This weekend I was talking with a group about the behaviours used by athletes when their scales were well and truly tilted; when what they wanted (a gold medal) did not match what they got (a silver medal).
It is understandable that they choose to be upset. When you put your all into preparing for a single moment in time and you don’t match that picture, the frustration signal is strong. There is an urge to behave, to get the scales back into balance.
We also talked about making Plan B if you don’t get what you want. This is not part of sport psychology and is based on the underlying belief that if you think even for one second that you will not achieve gold you will have no show of getting it.
The recent book review in the Choice in Action newsletter for the William Glasser Institute-New Zealand, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dwek, professor of developmental psychology at Standford University writes about two mindsets. The Fixed Mindset is the mindset that you have no control over your choices. Someone with a fixed mindset thinks that they have permanent traits like intelligence and talents and they feel the need to prove themselves over and over again. They tend to rely on external reinforcement and choose to do things that they know they will succeed with.
On the other hand the person with a Growth Mindset sees things as a challenge to be overcome. Being given a grade of C+ to people with a fixed mindset would result in self doubt and self criticism, and attempts to protect their ego. Someone with a growth mindset would think “I just need to try harder to bring this grade up.”
Dwek says “ You have a choice. Mindsets are just beliefs.” This book goes on to suggest the way in which we can help children to develop a growth mindset.
According to this theory the way in which someone with a fixed mindset deals with frustration is different. Perhaps this might explain some of the chosen behaviours of the athletes as they win and lose in their chosen events.
Kate Downton from Western Australia made the following comments on Facebook.
I am absolutely appalled at the Olympics coverage by the 9 Network. To say to a young man who has just come 2nd in an Olympic final; "James you must be so disappointed, what happened?" - how disgusting!
How about - "Congratulations, a silver medal at the Olympics, you've got to be happy with that."
What hope do our children have when they see this being said to an Australian coming 2nd at the Olympics. How are they going to feel when they come 3rd at their school sports carnival?
How about rewarding what is, not focusing on what isn't. I want my children to grow up in a world that celebrates achievement - whatever it is. Even the athletes coming last - they are still one of the best in the world. And this should be celebrated.
Learning to deal with frustration and learning to think with a growth mindset in the face of defeat are skills that can be taught.