Praise this way for better performance and mental toughness

Have you ever thought about the way you praise kids? Everyone likes to be praised. Kids want to be recognized for doing a good job. But be careful! Carol Dweck, a psychologist from Standford, suggests that the way we praise kids can have a dramatic impact on…

  • Embracing or avoiding challenges
  • Persisting or giving up during obstacles/adversity
  • Giving their best effort
  • Performance

Dweck studied 400 5th grade students and gave them all an easy test that was below their level of competency. As expected all the kids did well.

Then she split the group in half and praised them differently. Group A was praise for their ability (i.e. Talent) and it sounded like, “wow you must be very smart at this”. Group B was praise for their effort and it sounded like, “wow you must have worked really hard at this”.

Dweck wanted to see how praise would impact the students approach to challenges. So she gave all the 5th graders a choice.

They could choose to take a hard test or an easy test. The hard test was above their current skill level so they probably wouldn’t do very well, but it would be a good learning opportunity. For the easy test, they would likely do well, but wouldn’t learn anything new.

Here’s where it gets good! Group A (the group praised for being smart) chose the hard test only 32% of the time. Where as Group B (the group praised for effort) chose the hard test 90% of the time.

A 68% difference just by the way they were praised! What if players on your team embraced more challenges? What if they embraced going against the best players in practice or the best team during games? What if they valued learning and growth more than “looking good”?

Obstacles and effort

Now let’s look at the second impact praise can have…obstacles and effort.

Next, Dweck took both groups and gave them both a very difficult test. One that the kids would definitely struggle with. How would the kids react when they hit an obstacle like a hard test?

Group A became easily frustrated and tended to give up quickly. Group B worked harder, longer, and enjoyed the process more.

Now let’s think about players that hit adversity or an obstacle…like having a terrible first half and being down 20 points at half time. How do they react…like group A or B?

What the kids focus on will have a dramatic impact on the way they respond when adversity hits. Do they focus things beyond their control? Or things within their control like effort? Depending on what we value — as coaches, leaders, teachers, and parents — will have a major impact on what the kids focus on.


Lastly, Dweck wanted to see if there was a performance difference after receiving different types of praise. So she gave both groups an easy test again (just like the first easy test). This is where it gets crazy!

Group A did 20% worse compared to their first easy test. But group B did 30% better.

A 50% difference?!?!

How could this be? Dweck suggests the way we praise kids puts them into a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. I like to think of these as a look good mindset or a get better mindset.

Kids can be primed (by the way we praise them) to adopt either mindset.

Kids with the look good mindset tend to…avoid challenges, give up when adversity hits, and believe that giving their best effort is only worth it when they can win.

Kids with a get better mindset tend to…embrace challenges, persist when adversity hits, and value giving their best effort regardless if they win or lose.

The bad news is that many kids aren’t even aware that they operate with a look good mindset. So it’s our job to open their eyes and help them develop a get better mindset.

The good news is that we can do this by the way we praise them. And show them that we value getting better over looking good.

If you liked this, make sure you put on your green glasses…you will know what I mean by reading this quick post.

Keep hustling and keep shooting!