Praise Will Make or Break Your Athletes

Rachel Binette
CrossFit, Coaching

As coaches, we know that giving effective feedback to our athletes is critical for their success. Knowing how and when to offer constructive criticism is an art that we work to master, but do we give as much attention to the praise that we deliver to our athletes? Research in social psychology shows that praise will make or break our athletes. In fact, praising certain qualities consistently lowers performance, while praising other qualities consistently raises performance. 


To understand this phenomenon, we need to first understand the fixed and the growth mindsets. Dr. Carol Dweck, a social psychology researcher from Stanford University, is the architect behind the idea of the fixed and growth mindsets. A fixed mindset individual believes that abilities are predetermined or innate. To them, “talent” and “giftedness” are what determine success. If an individual with a fixed mindset is challenged by a task, they are not likely to demonstrate persistence in pursuing it. But with a growth mindset, an individual believes that abilities are determined by hard work. To them, effort is what determines success. If an individual with a growth mindset is challenged by a task, they believe that they can learn to be better at it. They are very likely to demonstrate persistence, and are more likely than their fixed mindset peers to enjoy challenges. 


It is easy to guess which of the mindsets leads to greater success, but developing a growth mindset in our athletes takes effort on our part as well as theirs. One of the ways coaches can develop a growth mindset in their athletes is through praise.


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