Updated: Jan 6, 2019
Most coaches agree that talent alone is not enough to succeed, that perseverance & passion is also required. This combination of passion and perseverance is known as grit.
How much grit a gymnast has will heavily influence how successful they are. Grittier people are more successful in their chosen sport, hobby or career, having both determination & direction, understanding that the journey is as important as the destination. Although talent is required for success, the significance is often overrated, with other factors like grit separating those that succeed from those that don’t. We've all experienced the talented gymnast that never had the drive or determination to suceed.
Research by Angela Duckworth suggests that talent has no bearing on grit, and in my experience naturally talented people may actually be less gritty, possibly because they have not experienced adversity.
"Men differ in zeal & hard work, not talent"
Grit can be acquired & improved by personal experiences & surrounding culture, therefore to improve grit coaches must develop a culture which encourages grit and promotes gritty behaviour to help athletes discover & fulfil their potential. This can be achieved by promoting a growth mindset, rewarding effort, learning and determination, rather than a talent centred ethos which discourages long term learning, growth & integrity by distracting from the importance of effort.
Effort is integral to grit and a crucial aspect of achievement. Angela Duckworth uses two equations to explain the importance of effort in the journey from talent to achievement:
Talent X Effort = Skill
Skill X Effort = Achievement
"Effort counts twice"
Because of this importance, coaches should emphasise effort, not results. We must provide effort driven praise and rewards and provide tools to cope with failure, allowing gymnasts to overcome adversity. Coaches must create a positive environment to promote a strong work ethic not stemming from a coaches desire for power. The desire to improve should not be driven by fear or punishment. We should promote internal drive and enjoyment, however in my opinion, appropriately timed and utilised external validation can promote self-confidence, helping internal drive in the long run. For example, appropriately utilised sticker charts, rewarding effort & determination required to complete a new skill rather than for the completion of a new skill itself, or for kindness, teamwork, or problem solving. Additionally, self-reflection can be used to encourage independence & problem solving.
Coaches should provide an environment to ‘let it happen’, rather than making it happen. giving gymnasts responsibilities around the gym and behavioural expectations. Allow enough independence to practice taught skills whilst appreciating you are always there for support. Finding ways to allow mistakes without harm can be a tricky balance, especially for less experienced coaches.
Parents should be encouraged to remember the importance of emphasising unconditional love. Although children must feel love which isn’t depend in a result or an outcome, parents should not constantly eliminate all fear or stress,or spoil their children, instead the gymnast should be encouraged to discuss ways of dealing with negative emotions and given chores and behavioural expectations at home as well as in the gym. Unconditional love does not mean never saying no to your child!
We cannot force grit, we can simply encourage passion, enthusiasm & effort by the rewarding of effort, by encouraging confidence and self-belief, by letting children explore by trial and error in a safe environment, not by spoon feeding, dictating or controlling.
"There are no shortcuts to excellence....Grit is about working on something you care about so much that you're willing to stay loyal to it...it's doing what you love, but not just falling in love-staying in love".
Considering the importance of grit, and the influence of effort on grit. Should we be investing more time into developing these mental attributes as well as physical ones? Or is it purely a parental responsibilty?
Consider your coaching, parenting or gym culture. Are you rewarding talent or effort? Are you doing everything you can to encourage grit and to keep gymnasts in love with their sport?
Let me know your thoughts and ideas on how you develop grit
If you are interested in finding out more, I'd highly recommend this book as a starting point.