Hard work, not just talent, makes for winning athletes - and scholars

Carson Wentz hands off the ball during a 2016 NFL Play 60 event at Grant Park in Chicago.

As a Philly native and a lifelong Eagles fan, I am excited about the Super Bowl. I have noticed that much of the talk in the lead-up to the big game focuses not only on the players’ athletic ability, but also on their coaching and general mindset. The team that wins may be the one that puts forth superior effort and determination, not necessarily the one with more individual talent.

This “growth mindset” — that gains in achievement are maximized when we focus on effort and determination, rather than innate ability — is common in sports. This same mindset could also be applied to children in their schoolwork, yet in the United States, we fall drastically short in cultivating that thought process.

Some of the best coaches in history were able to get all their players in the growth mindset, regardless of overall athletic prowess. What would happen if we applied some of those same techniques to academics in our schools? Let’s take a look:

Before the big game or exam
Yes, we’re talking about practice. In sports and in academics, it’s important to encourage your child to practice. Be sure to point out when practicing leads to achievement, and reinforce that those accomplishments will only continue with more work. Encourage your child to give 110 percent: Let him or her know that hard work is expected for success. Trying hard or practicing does not mean that you need it to overcome a lack of ability.

During the event
In sports, we often hear, “It’s not failure, it’s fatigue.” The road to success can be hard, and it’s the same for sports training as it is for academic learning. If children are not able to achieve a task the first time, encourage them to keep trying. This will help them handle failure because they will learn that even if they get knocked down, they can get back up again. It’s also important for schools to create cultures in which students celebrate the efforts of their classmates — just as sports teammates do.

Hitting rewind
Athletes often watch video of their games, and they are given specific information on how they performed and goals for achievement. At school, children should get specific feedback on how they perform and steps to improve that performance. It is important to review and celebrate successes and effort as well as identify areas for improvement and the specific strategies to get there.

Just as in sports, hard work and practice in academics are hallmarks of success, not signs of an insurmountable lack of talent.

That said, if you’re concerned that your child isn’t performing at an appropriate level, reach out to the school to see what additional services may be available.