happens when things get tough?

Growth Mindset – The player looks for solutions and tries to figure out a way to get past the obstacle or problem. Not starting? Figure out what I can do better. Missing too many jumpers? Work on my shot. Get knocked down and get right back up. Resilient.

Fixed Mindset – The player gives up easily and accepts their fate. Not starting? I’m just not good enough and coach doesn’t like me. Missing too many jumpers? I’m not a good shooter. Get knocked down and stay down. Weak.

What’s your effort level?

Growth Mindset – Effort is directly tied to results so the player works hard at all times. I can improve any skill with effort. Effort at the edge of my comfort zone is the key to learning and improvement. The player believes effort drives success.

Fixed Mindset – Effort has no correlation to results so the player does not value it. I’m either good at a skill or I’m not. The amount of effort put into something is irrelevant because my skill level is static.

Am I a great teammate?

Growth Mindset – Player is inspired by the success of their teammates. They use the success of others to learn lessons they can apply in their own life. They are happy for the success of their teammates and don’t compare themselves to others.

Fixed Mindset – Player is threatened by the success of teammates. A teammates’ success makes the player look worse. They secretly root for teammates to fail and are always comparing themselves to others.

Overall Outlook?

Growth Mindset – Focused on the process of learning and what it takes to get better. Win or lose, how can they continue to improve and get better?

Fixed Mindset – Focused on the outcome. They search out “easy” wins that make me look good. If they lose it makes them look bad and nothing can be gained from that.

As a player I always looked for opportunities to get better. I HATED playing in games with players that didn’t challenge me. I avoided those games like the plague. If I did get in a game like that I tried to handicap myself by only going left, or shooting only layups, and once I got to high school I never called a foul in a pick-up game, ever. I had never heard of the Growth Mindset way back then, but when it came to basketball I had it.

Players who adopt a growth mindset are much more likely to reach their potential than those that don’t. A growth mindset can be carried over to all aspects of a player’s life. As a student, as a family member, as a musician, as a friend, as anything those with a growth mindset are much more likely to find true success (however you define it) than those with a fixed mindset.

Let’s end with a quote from Carol Dweck herself, “This is hard! This is FUN!

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