The Coach Mindset

  • October 16, 2016


To Maximize Development, Change Your Mindset – By Beth Barz

Do you believe that only perfect practice makes perfect performance?

What is the right coaching mindset?

“Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect performance,” once said Vince Lombardi. Is that your mindset, too?

In the case above, Lombardi expected perfect execution of every repetition, even in practice. This is a very plain example of the “fixed mindset” popularized by psychologist Carol Dweck, where the focus on expectations of success outweighs the mistakes made in the learning process. There is definitely a time to focus on perfect performance in practice yet this type of standard can cause more damage than good when employed with youth. So, what if coaches like Lombardi changed their mindset on practice?

Instead, by encouraging a mindset that favours growth through failure and the grit (Duckworth 2006) to keep working through multiple practice opportunities, we can instill both positive life lessons and the ability for our athletes to think at the moment when pressure-filled competition circumstances arise. This type of environment can be created when a coach changes their own mindset on the purpose and outcomes of practice.

Further, coaches who use a question-based approach in their coaching (Kidman et all 2001) will model the way for athletes who feel stifled by specific directions and the mile-high expectations for immediate success. The mindset here is that the coach focuses on the needs of the athlete and allows the athlete or team to drive the practice goals. This occurs while the coach simply guides and supports through identifying the next step in the learning process as it presents itself. Rigid outcomes become less of a focus and athlete learning becomes the primary goal.

Allowing athletes to fail in their learning and to be an active part of the practice process ensures that they stay engaged and learn even more deeply during practice. The mindset of perfect execution of a skill or tactic can be changed to allow for many more opportunities for athletes and for coaches to grow. To do this, coaches need to change their mindset about perfect performance at all times.

References: Dweck, C. S., (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House. Duckworth, A., (2016). Grit: The power of passion and perseverance. New York: Scribner. Kidman et al., (2001). Developing Decision Makers: An empowerment approach to coaching. Christchurch: IPC Print Resources.

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Coach Responses

What is your mindset in practice and training?

Do you believe  “only perfect practice makes perfect performance?”

How do you develop a positive coaching mindset? 

Share your tips and best practices!

Coach Travis – Tennis – Grimsby – 11 Years

“…My mindset is the creation of a learning environment that is conducive to learning from failure but practicing with a purpose. This practicing with a purpose drives continuous improvement in athletes, driving them to be “perfect.” Without failure, one cannot learn, but without a purposeful purpose one cannot achieve positive outcomes leading to perfection…”

Coach Lisa – Synchronized Swimming – Toronto – 6 Years

“…It depends on the age group you are working with and a balance is needed. Certainly, the idea of perfect practice is important, ie not practicing a drill consistently wrong, but instead teaching how to do it correctly. However, failure during practice leads to closer perfect performance. One must learn from failure to achieve “perfection”…”

Coach Norm – Baseball – Ottawa – 15 Years

“…While I do believe that perfect practice does make for improved performance, the notion of perfect performance does not exist. A famous coach I once heard said even though their athlete broke a record, the coach felt they could have done better. Even though this so-called “perfect” performance of breaking a record and reaching the podium was achieved, failure still exists. The very nature of the sport is continued persistence to “perfection” by learning from one’s own mistakes and demise. You never get too high or too low, but instead, learn from each to improve performance…”

Coach Wendy – Swimming – Toronto – 7 Years

“…Certainly, with little kids, I teach practice does not make perfect. We instill that practice and training must have a purpose leading to the desired outcome. Whether it is a technical component such as a drill, or an intense workout, simply going back and forth does not make you better. It is the goal and purpose of each piece that contributes to your performance outcome at a competition…”

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