June 9, 2009

Mindset in sports

“A lot of people say it’s better to be lucky than good. I’d rather be Roger than lucky.” -- Andre Agassi after Federer won the French Open, June 7, 2009

In her book, Mindset, Carol Dweck uses a lot of athletes as examples of the fixed vs. growth mindset.  It got me thinking about the athletes that I am particularly fond of:  Steve Staios (Edmonton Oilers), Glen Metropolit (Montreal Canadians), Kevin Doell (Leksand Stars in Sweden), Peyton Manning (Indianapolis Colts), and Roger Federer.  On first glance it might seem like a list of stars.  Everybody likes the best, right?  But that's not how I came to enjoy watching these players.  What I like about them is the emphasis on how they study the game, how hard they work on and off the ice, field, court.  Before I ever knew anything about growth mindsets, I was a big fan of people who worked hard, never stopped learning, and embraced challenges.  I'll show you what I mean.

Read these two biographies, one on Peyton Manning, the other on Roger Federer.   They are pretty long, so I'll quote a little bit here.  

Peyton worked just as hard when it came to football. He watched film religiously, usually of pro games, and also hit the weight room. The teenager was developing as a player in ways foreign to most kids his age. Eli still remembers how much his hands hurt after having a catch with Peyton. His older brother always rifled the ball with amazing velocity.


In the off-season, Peyton watched hours of video, improved his strength and footwork and even organized unofficial practices with key players on the Vols’ offense. He entered the fall of 1995 as Tennessee’s unquestioned leader. Colquitt was done after his knee injury, Helton opted for a baseball career with the Colorado Rockies, and Stewart simply didn’t have Peyton’s presence or ability. 


Peyton spent another off-season with his nose to the grindstone, both on and off the field. In the classroom, he took the maximum number of courses available to him. Peyton had his eye on the NFL, but he didn’t want to leave college without a degree—even if that meant having to pile up enough credits to graduate by the end of his junior year.

Peyton may have talent in his blood, but  he's a student of the game.  

Tennis was a family passion in the Federer home, though neither Roger’s parents nor his sister had any special aptitude for the game. Everyone enjoyed it, however, and Roger showed enough promise to earn entry into Basel’s crack junior program at the age of eight.Roger’s first sports hero was Boris Becker, the young German who won Wimbledon in 1985. Roger recalls watching Becker play Stefan Edberg in the 1988 Wimbledon final. He cried when his idol lost. Controlling his temper was a problem that would plague Roger throughout his childhood.

His game already showed signs of genius, but like many kids his age, he was often out of control on the court. (Roger describes himself as a “hothead.”) He erupted after hitting dumb shots and rarely went through a day without hurling his racket against the fence. Robert and Lynette were mortified when they saw their son’s behavior during tournaments. Roger could not understand this. He was never rude to umpires, linesmen or opposing players. His anger was reserved for himself. The Federers refused to speak to him after one of his episodes, frustrating him even more.

Enter Peter Carter. A tough player from Australia, he had learned how to make a little talent go a long way. From the age of 10 to 14, Roger spent more time with Carter than his own parents. The coach taught Roger flawless technique on his ground strokes and serve, and watched him grow into his body and start dominating opponents. The two also discussed the mental side of the game—not just strategy and psychology, but also about the importance of being gracious and polite and reigning in your emotions. Carter was eventually able to get Roger to see how much energy he wasted during his outbursts, and over the next few years, the incidents lessened considerably.

Federer especially is an amazing story because of how drastically he improved his emotional intelligence.  When he was ten, I don't think Roger showed any signs of being the amazing player he is now.  That's years of hard work both mentally and physically.  

Kevin Doell isn't a big name player, at least not in the NHL, but he was with the local ECHL team their first couple of seasons.  His stats pretty much speak for themselves.  Seventy-four points in 63 games that first season.  He spent most of the second season in the AHL, but in 11 games he had 15 points while he was down.  In Gwinnett, he was a goal scorer, he played on the top line.  It always bugged me that in Chicago he played  on the third and fourth lines with guys that were slow.  In 211 games he scored only 98 points.  I always thought they were wasting his talent.  I read this interview with him back in 2004, but until recently it made no sense to me.  

HF: At Thrashers training camp, it seemed like you played with more of an edge than you might with the Gladiators, was that something you were thinking about?

KD: Yeah, I mean, once you get up to the next level anybody can score, anybody can do everything, so you pretty much just have to whatever extra thing you can bring to the table and hopefully that makes you stand out. Try and be a little feistier stuff like that. I definitely did play a little less offensive. It’s a lot tougher to score, and they already have guys who do the scoring. If you show you can do other stuff too, it improves your chances that much more.

HF: Can you describe how you see yourself fitting in with the Gladiators now? You bring a lot of offense.

KD: Yeah, offense I guess just comes with my line. We’re usually up against the top line for the other team. We play good defense. When you’re playing against top offensive players, sometimes they lack in the defensive area so that’s where we get our opportunities. We just play solid D until we get our chances, and once we get them we try to capitalize.
Instead of scoring in Chicago, Doell got into more fights.  At one point his jaw was broken, but he didn't complain about his new role- he embraced it.  Last season he played in Sweden, 49 points in 37 games but he also racked up 105 penalty minutes.   That's a pretty well-rounded player.

Steve Staios was playing with Peoria in the IHL when I first saw him play.  He was in Atlanta for a while, but it's with Edmonton that he's really been appreciated.  He mentions it in the video below, but it's not unusual for Staios to be looking pretty beat up midway through the season.  I love the Oilers, but you've got to have a growth mindset to play there because they rarely make the playoffs.  I've seen the team play flat, but never Steve.    

I'm not the only one who noticed his mindset, this pretty much sums it up.  

"The angle I see Staios from is the locker room, and mentoring - 2 things you don't usually get with a new acquisition in his place. Staios is one of those "do anything to win" guys on a team that doesn't have enough of them. He blocks shots, hits, and gets stitched up in the hallway and back out on the ice."
Glen Metropolit has an interesting story.  For one short season we had a professional roller hockey team in Atlanta called the Fire Ants.  Glen showed up to try out for the team and as I remember it, he didn't even know how to rollerblade.  Needless to say, he didn't make the team, but he didn't let that stop him.  He learned, and ended up being the third leading scorer for the Long Island Jawz.  He bounced around the minor leagues for a while, briefly making it to the NHL before going over to Europe.  He was very successful, and popular there.  Like Doell, he's a great offensive player, but only if you play him with the guys that can keep up with him.  I don't really understand why coaches don't consistently play him on the top lines, but when he does, he scores.   His childhood is the interesting part though.  

"My childhood was hard," Metropolit said. "I would be taking the garbage out and there would be someone there doing crack.

"My mom did everything she could but it was tough. I bounced around as a kid and there were money troubles so my mom had to send us to a foster home for a while. I saw it all."

When his mother couldn't afford the bills, Metropolit and his younger brother, Troy and sister, Nicole, were shuffled in and out of foster homes.


But Metropolit was determined to not let his surroundings stifle his sense of self esteem.

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