The Checklist vs Opportunity Mindset

In an era where we always seem to have too much to do and not enough time to do it, the satisfaction of getting things done in and of itself can feel like a great accomplishment.

This is what I'd call the 'Checklist Mindset'.

So long as that task is complete, and it wasn't done in a clearly unsatisfactory way, it gets checked off and we move on to the next task on the list.

This works fine for some tasks, like filling your car with gas, mowing the lawn, or brushing your teeth.  For those tasks that may require more focus or effort, falling into the trap of a checklist mindset can hinder your development.

Studying for a test, completing a project at work, and training for your sport are a few examples.

Enrolling in an athletic development program such as ours, or training with your team, may seem in and of itself like a step forward if you show up and complete your session.  After all, you're doing more than your teammate who plays video games all day or sleeps until noon in the summer.

But simply showing up and completing a checklist of drills may not be giving you the edge you think its giving you.

Unless, of course, you develop an "Opportunity Mindset".

This line of thinking helps you see every challenge as an opportunity to improve, to get a little better than you were before you did it.

With training, that could be seen in developing a slightly better technique in your running stride, or your lifting form.   It could mean increasing weights, running a faster time, or completing more work in your conditioning session.

In short, this mindset sees every challenge as a chance to improve and move closer to your dreams.

(These are similar to the fixed and growth mindsets pioneered by author Carol Dweck, but focus on how we approach day-to-day tasks more than how we see ourselves.)

In training, the checklist mindset athlete just wants to get things done, as quickly and effortlessly as possible.   When working out, they are content to use the same resistance every session, and won't always retain the technique tips from their previous workout.  So they make mistakes by rushing through or not giving the drill their full attention. 

The drill got done, but did you improve from it?

The opportunity mindset person approaches things very differently.   They seek ways to improve from their previous session, maybe adding weights if possible but if they're not ready to do so they seek other improvements - better technique or faster movement (if appropriate).   

And when it's time to work, they are ultra-focused on what they are doing.

In our program you can also pick out the opportunity mindset kids from their workout sheets, because they're the ones who record their weights/times/scores in each session so they know what to improve on next time.

The opportunity vs checklist mindsets show themselves during team practices, as well.   The opportunity group is typically far more focused, and eager to learn.  They're also more likely to show improvement as the season goes on.  

As parents and coaches, we can help kids to develop an opportunity mindset by praising focus, attention to detail and a willingness to push beyond one's comfort zone.   This is hard for all of us to do, but is especially hard in our earlier years.   

For coaches in particular, we can also work to develop an atmosphere where a lack of focus is called out quickly, followed by a clear explanation of why creating a focused practice atmosphere is best for all of them and their future success.

We can also step back from an emphasis on winning above all else in earlier years of competition and give greater weight to mindset development.   This will not only build future champions on the field, it will teach them habits that will help them succeed well beyond the weight room and the athletic world.

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