Carol Dweck.

Ludwig Wittgenstein made his thoughts rizomatic rather than arboreal.   In other words, instead of starting from the roots and working in a methodical way to bring things under one rule, a rhizome approach is a network with diverse forms, no particular foundation, for ever increasing connections, but following lines in much the same way as an evolutionary tree.   I have taken this analogy and applied it to learning.   As the above diagram portrays, learning comes at us from many directions, in many forms and no particular structure to it.   We just LEARN.

This presentation on, ‘How Footballers Learn,’ acknowledges the work of Carol Dweck who is  widely regarded as one of the world’s leading researchers in the fields of personality, social psychology, and developmental psychology.   Two of her influential works are; ‘Self –Theories’ (Pub, Brunner/Mazel UK), and ‘Mind-Set’ (Pub, Random House).

Carol Dweck; an influential social educational writer.

Successful footballers are the players who love to learn more about the game, they want to be challenged, they put in lots of effort and they are persistent when faced with challenges and obstacles. 

Dweck – Views of ability.

Carol Dweck maintains that ability is incremental, changeable, and can be increased.

The footballer can improve his game by working on his techniques and skills, ‘bit by bit,’ and over a period of time his game will change and his football abilities increase.

Unfortunately, some players believe that their ability is something that they are given a certain amount of and cannot improve on.   Too many players seem to accept that their abilities cannot be improved on and are reluctant to master new skills.  As a consequence of this they never reach their true potential. Dweck names this approach as a fixed entity.

Most successful players do not accept that their ability is a fixed trait and know that they can continue to learn more about the game and improve their abilities.   These players recognize that their ability is open to change and if they apply themselves they will improve.

Learning goals v Performance goals.

The learning goal is the goal of increasing her football competence; it reflects a desire to learn and master new techniques and skills.

Some players avoid trying out new skills because they are afraid that they may look incompetent when attempting them.   However, the tasks which challenge the footballer the most are the ones where the most learning is gained.   The player may have to put up with the embarrassment of making errors in order to become more proficient over the long term.

An over emphasis on ‘performance goals’ (ie, MUST win attitude) can drive out learning goals, leading players to pass up valuable learning opportunities, if they involve risk of failure.

Winning is an important part of football at any level, however, winning at all cost, particularly in young players can be counterproductive.   If the player is afraid to try out new skills, techniques and strategies because of a ‘win at all costs’ mentality from the coach, then it is likely that she will never go too far beyond her comfort zone and consequently not improve her game.

Players should be encouraged to go beyond their ‘comfort zone’.

It is wise to focus on the idea that everyone, with effort and guidance, can increase their football abilities.

If the player is focused on developing his footballing abilities, he should think of them as active and flexible, something that can be improved through his own efforts.  Players who are led to believe their abilities are flexible begin to take on challenging learning tasks, and begin to take advantage of the skill-improvement opportunities that come their way.

Confidence or attitude.

If you put a great deal of effort into your football it gives your life meaning (see my section on Existentialist Philosophy and football), it means that something is important to you and that you are willing to work and sacrifice for it.   Players who confront challenges and face difficulties in order to improve their game have a good chance of reaching their full potential.

When pursuing learning goals confidence in the players existing ability is not that critical.   The confidence players need is the confidence that can learn and improve by applying their effort and strategies.    

Young players learn by applying themself.

Incremental approach.

The players who approach learning the game in increments have an attitude of good training habits, concentration, persistence and motivation.   They study the game and practice constantly (often on their own).   When they make mistakes they learn from them, their ‘self-talk’ informs them that they can do it as they work patiently towards their goal.

Coaches who have a deterministic approach to their players have already decided what a player can or cannot learn or achieve (fixed traits).   This affects what and how the coach teaches them and predetermines the learning outcomes of the player.   For example; if the coach believes that a player cannot improve, then he/she will not set goals outside of the players comfort zone.

There is a danger that young players, who are constantly praised and told that they had high ability when they did well, think less of themselves when they fail.   In other words, youngsters who received constant high praise were disadvantaged when they were faced with setbacks.   Whereas, the ones who had been given positive feedback on the amount of effort and thought that they put into their game could deal more comfortably with setbacks.

Young players suceed through their efforts and overcoming setbacks.

Carol  Dweck’s view of ability is that it is incremental and changeable, and can be increased.  The entity view is that ability is fixed and cannot be changed. 

An incremental view of ability means that the learner has high expectations, and is prepared to put in the effort and also to persist.   The entity view of ability includes a low expectation of achievement, less effort and a lack of persistence.”

Most experienced coaches will have dealt with players who have the incremental view to learning alluded to by Carol Dweck.   They are the ones who are focused at training sessions, always pushing themself harder, wanting to learn more, trying out new skills and persisting until they are mastered.   This type of player is not afraid of setbacks and failure on his way to achieving his goal.

There are also too many players with the entity view of their football ability who are not prepared to try new skills because of a, “I can’t do that,” approach.   This type of player has low expectations of his abilities and won’t try new techniques or skills because of this. Consequently this type of player won’t persist or put in the required effort and, therefore, will not succeed.

Young footballers need to persist in order to succeed in football. 

The pattern for mastery is attributing success down to stable, internal and controllable causes.   Self-talk such as, “I’m good at football,” “I have a good attitude to learning.”

If things go wrong for successful players, their failures are attributed controllable causes such as, “I should have practiced more” or “I used the wrong approach to play that game”.  A successful player has a mastery approach to her game by attributing success to elements under her own control such as the amount of effort she puts in.

Unsuccessful players attribute success to unstable external causes such as, “I was so lucky to get chosen for the team.”    She attributes failure to uncontrollable causes such as “I’m just no good at football.”

The footballer can organise and manage himself in order to be successful (see my presentation on football and self-efficacy).   This means that much effort is expended in order to realise his goals, he persists when things go wrong, learns from his own, and others, mistakes.

Learning from the mistakes made by him, and others, cannot be underestimated, because failure can be seen as an opportunity to learn, and can be the catalyst for future success.

He can attribute his success to controllable causes, “I’m good at this because I’ve worked on my game.”   He can attribute his failures also to controllable causes, “I should have practiced more.”  “I used the wrong tactics in that game.”

Opportunities to learn can be the catalyst for future success.

‘Self-Theories’; and ‘Mindset’ are two very influential publications of which Carol Dweck is the author.


Carol Dweck appeals to me because I believe that upcoming players have the best chance to change the fixed mindset.  I have seen a marginal player blossom into a leader and stalwart, with a whole player approach tailored to the player. (Robert Greybeck jnr, Ph.D. Educator USA.).