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Since reading Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset, as I described here, I realize I’ve suffered from some mistaken thinking over the past, say, 40 years. The 70s and 80s were an era of the fixed mindset—at least that proved true for my parents’ generation and for my school. People either had talent or they didn’t, and this principle applied to kids as well.
Picture me as an over-sized third or fourth grader trying to learn to swim. I was at least a head taller than all my other classmates in Beginners swimming lessons. I had already proved my lack of grace and coordination at every team sport I’d tried. I couldn’t bat a softball, kick a moving soccer ball, or make a basket. I couldn’t draw or paint to any specification either. In short, I was both a fine and gross motor nightmare.
My parents insisted that I learned to swim, since our community is surrounded by water. I also desperately wanted a little row boat of my own, and I really did love the water. As I thrashed up and down the pool trying to master freestyle so I could prove that I wouldn’t drown if I got a boat, I’m convinced the teacher passed me to advanced beginners out of pity. It wasn’t until my mother took me to the doctor to address my complete lack of coordination that we all understood what was going on.
I was growing too fast for my coordination to catch up. The doctor pointed out that I was constantly gaining inches of arms and legs and my body and brain didn’t have time to adjust to the rapid changes. Instead of a growth mindset, I had a growth problem which was leading to some mistaken thinking on my part.
Due to mistaken thinking, I never did learn to enjoy playing team sports. I did learn to swim, though; in fact, once I stopped growing at thirteen, I was even good enough to teach others. But could I have played team sports if the coaches pushed me to try rather than allowed me to give up because I stunk so badly? Could I have learned to do art if my teachers and parents had access to the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain?
I recognize that my adults were products of the you’ve-either-got-it-or-you-don’t generation. They saw that I could write and teach, and they pushed me in those directions. For that, I’m eternally grateful. But, as Dweck said, the concepts of “hard work” and “underdogs” in the 80’s seemed sort of sweet and inspiring, but, back then, kids were pushed to do what they were good at rather than risk failure with something difficult, even if the potential pay-out was a lifetime of satisfaction.
Fast forward 39 or so years to our youngest daughter’s first season of soccer. She really loved it, but she spent an inordinate time tying her shoe during her first game. She would run to kick the ball and miss entirely. It got to the point that the ball would roll by her that first season, and she’d just watch it. She avoided conflict with other players, and refused to fight for the ball. She played goalie and struggled to catch the ball. As a first grader, she was the tallest kid in her class. As a third grader now, she’s still the tallest. She wears a size 7 women’s shoe. Her arms and legs don’t always know where they’re supposed to go.
Luckily, I had read Dweck’s book by the time our daughter admitted to us that she wasn’t any good at soccer. I realized my years of mistaken thinking with a fixed-mindset wouldn’t help. Her dad and I acknowledged that some of the other kids had more experience and were more aggressive. We also told her that she could work toward those things as well. We practiced.
I believe the turning point came when we had two back-to-back games late this summer in the afternoon heat. To say the situation was miserable was a complete understatement. The players on our girl’s team were crying and feeling sick from the heat. We even gave the kids the option to forfeit because it was so miserable. Our daughter didn’t. The other kids stuck it out for the cause as well. The other team tromped all over us in the last game, but somewhere in that hellacious afternoon, my daughter found her legs. She got a few kicks in. She stopped a few goals. She recognized that even though she wasn’t the best, she certainly had supported her team. She seemed to feel that her tenaciousness counted for something. She kept working at practices. We began to see a different kid on the field.
At her last game, she scored three goals. One was for the other team, but we’re all about sharing and sportsmanship.
Did I birth a Mia Hamm? No. Is she the best player on the team? Not by a long shot. Do I have a kid who can enjoy a childhood of playing recreational ball and feeling the excitement of working with a team? Sure! Moreover, my daughter knows that the risk of hard work is totally worthwhile. Mistakes are our road to learning. So what if you’re all arms and legs for awhile? Hopefully she won’t let mistaken thinking stop her. Gold medal victories aren’t always guaranteed, but a lifetime of growth is definitely forthcoming with the right mindset!
This post is connected to Mama Kat’s Writing Workshop!