Growth Mindset for Injured Athletes

By: Megan Richardson, MyHuddle™ Athletic Counseling Intern

Springfield College


In preparation for this essay, I watched a Ted Talk given by Dr. Carol Dweck [Linked here], the leading researcher on the power of mindset, and one phrase stood out to me the most throughout the talk, “the power of yet (TED, 2014).” With an injury, there are uncertainties and many potential emotions that come along with it, from having to sit out of sport participation to possible surgeries and several physical therapy visits to get back onto the playing field, court, or track. Within this essay, we will discuss the importance of a growth mindset as you work back to full sport participation.

Dr. Dweck’s research focuses on two distinct mindsets: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. People with a fixed mindset believe qualities are permanent and, with this, can have lower self-esteem (or confidence), view effort as pointless, and have a fear of failure (Dweck, 2006). Those with a fixed mindset often give up quickly in the face of setbacks because they believe they do not have the skills or qualities to push through (Dweck, 2006). On the other hand, people with a growth mindset believe that their qualities and abilities can be developed through hard work, effort, and asking others for support (Dweck, 2006). Those with a growth mindset often embrace challenges, have higher self-esteem (or confidence), and persist through setbacks, even if they fail along the way because they view it as a learning opportunity (Dweck, 2006). However, while there are two mindsets, that does not mean that you either possess one mindset or the other. It can vary based on the activity or the situations that you experience. For example, someone could have a growth mindset in sport and work hard to achieve both team and individual goals but if they experience an injury, they could slip into a fixed mindset as they face new challenges with injury (Brewer, 2007).

Now that we know the definitions of the two different mindsets, my goal here is to help you identify when a shift in mindset has occurred. When trying to determine what mindset you have within a given moment, self-reflection questions are beneficial to help you analyze how you have been approaching your practices, doctor’s appointments, and rehabilitation exercises. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Do I feel like my effort is pointless with this injury?

  • Am I giving up too quickly when rehabilitation exercises get too hard or complicated?

  • Am I avoiding a challenge because I don’t want to fail?

  • Are the mindset and thoughts that I possess hindering me in attaining my goals?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, you probably have a fixed mindset now, but don’t worry -- you can work to change it!

As we conclude, let's discuss how you can shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. Attempting to shift a mindset takes work and consistency in trying to change your perspective on your experiences. When working to shift your mindset, it won’t happen overnight, but you can make a change if you stay consistent. When you catch yourself having thoughts that align with the fixed mindset try to remember that with hard work and effort, you can achieve the goal or complete the exercise. It might not be there yet, but it will be if you keep working on it.

From my experience as an athlete and athletic counselor, I feel “the power of yet (TED, 2014)” aligns well with experiences with injuries. Sometimes the injury journey can be challenging. Sometimes there will be days when you are feeling good, and sometimes you might experience adversity. If you are experiencing an injury, keep working hard to get back into the sport you love. Try your best to support a growth mindset throughout your injury timeline and it is okay to slip into a fixed mindset on your journey. Nobody is perfect, but just remember “the power of yet (TED, 2014)” and that together with hard work and consistency you can get back onto the field, court, or track.



References:

Brewer, B. W. (2007). Psychology of sport injury rehabilitation. In G. Tenenbaum & R. C. Eklund (Eds.), Handbook of sport psychology (pp. 404–424). John Wiley & Sons, Inc..

Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House Books.

TED. (2014, November). Carol Dweck. The power of believing that you can improve [video]. TED. https://www.ted.com/talks/carol_dweck_the_power_of_believing_that_you_can_improve/up-next


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