Resilience Through A Growth Mindset – Sam Salt

Resilience Through A Growth Mindset

As members of the wider tennis community nobody can argue with the fact that we currently find ourselves in challenging times. The unpredictability of the length and severity of the ongoing COVID-19 situation, along with the current third lockdown, has brought undoubted concern, confusion and anxiety for many different stakeholders in the game of tennis – especially to those individuals who dedicate every day of their lives to the sport. The requirement for resilience has never been more significant both in day-to-day life and on-court!

There has never been such a prolonged and sustained threat to the sport and coaching profession and whilst the government have attempted to alleviate the situation with various solutions, the negative effects of the pandemic on the mental-health and well-being of individuals within the tennis world is undeniable.

As individuals we each deal with the resultant stress, anxiety and ambiguity in different ways, and being part of an active connected and social network has proven to be highly effective in so many ways at times like these. The various lockdown challenges, zoom calls and presentations each club has put on over lockdown should not be undervalued or underappreciated for the strong positive consequences they have had, promoting positivity and a sense of togetherness in a time where togetherness may have been hard to come by. As such, those tennis coaches should be massively appreciated and proud of their efforts.

There are a number of specific coaching interventions and thinking habits which research has proven can be extremely useful in building mental resilience resulting in an uplift in well-being and a decrease in stress and anxiety for those in our programmes. Such habits can also be extremely useful when employed in both the coaching of tennis and people and as a player or supportive tennis parent and links very much to coaching the person first and the tennis player second. Ultimately, if the player is stressed or anxious the performance of tennis is going to suffer.

Carol Dweck, a leading professor of psychology at Stanford University identifies two different types of thinking styles which we all utilise daily and will be familiar with – these are the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. Although widely understood, what is interesting is the link these mindsets have with our players abilities to endure different levels of resilience as discussed below. The actuality around mindset is that we each adopt a combination of fixed and growth mindsets across all facets of life involving not just our professional lives but in all other areas also – it is not as simple as you are a one or the other; we all require significant development to continually grow both as a person and a performer. What would you call this process of growth – coaching?

The adaptation of the growth mindset promotes daily psychological resilience which in sport is defined as robust resilience (maintaining well-being and performance) and/or rebound resilience (regaining well-being and performance) and the ability to bounce back or adapt following difficult circumstances. We are all acutely aware that tennis carries with it the requirement for an incredible amount of resilience with the best players in the world winning just 55% of their career matches but equally the unique scoring system our sport has where matches ebb and flow in a variety of ways, often being decided by a point here or a point there. There can be no debate that players, coaches and parents on any tennis journey must endure significant challenges, trials and suffer a multitude of peaks and troughs. Resilience is a non-negotiable and possessing the right mindset, the growth mindset may separate those who persevere with those who fall away as there will be so many different stages where players without the right support will feel their resilience drain away.

Just as the growth mindset applies to improving a player’s tennis either as a coach or competitor, this thinking style has also proven to be useful outside of the game of tennis and is crucial to fostering well-being and positive mental health particularly during challenging times such as these COVID-19 times. Many successful programmes link into facilitating the growth of successful, happy people and we all see tennis as a great platform on which to develop many life skills- this crossover with mental health is another great plus to our sport.

A fixed mindset is often associated with a “glass half-empty” mentality which can promote negative thinking patterns, also known as thinking traps, which can be detrimental both for mental well-being and within a tennis framework. Often these thinking traps have a directly negative consequence on our tennis player’s performances and overcoming such traps can be focused on in the short, medium and long term.

Common thinking traps in tennis often involve: –

A) Catastrophising– imagining that the worst possible thing will happen.
B) Shoulds and musts– Putting excessive pressure on ourselves by setting unrealistic expectations. – e.g. No Goalsetting in programme, no journey for players to follow.
C) Critical self– Putting ourselves down, blaming ourselves for events and situations which are totally not our responsibility and beyond our control. E.g. negative self-talk
D) Compare and despair– Seeing the good in others and comparing ourselves negatively against them. E.g. tennis ranking system often demoralising lower ranked players
E) Prediction– Believing that we know what’s going to happen in the future usually from a negative standpoint. E.g. – Playing the player or the seed not the ball
F) Mountains and molehills– Exaggerating the negatives and minimising the odds of what is most likely going to happen. – E.g. negative self-talk

All of the above thinking traps, which even the best are guilty of, are known as performance inhibiting thoughts which can be dealt with in the following way:-

1) Pause, notice and challenge these negative thought processes with rationale arguments.
2) Examine the evidence, are you exaggerating, dismissing or skewing the obvious?
3) What evidence can you find that disproves your negative thought processes?
4) What would you say to a friend who informed you that they were having these unhelpful thoughts?
5) List your recent successes and achievements to balance up the negativity.

If we all agree that fundamentally tennis is a sport where we must perform, as coaches we must challenge the performer skills of the player in addition to the tennis skills, the requirement to challenge, adapt and overcome thought processes that diminish performance are absolutely critical and would otherwise result in a player never quite achieving their full potential.

Sam Salt