I don’t follow football. Not really. But I am currently breathing and I do follow sports in general, so of course I heard the news when fledgling quarterback and football celebrity (soon to be outcast?) Tim Tebow was recently cut by the New England Patriots just prior to the start of the 2013-2014 season. Like it or not, pretty much anything Tebow does is national news.
If you recall, a couple years ago, Tebow (former Heisman trophy winner and widely considered one of the greatest, if not more memorable, college quarterbacks in history), become the Denver Broncos starter after their QB was injured and then, through either guile and budding talent and a fierce awareness of timing, or through fluke luck and serendipity and accidental greatness, won several games in a row, including a string of comebacks, and took the Broncos into the playoffs. Media frenzy ensued. Tebow, who was already on the cusp, became a star for all kinds of reasons, only some of them to do with how he played the game of football. Many of them were to do with his religious piety, his good looks.
In the off season though, Tebow was released. He spent the year with the Jets last year and saw minimal playing time and was subsequently released by the Jets, who opted not to re-sign him. They were not all that complimentary of his playing talent or future either. The dream of NFL QBdom seemed, perhaps, to have withered on the vine for a player whose media profile far outshone either his talent or his accomplishments on the field. Suddenly the fact that Tebow was not an NFL caliber QB seemed rather obvious.
Now, coming full circle, the Patriots recently surprised everyone and signed Tebow and brought him to training camp, only to release him, leaving him hapless, team-less, and it would seem, lost.
A couple days ago, it was revealed that Tebow had been getting offers, from the CFL, from the USA Rugby team, and even from another NFL team, though the latter involved a position change. People wanted Tebow after all, though they wanted him on their terms. Tebow has refused them all. He has decided, at least for now, to hold tight to his dream of being an NFL quarterback and to move in dogged pursuit of it, regardless of obstacle or consequence.
Even if no one else believes Tebow can or will achieve his goal, Tebow himself seems to. And that’s commendable. Of course, if the window on those other opportunities closes at roughly the same rate that the one on his NFL dream and he manages to get himself through neither, everyone’s feelings may change on the matter. For now, though, it’s NFL or bust.
Carol Dweck is a Stanford professor of psychology whose similarities to Tebow probably end at two limbs and a beating heart. But whether he knows it or not, Tebow’s dedication to achieving his goal is a great examples of what Dweck would call a “Growth” Mindset. This as opposed to a “Fixed” Mindset.
In layman’s terms, those with a Fixed Mindset see ability, talent, and intelligence as “fixed,” unable to really be changed even in the face of effort or will. In this mindset, people are less willing to adapt, less open to feedback, and have a more difficult time responding to criticism and adversity.
Conversely, those with a Growth Mindset believe that effort, belief, and a willingness to take extra time and receive extra support as the means to gain what one wants trump any notions of existing ability, talent, or intelligence. Having a Growth Mindset doesn’t mean that you can defy the laws of physics or that anyone could be Michael Jordan. What it means, though, is that you’re far more focused on adaptation and support, believing that you can grow and improve no matter what the circumstances. Science supports the theory and the fact that one’s capabilities are not at the mercy of pre-existing conditions. They can be changed, not just physiologically, but chemically.
There’s a great TED talk on the two mindsets by Eduardo Briceno. It’s ten minutes and well worth your time. It might just change the way you think about yourself and the world.
As you probably know, I’m a high school teacher and I’m starting off the new school year with a unit on brain science, learning, and Mindset. There’s some very cool new revelations regarding what we know about the brain and its capacity to grow, change, and improve. All the time, I bump into students with a Fixed Mindset about school. They believe they are a certain kind of student. They believe that it’s all too hard. Or all too easy. Or that no one likes them. Or that everyone likes them. Or that math is just something they’ll never get. Or that a teacher’s feedback on their writing is worthless because they’re just not a good writer. What I’m learning is that these mindsets play a huge role in how we see ourselves and how we interact with the world. Worrying less about what we can do well naturally, worrying less about talent and natural ability, and worrying more about growth and adaptation, can put someone in a far better position to improve, and not just in the short term.
What’s interesting about Mindset is that it’s not just formed by us. In fact, a lot of our own mindset about ourselves comes from the outside. Parents, friends, coaches, teachers–they tell us things about ourselves, things that might be mirrored in our day to day experience, and before too long, that becomes our narrative of ourselves.
What’s fascinating about Tebow is how much the external narrative around him has changed. A few years ago, this guy was winning the Heisman trophy and was the best player in college football. An unstoppable force on the field. A king. Today he’s a joke. The narrative has flipped on him. Oddly enough, the one thing that seems not to have changed in the story all that much is Tebow. His Mindset on becoming an NFL quarterback is focused and driven, seemingly undeterred by the changing story around him, which now says that he can’t do it, that he’s not talented enough, that it won’t happen. Tebow isn’t listening. Or he’s doing an amazing job or pretending he’s not. The guy simply believes that his desire to be an NFL quarterback and his ability to grow towards that goal is more powerful than whatever natural ability landed him in this position in the first place. If he can just put in enough time and effort, he can will himself past some limitations he’s now experiencing in natural ability. In spite of the odds, he’s chosen to focus on that.
Maybe he’s deluding himself. Maybe he’s exercising a genius of will that’s unfamiliar.
He’ll probably never know, but he’s putting Dweck’s theory to a very high profile test. Who knows what will happen. Maybe he’ll make it, maybe he won’t. Maybe in a few years he’ll be on Hollywood Squares. I honestly don’t really care whether Tim Tebow makes it as an NFL quarterback. But his belief in himself made me sit up and take notice.
I wish him luck.