By Dr. Michelle Cleere USGTF Contributing Writer Oakland, California

The definition of grit is as follows: “courage and resolve; strength of character.” I am reading Angela Duckworth’s book, Grit – The Power of Passion and Perseverance.  While I always understood this basic concept, Angela’s research in this area explains grit in much more depth.

Her research gives grit life by explaining the secret to success. There’s so much important information in Angela’s book, far too much for this conversation. However, let’s discuss it in relation to mental training.

State of sports today
Over the past ten years, youth sports have changed. We continue to see a rise of youth sports programs in the U.S.  We have pay-to-play sports outside of the public-school system, and now in the schools. And the status of sports is all encompassing. Many kids start playing sports around 4, 5, or 6 years of age and continue to try to play through college or as a professional (which is typically why they were put into the sport at such an early age).

As  a  result,  the  youth’s  identity  hinges  on  their sport  and  the  message  received  from  coaches  and parents.  Kids  are  influenced  by  the  messages  they get  about  being  good,  being  intelligent  and  being perfect,  versus  what  they  did  that  was  good,  how they improved, a new skill they learned, and/or their passion and intent.

Some of the problems associated with it is that youth sports can take over the lives of youths. And this  can  result  in  it  not  being  fun  for  them.  Why? Stress. Pressure. These youths do not have the skills to deal with the pressures.  Not to mention, youths are burnt out by the time they are in middle school and high school because they are playing one sport, year around.

How we currently think about success
Angela’s first statements in her TED Talk piqued my interest:  “What struck me was that IQ was not the only difference between my best and my worst students.  Some  of  my  strongest  performers  did  not have  stratospheric  IQ  scores.  Some of my smartest kids weren’t doing so well.”

Why?  Because  the  smartest,  most  athletic  kids attribute  their  smarts  and  athleticism  to  talent  and aren’t  always  willing  to  persevere  and  be  resilient. Their goal is making sure the outcome is perfect and they are unable to enjoy the process, to be in it. This also means they are unable to deal with challenges and adversity.  They  may  be  okay  dealing  with challenges and adversity the first time, but certainly struggle  and  want  to  give  up  if  it  lasts  longer  than that. So many times, I’ve heard from kids, “I am okay with the first mistake, but if I keep making the same mistake,  I  get  frustrated  and  angry  and  can’t  let  go of it.”

We’ve taught kids to be afraid of making mistakes. Kids who are afraid to fail don’t succeed.

What is actually true about success
“Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not  just  for  the  month,  but  for  years,  and  working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” Perfectly said. (Source: Grit by Dr. Angela Duckworth.)

Grit shows up in different ways but has one theme – drive:
    • •Push through challenges to get your purpose
        •Be open to change and growth
          •Realize that talent is only a small part of the equation
            •Know there is no such thing as perfection and know it sets you up for failure
              •Realize there are challenges and it makes you stronger.

            How do we evolve into this new place?
            “So  far, the  best  idea  I’ve  heard  about  building grit in kids is something called ‘growth mindset.’ This is an idea developed at Stanford University by CarolDweck,  and  it  is  the  belief  that  the  ability  to  learn is not fixed, that it can change with your effort. Dr. Dweck  has  shown  that  when  kids  read  and  learn about  the  brain  and  how  it  changes  and  grows  in response  to  challenge,  they’re  much  more  likely  to persevere when they fail, because they don’t believe that  failure  is  a  permanent  condition.  We  need  to measure  whether  we’ve  been  successful,  and  we have to be willing to fail, to be wrong, to start over again  with  lessons  learned.”  (Source:  Grit by Dr. Angela Duckworth.)

            She goes on to the consequences of a fixed mindset.  When  you  have  a  fixed  mindset  about your   ability,   this   leads   to   pessimistic   thinking about  adversity,  giving  up  on  challenges,  and  not attempting them at all. On the other hand, she notes that a growth mindset leads to optimistic self-talk, which leads to perseverance over adversity.

            So to evolve, you need to think growth; you need to understand that you and your actions really can change. Mistakes are not a permanent, evil beast. Mistakes are learning opportunities where you can grow and improve and advance.

            Everyone plays a role in grit: parents, teachers, and coaches
            Everyone  has  a  responsibility  in  whether  kids choose  to  take  the  path  toward  grit  and  a  growth mindset.  From a young age, kids will imitate what we do.  They hear what we say and interpret what they see and internalize it. Does that mean you have to be a perfect parent, teacher, or coach?  No.  But you have to be aware and understand that there are better indirect and direct messages you can send.

            Wise  parenting,  teaching  and  coaching  is  supportive  and  demanding  –  being  able  to  reflect  on something at which a child failed is an opportunity. It is critical to show them that they are still loved after failing and they are celebrated for it.

            I highly recommend the book Grit – The Power of Passion and Perseverance for all parents, teachers, and coaches. It’s a must-read! Thank you, Angela, for your expansive research in this area.
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