Thinking Like a Pro - Growth Mindset

December 30, 2022
Coaches Corner

2022-Oliver Jones Headshot-100
By Oliver Jones
He teaches paddle and tennis at The Overbrook Golf Club in Villanova, PA.
Oliver holds a 7.2 PTI and competes nationally on the APTA tournament circuit with partner Jody Sambrick.

In this series Thinking Like a Pro, we are contrasting the mental approach of the professional paddle player to that of the amateur or recreational club player. (If you want to dip your toes into what the pros are doing and make the move from standard to great, these articles can help to get you there.) By highlighting the differences, we will begin to get a clear view of a pro’s thought process. A mindset that allows him to advance his physical and mental limits and edge closer to his full potential.

While we will be thinking within a platform tennis context, these concepts emphasize underlying mental models for learning, and thus undoubtedly apply in all areas of life in which we seek true mastery. Each article in the series will examine one specific area; in this fourth article, we are setting the table in your favor.

In his excellent book “The Rise of Superman”, author Steven Kotler states, “To move through struggle takes a leap of faith that the effort will really result in skill acquisition. By definition, this demands a growth mindset.”

In other words, a perspective that looks at every experience as an opportunity to learn is key to embracing and conquering the tension inherent in pushing ourselves beyond that with which we are comfortable. This ‘push’ out of our comfort zone takes discipline, humility, and conviction in the process, but is the only way to achieve our true potential.

In order to delve further into this fascinating concept, let us break down each part in turn

1. Move Through Struggle
The struggle here is the tension, frustration, or setbacks we face as we compete or challenge ourselves in any pursuit. It could be competing in tournaments and losing a close battle to a team you believe you can beat. It could be missing a routine forehand drive at a critical point in a match. Really, it could be anything in life where you are taken out of your comfort zone and area of competence. So, the challenge becomes how we optimize for these moments not only to have them happen less often but also to make them meaningful and not just disappointing.

2. Leap of Faith
The leap of faith here is the key substance necessary in the equation—belief. Without belief—belief in yourself, belief in your ability, belief in your training, belief in your future— frustrations and disappointments will eat you alive. This is often how burnout happens. When we play too much, we get to a point where we deplete our belief reserves so much that we can no longer see a way through to the other side


3. Effort Will Result in Skill Acquisition
This is what the leap was all about, to get us to a mental place where it isn’t about winning and losing, but about learning and developing. Where all the effort we put in, such as the long gym sessions, disciplined nutrition, stretching, grinding out three back-draw matches, is all to earn the opportunity to improve. It is the opportunity, not the guarantee, of improvement we must embrace. There are no guarantees, just leaps of faith, and we can’t just leap one time, we have to continue to leap over and over again, to find belief in ourselves and the process with each setback or disappointment.

4. Demand a Growth Mindset
Kotler is saying here that to be able to accept our failings, accept our frustrations and dissatisfactions with our performances, and to move on, understanding that this is part of the process of success, and very necessary to it, is in and of itself the foundation of a growth mindset.

Everyone is going to fail, it’s how we respond to failure that separates the strong from the weak, and the elite from the average. And for Kotler, the elite simply fail better than everyone else, because they see failure as feedback, as an opportunity to make adjustments that will allow them to emerge from the experience as a better version of themselves.


Everything we experience on a paddle court is feedback. It is information from which to create a better, more accurate mental model for future play. If you come to your match and didn't prepare a game plan, didn't eat well at breakfast, or didn't sleep well the night before, you are going to get feedback through the results of those choices. Similarly, if you miss a lob on a big point, or hit a low percentage drive on an easy ball on match point, this is not failure, but information to take away and use to be better next time.

However, if you don't take the effort to learn from these things, and don’t spend time in quiet, thoughtful contemplation with this information so you can use it to be better prepared; you are fooling yourself that you are going to improve.

Don’t simply chalk up losses to “Well, I guess I’ll learn from that next time” and move on. Be sure you have learned what happened, think about the true nature of the errors, and find a way to make sure those errors don’t happen again or at least as often.

Write notes to yourself, keep a paddle journal, take video of your matches—whatever it takes to be able to move forward to the higher ground next time and allow you to make new, better errors next time.

New errors are okay, that is growing. You aren't ready for the new errors until you get over the old ones. The journey never stops. Growth Mindset is the key mindset for a fruitful journey.


Photos by Garrison Block, @garrison block

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