Celtic: Callum McGregor’s mindset key to success

AT FIRST glance, there might seem to be little in common between a young Scottish footballer and a California-based psychologist who specialises in what she calls ‘growth mindsets’.

Celtics Callum McGregor has drawn praise for his willingness to work on his weaknesses. Picture: Getty
Celtics Callum McGregor has drawn praise for his willingness to work on his weaknesses. Picture: Getty

But when the footballer in question is Celtic’s Callum McGregor, and the psychologist is Professor Carol Dweck, there is in fact a very strong connection.

Dweck, in Scotland this week as a guest of the Winning Scotland Foundation, explained her ideas yesterday to an audience of several hundred at Celtic Park. She disputes the traditional notion that coaches, teachers and parents should praise children for being talented or clever, as it inculcates a ‘fixed mindset’ in which they become risk averse. Instead, she argues that hard work and positive thinking should be encouraged, as they produce the positive approach that leads to sustained improvement.

“Some people have a fixed mindset about their talent – they think they’re just fixed traits that can’t be developed,” Dweck said. “These people become concerned with things like ‘Am I smart? Will I look good? I better not make a mistake’.

Carol Dweck

Advertisement

Hide Ad

“Other people belief that talent and ability can be developed – I call it a growth mindset. They are people who are up for a challenge and respond better to setbacks. Because setbacks are a natural part of learning – not proof that you are not good at something. We have shown in many studies that praising kids for being clever or talented backfires. It puts them into a fixed mindset and makes them not want to take challenges and give up easily when things become difficult. They don’t want risks. We find that instead, praising kids’ hard work, their strategies, their improvement – this creates the growth mindset and hardiness.”

Some of Dweck’s terminology may be unfamiliar in Scotland, but her methods have been used for some time by, among others, Martin Miller, head of Celtic’s junior academy. Which is where the 21-year-old McGregor comes in. For Miller, who took part yesterday, the midfielder epitomises the success of Dweck’s methods. No matter how much of McGregor’s talent is innate, the coach is convinced that his willingness to work on his weaknesses is what has helped him blossom in this, his first season with the Celtic senior squad.

“Callum is an example of someone who has always had a growth mindset, has accepted constructive criticism and worked incredibly hard on his game,” Miller said. “And he has a very supportive family who also clearly have a growth mindset.

“I hadn’t seen Callum for a long, long time, and I was up at Lennoxtown when he rejoined us [after a spell on loan at Notts County] at the start of the season. It was after all the first team had gone away, and I looked out on to the pitch, and there in the background was Callum.

Advertisement

Hide Ad

“He had all the kit in a wheelie bin, he set up the goals and put down all the markers himself, then started placing shots into small nets. Then when he’d finished he packed everything up and came back. I never said anything to him. I just thought that was a brilliant example to everyone of having that growth mindset, that willingness to work on their game.”

These days, it is not just players of McGregor’s age who are made familiar with Dweck’s theories. Even the youngest children who Miller works with are taught the terminology which, he believes, will make them understand themselves far better.

“We try to use a culture where parents and children are using the proper terminology – even with children as young as eight and nine. At that age our kids are talking about the comfort zone, the learning zone, the panic zone. I can explain to them that nothing ever grows in the comfort zone. I can talk to them about having a growth mindset.”

Dweck’s message is applicable to business and other walks of life as well as to sport, and she believes that even her own, supposedly more optimistic, country needs to adopt a growth mindset. “Both in the US and here, there is a broad belief in natural talent, and that praising ability builds confidence. We have traditionally been a can-do culture, but I think recently we’ve become a culture of getting the next A, getting the next grade: being successful, not having setbacks.

Advertisement

Hide Ad

“We’ve just raised a generation that isn’t dreaming big. There are many more kids who are just thinking about the next little success. I want to open up those dreams again. The greatest gift you can give is a love of challenge, an ability to thrive on setbacks. That’s what the growth mindset gives to kids.

“You don’t need confidence being pumped into you all the time. It comes from the idea that ‘I’m going to do something and it’s going to increase my ability’.

“We have students, after growth mindset training, who say ‘I want to do that – because it’s hard’. It’s easier to have confidence that you grow over time rather than being good at something right away.”

Winning Scotland Foundation executive director Morag Arnot said: “We’re delighted to have Professor Dweck here in Scotland working alongside a range of sports partners to further explore how these theories can be put into practice for the benefit of young people.”