Resilience as an Opportunity for Student Growth

One of my favourite roles at the school is coach of the Senior boys B basketball team. Basketball runs through the veins of SMUS, and there’s such a big appetite to play it here, more students are cut than make it onto the teams, and positions on the boys A team highly sought after. I end up getting the opportunity to coach many of the boys who do not make the A team. Being cut from a team is hard for teenagers, but it also represents an opportunity for growth and for building resilience.

Last year, I coached a boy named Sean, who was in his third year as a B team player. Sean is a hard worker, and approached the B team as an opportunity to improve, with the ultimate hope of one day making the A team. I’ll come back to Sean’s story in in a bit.

As students balance their full plate of school commitments, personal goals and post-secondary dreams, resilience is key. A recent article in Time magazine describes resilience as a set of skills, as opposed to a personality type, that help people get through difficult times, and emerge even stronger. What’s even more exciting is that research is emerging demonstrating that resilience can be trained and practised, and the brain can fundamentally change its wiring in response to times of stress.

Carol Dweck’s work on mindset gives strength to this idea of resilience.  She notes the power of a growth mindset which frames setbacks as opportunities for growth; when faced with disappointment or struggle, the growth mindset looks to set goals and learn from mistakes. The fixed mindset gives fuel to individuals’ disappointment, letting failure define them. Their self-talk takes on a tone of negativity and hopelessness.

Not surprisingly, research has shown that students who approach life with a growth mindset are happier, and have higher levels of academic achievement than their fixed mindset counterparts. Teachers and coaches can help nurture the growth mindset by creating learning environments that overflow with possibility and potential, even in the face of failure.

Does Sean the basketball player have a growth mindset? Based on his positive attitude, relentless work ethic and unwillingness to quit, I firmly believe he does. And he certainly possesses resilience.

After playing on the B team in Grades 9, 10 and 11, he earned a spot on the A team this year, helping the team earn the B.C. AA silver medal. He is fiercely proud of his accomplishment, and talks about resilience as a prominent character trait in helping him achieve his goals, and one that will undoubtedly help him in many other aspects of his life.

Sean’s journey was anything but easy – it took hard work and determination and reslience, but if you had a chance to see the flicker of pride in his eyes when he put on his SMUS basketball jersey this year, you will know it was worth it.

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Ritch Primrose
Ritch Primrose is Director of Health and Wellness at St. Michaels University School.

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