Set challenges, not goals
Summer 2018. The football World Cup has kicked off in Russia and this is the starting point for my son Luca’s football obsession. Up until now, he has shown no interest in the sport but for some reason, my enthusiasm and the nature of the international tournament catches his imagination.
Luca is 6 years old, and many of his friends have been playing for a while, so he wants to practice. I enjoy playing football so we start to practice together at the local park… Everyday!
Days turn into weeks, weeks into months. Months into years. There is a pandemic. Playing football together becomes one of the major ways we have fun. The practice becomes more serious. We try different skills and techniques. Learning to pass, to strike the ball, to volley the ball. One day, after Luca has mastered some of these skills, I decide to make things more challenging.
I find some painter’s blue tape and we go to our local soccer pitch. I subdivide the goal in sections with the tape (picture below), the top left and right corners (top bins in the football world) being the most prized, and hardest to hit, targets.
Hitting such a small target from 20 or 30 feet away is much harder than it looks. It requires the player to focus, gauge the speed and power they apply to the ball, apply spin, and most of all improve their accuracy.
I wondered if this would just be too hard a target to hit for Luca.
Then something interesting happened. I noticed that even if Luca was not hitting this very specific space in the top corners of the goal, he was consistently hitting the goal with power and accuracy.
By making a target that was challenging, all his other skills were improving. He was improving overall even if he was only hitting the “top bins” targets once in every 10 attempts. On the other attempts, he was still almost always finding the rest of the goal. Creating this artificial constraint allowed a range of other skills to improve. The actual goal now of the exercise became almost irrelevant — Luca would shoot 100, 120, 150 shots every session. He could sense the improvement so not hitting our artificially created targets was not a disappointment but a challenge.
Carol S. Dweck’s great book Mindset sums up this phenomenon well:
“The fixed mindset limits achievement. It fills people’s minds within fearing thoughts, it makes effort disagreeable, and it leads to inferior learning strategies. What’s more, it makes other people into judges instead of allies. Whether we’re talking about Darwin or college students, important achievements require a clear focus, all-out effort, and a bottomless trunk full of strategies. Plus allies in learning. This is what the growth mindset gives people, and that’s why it helps their abilities grow and bear fruit.”
While a fixed mindset would think it was a failure unless you hit the top corner target every-time, Luca’s growth mindset was able to see improvement in all areas. This mindset also leads to an ability to not give up when things get hard. Beyond any specific skills you might gain, this sticktoitiveness may be the most important area to practice.
This post is the first of three about the growth mindset. Next week I will be writing about how this kind of mindset led an average cover band to become one of the world’s most famous rock bands.
PS here is the results from all that practice by Luca!
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