Matthew Taylor: The Orioles’ growth mindset concept

The growth mindset concept is popular in education circles these days. Given its focus on the need to embrace failure as part of the learning process, growth mindset is a natural corollary for baseball, where repeated failure is ingrained in the game.

I would argue that no game requires a growth mindset so much as baseball. The Baltimore Orioles are an example of that. If you’re willing to embrace frustration as a fan, it can be a joy to watch over both the short-term and the long-term.

Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck developed the idea of growth mindset as part of her research on achievement and success. She distinguishes a fixed mindset from a growth mindset, the latter of which is more conducive to learning, resilience, and ultimately, success. In the simplest terms, I think of it as a sophisticated version of “The Little Engine That Could.”

The Mindset website explains that, in a fixed mindset: “People believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. ... They also believe that talent alone creates success - without effort.”

A fixed mindset is all about saving face and gathering examples of one’s intelligence and success. It’s a play-it-safe strategy that produces stagnation, the participation trophy of everyday life.

In a growth mindset, by comparison: “People believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work - brains and talent are just the starting point.”

Growth mindset requires putting yourself out there and being willing to fail in order to improve at the task at hand. It’s Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh quoting Teddy Roosevelt after a comeback victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers: “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again ....”

Let’s think of this in baseball terms.

A growth mindset would be needed to rally from committing two errors, striking out twice, going 0-for-4 in one game and then hitting into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded to start the next game before striking out in another at-bat.

Jonathan Schoop faced those circumstances in this week’s two-game series with the Mets. They were the preamble to him making a highlight-reel defensive play on a stolen base attempt and then hitting a key two-run homer that helped the Orioles to an uplifting victory on Wednesday.

“You see some toughness that you like about him because he had some tough at-bats early on and came back and turned a couple big double plays and kept a ball fair that seemed like the 100th breaking ball that he had seen,” Buck Showalter said.

That toughness to which Showalter speaks? That’s a growth mindset. It’s the ability to stick with those breaking balls.

A growth mindset doesn’t assume that one successful at-bat is the end result of all the failure and you’ll never fail again; rather, it suggests that you’ll keep learning and use that knowledge to improve in future at-bats. Learning is a process that involves setbacks. The more willing you are to embrace those setbacks and keep working, the greater the likelihood of success.

That brings me to Adam Jones. I’ve come to a special appreciation for Jones due in no small part to the fact that I’ve had the opportunity to watch him develop as a player over the course of several seasons in Baltimore.

Jones’ talent was no secret to Orioles fans as he was the centerpiece of the Erik Bedard trade with Seattle. The talent was there. However, with baseball, talent alone is not enough.

Jones has persevered through even highly public setbacks like a misplayed ball in the 2012 ALDS and a 2-for-23 showing in that series with the New York Yankees. And yet, there he was doing a victory lap two years later as the Orioles outpaced the Yankees for the American League East title.

Narrow the scope a bit and consider the 2014 season alone. There was early panic when the Orioles struggled out of the gate, which produced some frustrated quotes from Jones in April; by August, he hit an iconic three-run homer - fit with a raised fist as he rounded first base - to rally the O’s to a win versus the Yankees. Given the context of the season, I dubbed it the “I Told You So Trot.”

As noted earlier in this post, “brains and talent are just the starting point.” To put it in Jones’ terms, “Stay Hungry.” That’s a growth mindset.

Matthew Taylor blogs about the Orioles at Roar from 34. Follow him on Twitter: @RoarFrom34. His ruminations about the Birds appear as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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