Weightlifting is a hugely gratifying sport. It can also be a very discouraging sport. Training is monotonous, frustrating, and forces athletes beyond their comfort zone on a daily basis. With the right mindset, athletes are not discouraged by the soul-crushing nature of training. Instead they learn to use every aspect of training — both positive and negative — to increase their de- termination and desire to succeed.
Athletes who succeed in weightlifting have a growth mindset. They believe talent is something to be developed and improved. Because of this belief, these athletes accept coaches’ criticism with an open mind, recognizing there is more than one way to do things. They focus on the process of learning, identify the positive and negative lessons from every day of training. These lessons learned help them to identify and address their weaknesses. They devote lots of time and effort to turning their weak points into strengths, knowing that improving these weak points will make them better. They are able to take risks because they view setbacks and failures as opportunities to grow. Growth-minded lifters have to develop an unconditional belief in their abili- ties in order to continue moving forward after these failed efforts.
Growth-minded athletes step into the gym every day knowing they will leave a better athlete if they put in quality work that day. Talent is not something they are born with; it can be earned through hard work. Aside from hard work, athletes need to be able to accept coaches’ criticism and corrections to improve. Those with a growth mindset are open to learning from all sources, because they understand they do not know everything. Input from experienced coaches, cou- pled with hard work from the athlete, leads to increased talent.
Great lifters are able to surrender to the process. They identify lessons learned from every train- ing session and competition — what they did right, and what they could have done better. They understand that there is more value in the process than the results of a competition. If an athlete had a poor training cycle (maybe they didn’t hit the numbers they were aiming for), but took away valuable lessons learned, it was not a failed effort or wasted time. The best athletes make the most mistakes. They realize these mistakes are part of the process. These are learning op- portunities, which help them identify what to do differently next time. Ultimately these mistakes make them better athletes. Mistakes lead them to identify weaknesses in their physical or men- tal performance. Then they attack these weaknesses, even though it may not be the most en- joyable part of the process.
Weightlifting requires that an athlete take risks. Attempting a PR weight takes full effort and con- fidence. Weightlifters have to believe they’re capable of lifting a weight they’ve never attempted before. Sometimes, winning in competition means they have to put up 5 kilos more than they’ve ever done before. These lifts test mental strength. These lifts are made or missed before the lifter even approaches the bar, by the thoughts they allow in their mind. Doubt is failure in these situations.
Whether in training or competition, not every attempt is going to be a successful lift. The best weightlifters can shake off a missed attempt and come back minutes later to successfully make that same weight, or a heavier weight. They can do this because they have an unconditional belief in their strength and abilities.
Athletes with a tendency toward the growth mindset still have to work continuously to strengthen that mindset. Regardless of how growth-minded an athlete is, certain things will trigger their in- ner fixed-minded athlete. Failed attempts, losing in competition, or a bad training day can all cause them to fall out of touch with their growth-minded self. All athletes have days when they doubt their abilities and question the point of training. They have to be able to identify when this is happening, and address it. They have to shut down this doubt and get back into the growth zone.
Athletes with a fixed mindset believe their talents are innate gifts; they’re born with an un- changeable level of skill or ability. They see failures and setbacks as confirmation of their belief that they’re unable to improve. Since talent is a static attribute, they see no point in training past failure. If failure is a hard stopping point, what’s the point of attempting a lift again after a failed attempt? This mindset is not conducive to becoming a great weightlifter. Failure in weightlifting is simply part of the process, and has to be seen as such by the athlete.
Athletes with a fixed mindset do not see the potential for growth and improvement, so they be- lieve they already know everything there is to know. Fixed mindset athletes are often times not open to feedback, correction, or constructive criticism from coaches. They may even shut down entirely when a new approach is introduced to them. While their growth-minded counterparts are open-minded and willing to try new ideas, fixed mindset athletes dismiss outside input be- cause they can’t acknowledge the potential value of it.
You can think of fixed mindset athletes as what you may call “natural” athletes. Things have al- ways come easily to them. Unlike less-talented athletes, they’ve never had to put in extra hours of training to improve at their sport. Over time, the growth-minded athletes, the ones who put in extra hours over months and years of training, will surpass the natural athletes. Once these fixed-mindset naturals start to lose, they will quit, because they believe their level of skill is fixed and limited.
Over time, effort causes ability to grow. Growth-minded athletes know and understand this. But having a tendency toward growth-mindedness is not enough. Athletes have to continuously work to make this mindset stronger, just as they continuously work to become physically stronger. Hard work will always beat out natural talent over time, because talent can be im- proved through hard work.
about the author...
Elisa helps sports coaches build athletes who are empowered by sports, prepared to win on, off, and beyond the field of play.