Having a growth mindset is a major key in basketball because it can dramatically impact your performance and success. So today we’ll take a look at what a growth mindset is, and reveal a few simple ways to bring it to your game. We’ll also include some NBA and WNBA pros’ tips for how to develop a growth mindset for basketball.
If you’re not already familiar with the concept, a growth mindset is the belief that your personal qualities, such as intelligence and talent, can be developed and improved through hard work, dedication, and learning from failures. This mindset contrasts with a fixed mindset, which holds that your abilities are innate and cannot be changed.
Having a growth mindset has been shown to foster greater resilience and a stronger drive for improvement and achievement. Research conducted by Carol Dweck and her colleagues already back in 2000, showed that students who held a growth mindset were more likely to persist in the face of difficulty and bounce back from failure. They found that students with a growth mindset were more likely to view failures as opportunities for growth and learning, while students with a fixed mindset saw failures as a reflection of their abilities and became more discouraged.
Some of the ways a growth mindset can help a basketball player include:
Now that you know why having this type of mindset can be beneficial to your game, let’s take a look at a few simple steps you can take to work on your mindset.
Focus more on your process and your progress than the result and destination. It’s a challenge, because the world and social media praise the destination and often conveys you’re not enough until you get there – i.e. a McDonald’s All-American, winner of a state championship and so on. But rather than fixating on that special outcome, try concentrating on the steps necessary to improve your skills. Put all your energy towards enjoying practice, enjoying the learning, and enjoying the people around you. Here are a few ways to keep the focus on building:
Identify specific skills or areas for improvement and set achievable goals to track your progress. Make sure your goals are specific, measurable, positive, inspiring, and displayed. Learn more about how to set basketball goals that work, and check out a helpful printable basketball journal you can use.
Rather than worrying about making the perfect plays for a highlight reel or getting a 50 piece, put your energy toward skill development. Be open to learning new skills and techniques, regardless of your current level of proficiency. As just one example of how this can pay off, between his sophomore and junior years of high school, NBA great Stephen Curry was told by his father, Dell, a long-time NBA player, that he would need to elevate the release on his jump shot if he wanted to compete against bigger opponents in the years ahead.
Steph had a choice to make: Dismiss the criticism and keep shooting the way he always had; or go through a painstaking transformation to improve what was already his biggest strength. He opted for the latter, forgoing playing in a competitive summer basketball league in order to work on his mechanics. And we all know how that turned out.
Reward yourself for effort and attitude, more than results. For example, if you set a goal of getting into the paint 10 times in your game, and you achieved that, despite not subsequently knocking down every shot, congratulate yourself with positive self-talk and any other reward you had identified ahead of time (such as watching your favorite TV show, a snack you enjoy, going to see your favorite team play, time hanging out with friends, etc). Or for a practice example, reward yourself for putting in reps against a defender using a new skill, and getting more comfortable with the skill, rather than for how many points you score or ‘beating them.’
Another way to bring a growth mindset to hoops is to look at basketball challenges as opportunities to grow and become a better player. Here are a few tips on how to change your language and self-talk from kids’ life coach Will, to better appreciate challenges and thrive more through and after them:
In addition, here are a few specific ways to embrace challenges you may face on the court and off.
Use area of weakness as an opportunity to focus your practice and work on specific skills. Late NBA Champion Kobe Bryant often talked about the importance of playing to your weaknesses and working on your weaknesses. “You know what makes you uncomfortable when you play, and I think that’s the biggest thing for kids nowadays is that they want to rely on coaches too much and workout guys. Which is fine to have him help you work out, but you have to tell them what you need. Right, you have to be able to say, ‘Okay, I feel uncomfortable with this,’ and if you don’t know, then you’re not as prepared as you should be. You need to know what your strengths and weaknesses are first…you gotta know your game.” he said.
Listen to feedback from coaches and teammates, and use it to identify areas you can improve in. As author of Atomic Habits James Clear wrote, “The trick to viewing feedback as a gift is to be more worried about having blind spots than hearing about them.” If you’re able to find a way to improve just 1% every day, over time that’s really going to add up and pay off.
Continuously find opportunities to play against stronger players or participate in more challenging competitions. This might mean playing on an AAU team that’s above your age level or it might just be challenging anyone who’s on your local court to 1v1.
Don’t just watch games to see who wins. Watch videos of successful players of your own age, NBA players, and WNBA players, and analyze their techniques and habits. Pay attention to the details. Listen to podcasts and social media that reveal their routines and apply what you learn to your own.
Don’t let setback and mistakes hold you down. Instead use them as learning opportunities to adapt and make positive changes. Use any failure as a source of motivation, and drive to work harder and get better. This can help turn a negative experience into a positive one and lead to future success. Here are a few ways to learn from basketball failures.
One of the best ways to learn and develop your basketball IQ is to see what you did in the situation. Make a habit of watching your game film. Watch the action on the weak side, the screens and defensive rotations. Try to figure out why you made the read you did in each situation, and what might have been a better read.
Dallas Wing’s star shooter Marina Mabrey uses film study to improve her game, “I wanted to take that next step. I was already a good offensive player in the league, and now I was getting the best defenders. I was getting two thrown at me…and it kind of slowed me down a little bit. I was like it’s not that I can’t score any more. I just have to figure out what’s going on.” she said.
“So after talking to mentors and people that have been working with me, they’re like you need to look at how people are guarding you, what they’re trying to do, what they do defensively, what they can’t do against you. So then I started to develop the post game cuz usually I have the point guards on me. That I didn’t even realize during the season. So stuff like that: like are they trying to make me go left? Can I step back on them from here? Are they dropping their back foot? Stuff like that, that you can’t really see when they’re up close right in your face.”
Another way to develop your basketball IQ is to check out our basketball IQ card game (here for beginners and here for advanced), created in partnership with a Nike basketball trainer!
Give yourself the time to think about what went wrong and what could have been done differently. You might find journaling to be an effective technique for forcing your new reflection habit.
Specifically ask yourself these questions to think broadly about each area of your game:
Record your responses to these questions within 48 hours of your game, recommends The Champion’s Mind. Examine what’s not working for you, and decide what to do differently. Give yourself credit where credit is due. And start working on the right things in practice so you can take your game to the next level. Review your journal periodically – at least once per month – to track your progress.
Now that you know more about your areas of opportunity, figure out how to address them in future training and game situations.
A positive attitude and mindset can boost your confidence and help you overcome obstacles – whether you’re down about missing a shot or spending too much time on the bench. Using positive self-talk can help you stay positive. Because thoughts determine feeling, and then feeling influences performance, ask yourself questions that lead to positive thoughts and problem solving, especially when you are worried or distressed.
“To me positive self-talk is being your own hype man, and not needing other people’s validation to feel better.” said Los Angeles Spark’s dynamic guard Katie Lou Samuelson. Here are a few examples of ways a basketball player can use positive self-talk:
A couple other language tricks you can use are to say “I’m working on this” instead of “I’m bad at this.” When you say “I’m bad at this” you send a message to your brain saying this is who I am. You’re telling yourself it’s a permanent trait that you can’t change. For example, you’re not a bad shooter, you just have a bad shooting form habit.
Also, use the word “yet.” The power of “not yet” is that it gives you a path into your future and can make you feel like you’re on a learning curve rather than a dead end.
Now you know a few simple ways to start growing your growth mindset. Basketball success is not a destination, it’s a journey. And it’s a journey that requires discipline, hard work, perseverance, and a growth mindset. Up next, learn more about visualization for basketball and how to stand out at try outs.