Developmental Psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck once did a study of 2 groups of math students and how they view their successes. The 2 groups were divided as such. One was kids that had been influenced and told by their parents and teacher to be “smart at this” while the other had been influenced by being told “I got it because I worked very hard at it” This is the difference in entity vs incremental theories of learning. Entity learners (smart kids) saw their intelligence as a fixed entities while the incremental (hard workers) learners saw learning as much more or an evolving process. Dr. Dwecks material has shown that when faced with difficult material, the learning theorists are far more likely to rise to the level of the game, while the entity theorists are more stubborn and prone to quit when faced with challenge or adversity.
Once the students had been divided they were given a series of math problem sets. The first was very easy, and kids in both groups blazed through it. The second, however, was exceptionally difficult. The students in both groups were unable to answer any, but the children who viewed math as a learned skill spent much longer before giving up. The interesting part of the study came on the third and final problem set. This set was as easy as the first. However, the group of “smart” kids who viewed math ability as a fixed entity were no longer able to answer the easy questions, they were now “dumb”. The other group, the “hard working” kids, finished them just as easily as the first. The kids who viewed math ability as innate had their self-perception shattered by the hard questions; after not being able to answer these questions, they now considered themselves the kind of person who is simply “bad at math.” This prevented them from being able to answer questions they could before. The children that associated success with hard work tend to have a more curious mastery response while the children who see themselves as just plain “smart” or “dumb”, “good” or “bad” at something have much more of a defeated oriented response.
So how does this relate to baseball? I deal with kids every day who act in a “good” vs. “bad” manner. For instance, if I get a hit I am good, and if I get out I am bad. Parents everywhere are praising their kids and rewarding them for their results. Home runs, batting averages, and the list goes on. What is this teaching kids? For most the message is they are “good” and that good is a fixed entity, therefore if they aren’t getting “good” results they must be “bad”. While the few kids who see good as a product of their work ethic are much more capable of dealing with adversity within their own games. They trust that their game is a product of their work and that slumps are only minor setbacks that do not define their games.
So what is the answer? I ask you. What are you praising your players for?