Wednesday, 29 May 2024

Growing the Mindset: Encouraging Growth and Development in Athletes

Walking out of the gym one afternoon, I witnessed a young player standing in front of the wall instead of the net. Curious about her intentions, I paused to observe. Would she surprise me with something impressive? Or would she resort to the usual routine of mindlessly hitting the ball against the wall? To no surprise, she began bouncing the ball off the floor. A year ago, I would have given it little thought. However, this time, I couldn’t help but notice.

Intrigued, I approached her and struck up a conversation. After exchanging pleasantries, I asked her about her warm-up routine. She responded, “It’s just what I always do.” Admittedly, I used to do the same. But not anymore. I suggested that she might be open to trying something different – an approach that could benefit her serving, passing, setting, and hitting skills simultaneously. Eager to explore a new technique, she agreed.

I pointed out a line on the wall, explaining that it represented the net’s height. I challenged her to serve the ball above the line, pass the rebounded ball to herself, set it, hit it back over the line, and repeat the cycle. As she improved, she could set goals for the number of volleys and aim to surpass them each time.

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During her first attempt, she managed three volleys before losing control. I celebrated her achievement and encouraged her to try for four volleys to push her limits. Unexpectedly, she responded, “No, I don’t like it because I will never be good at that – I can’t hit. I just like to play back row.”

At 13 years old, she had already resigned herself to playing only in the back row. This revelation stunned me. As she turned to walk away, I followed her and found her sitting on the bleachers, ball still in hand.

Her words were filled with self-criticism, and I sensed her shutting down. I suggested that she dedicate just 10 minutes a day to this warm-up routine, emphasizing how much progress she would make in a month, two months, or by the time middle school tryouts arrived. However, her body language and curt replies indicated that she was no longer receptive to the conversation. I let it go, urging her not to give up so quickly and assuring her of my support.

This encounter deeply affected me. It troubled me that a 13-year-old was already giving up on learning and improving her hitting and passing skills. I didn’t start playing volleyball until I was 20, yet someone with a seven-year advantage was hesitant to embrace a new skill.

Every time I saw her, I asked if she had attempted the warm-up again, but her answer remained the same: “No, not yet.” Nonetheless, I continued to encourage and support her, holding onto the hope that one day, her response would be a resounding “Yes!” On that day, I promised myself an exuberant high five.

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