Understanding Mindset and the Locus of Control

Graphical representation of Locus of Control and its influence on mindset in coaching.

Coaches often face a common challenge: players who blame everyone except themselves. Drawing from the mirror metaphor, the scientific community coins this behavior as the “Locus of Control.” This article delves deeper into the concept of Mindset, especially concerning failure and disappointments, and explores its link with the Locus of Control.

Read more: Understanding Mindset and the Locus of Control

Transitioning Mindset: Growth vs Fixed:

Literature on mindset primarily revolves around how individuals deal with failures and setbacks. Within this spectrum, the Locus of Control is frequently associated with two major mindsets:

  • Internal Locus of Control (Growth Mindset): An individual believes that their actions and decisions shape their life.
  • External Locus of Control (Fixed Mindset): The person feels that external forces or the environment dictate their life.

For a visual explanation on Locus of Control, consider watching this enlightening video.

Neural Insights into Locus of Control:

Nathaniel G. Harnett and his team at the University of Alabama Birmingham undertook an intriguing study to discern how these mindsets influence our brain’s functioning. Thirty-two healthy volunteers participated in an anxiety-conditioning study which integrated predictable and unpredictable threats during an fMRI scan. Findings revealed that individuals with an Internal Locus of Control displayed activity related to learning regions in the brain, notably the prefrontal cortex. The term “Locus” actually originates from “location” – pinpointing the source of control. But, as coaches, do we possess this Internal Locus of Control? Or do we too often lay blame on referees, adversaries, or even our team members? The responsibility for progress and performance undeniably lies with the coach. While this may seem a clear dichotomy, the journey is naturally filled with shades of gray. The ultimate aim should be to foster a complete internal locus of control, a task that demands patience and consistent training. An essential task for a coach is crafting an environment ripe for accepting and providing constructive feedback.

The Art of Constructive Feedback:

An intriguing anecdote from the book ‘The Culture Code’ elaborates on Gregg Popovich, the chief coach of The San Antonio Spurs in the NBA. Under his guidance, the Spurs achieved unparalleled success. But what’s his secret? Daniel Coyle’s in-depth analysis in his book sheds light on Popovich’s unique approach. Assistant coach Chip Engelland comments, “Many coaches can shout or be kind, but Pop’s way is distinct. He consistently delivers truth, straight without sugar-coating, and then passionately stands by you.” The sense of belonging and connection is paramount in a team, as general manager R.C. Buford asserts, praising Pop’s ability to foster unity amidst diversity.

Researchers from Stanford, Yale, and Columbia uncovered a potent form of feedback, termed ‘magical feedback.’ Though it comprised a mere 19 words: “I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know that you can reach them,” it conveyed three significant signals:

  1. You belong to this group.
  2. This group holds high standards.
  3. I believe in your potential to meet these standards.

In essence, the San Antonio Spurs excel not just due to their basketball prowess but because they’ve mastered the art of building strong, genuine relationships.

Tying it all together: Feedback, Relationships, and Locus of Control:

But how does this ‘magical feedback’ relate to the Internal Locus of Control? Creating a secure environment as a coach naturally instills a sense of responsibility. Taking accountability for actions, rather than shifting blame, is at the core of the Internal Locus of Control. Deepening team bonds further cements this notion, as indicated by the study from Nathaniel G. Harnett and his colleagues. To conclude, consider this insightful clip featuring Robin Van Persie discussing his son. It offers a splendid illustration of promoting the Internal Locus of Control.



The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups by Daniel Coyle. Published by arrangement with Bantam Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.

Harnett, N. G., Wheelock, M. D., Wood, K. H., Ladnier, J. C., Mrug, S., & Knight, D. C. (2015). Affective state and locus of control modulate the neural response to threat. NeuroImage, 121, 217–226. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2015.07.034

Fotobron: YouTube 

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