It’s scholar week here at KnickerBlogger, this time with the psychology of the NBA athlete.
You might be wondering whether just believing in the idea of developing talent helps to actually develop your talents. Carol Dweck and her colleagues observed students over two years while they were making the transition from middle school to high school. Such a transition is comparable to the one from college to the NBA for basketball players. Things that were easy become suddenly hard. Children who believed that their intelligence could be developed improved their grades over the two years. Whenever they encountered difficulties and obstacles, they increased their efforts to learn something new, and thereby developed their talents. On the other hand, children who believed that their intelligence was fixed stagnated. Whenever things got tough, they took it as an indicator of a lack of talent. And they proved themselves right: their grades did not improve. This, as well as a plethora of other studies, showed that believing in the malleability of talent leads people to grow and succeed.
The NBA appears to believe the opposite. Like the Knicks, professional basketball has created a cult around the idea that talent is fixed. It starts with assessing the quality of a draft pick. The most important thing is whether he has NBA-level talent or not – this is even more important than success at the college level or the willingness to work on his skills. Struggling during the transition from college to NBA is taken to indicate that a player’s talent is not sufficient. General managers often trade young players at this point, maybe in return for another first round pick, hoping that other ball clubs still believe in the possibility that there is NBA talent in this player.
It’s likely that such ideas about talent, endorsed by general managers and coaches, get adopted by the players. In recent years, Carol Dweck investigated how parents and teachers affect children’s beliefs about their talent. Where does the idea of talent as fixed – or not – come from?