Funny, this came across my newsfeed on the day I was sitting down to finalize my semester for classes in Gateway to College. As the semester approaches, I have been thinking a lot about Grit and how I can help my students persevere through the challenging work they have ahead of them. We (my colleagues and I) talk with the students about this all the time and work to foster a program that supports them when the going gets tough – some hurdle the obstacles with ease and some get stuck in the mire around the obstacle, often falling into old habits and mindsets that kept them from being successful to begin with. So, now you are thinking, “What does this have to do with sport?” Well, we all know that grit is important in sport…there are numerous obstacles athletes have to overcome: self-doubt, performance anxiety, getting the training in, wondering if they trained hard or well enough and injury. Really, the list could go on and on.
In thinking about grit and my students, I found myself thinking back to when I played tennis. Not to toot my own horn (toot, toot), but I was a good tennis player. I won a lot of matches…except when I didn’t. And when I didn’t, the next match was that much harder for me and I ended up having a bad season, losing my number one spot on the team. I didn’t understand then what I do now: instead of having grit and working to improve both my play and my mind (they really didn’t know much about how the mind really played into sport back then – or at least my coach didn’t), I would what I lovingly call “mind-fuck myself” and believe that I just couldn’t do it anymore – that I really wasn’t as good as I thought I was. I. Just. Can’t.
That “I can’t” mentality is the same one my students have when they walk through my door. And it seems, no matter how often we teach them about growth mindset (see this article on more about growth mindset – fascinating stuff, really: http://www.nais.org/Magazines-Newsletters/ISMagazine/Pages/Brainology.aspx) and tell them to hop over those obstacles – They. Just. Can’t.
I understand my students because when I quit playing tennis, I fell into habits that were not the most optimal. And as I have reached adulthood and have come across obstacles, there are MANY times when I just fall into some of those old habits. There have been many times when I have thought, “Maybe I should just quit all of this”. But then I think back to how not doing “all of this” made me feel – physically and emotionally. Now, when I come across an obstacle, I fret about it a bit, but then I figure out a way around it.
Do I still have doubt and think “I just can’t”? Of course. But now I know that while I might have to work a little harder to do something, I do it. My determination in completing things (grad school, marathons, triathlons, a really challenging Workout of the Day) has grown over the years. I think it has grown not because I am the best at any of those things, but because I am no longer the best at those things (well, I was pretty kickass in school AFTER I let go of the doubt of my right to be there). I know that each time I step up to the starting line of an event, I am going to have to overcome great obstacles to complete the task at hand, my self-doubt about my right to be there the greatest one of all.
I remember a student coming up to me on the first day of school last semester and he asked, “Do you think it will be possible for me to learn anything?” He uttered the words, but it is a thought many of my students have. That self-doubt of their right to even be in a college classroom, the self-doubt of their ability to learn is something we work to help our students overcome. Their grit and perseverance will grow with each success they have – especially the success they have from a task that challenged them. Like any great coaching staff, we challenge them while providing them the love, guidance and support they need to increase their performance, but most importantly, their confidence.