In this blog, PDP contributor and youth development expert, Reed Maltbie shares an excerpt from his book, The Spartan Mindset.

To purchase the book on Amazon, click here, or access it on Booktopia here.

“Yet” is the hopeful, nearby, and fully attainable future we need our children to see.

In 2008, David Segal had been in talks with a Sri Lankan tea seller to buy his newly created loose-leaf teas. The seller owned a boutique store, and David wanted to be a supplier to gain a foothold in the expanding loose-leaf tea market.

The seller was not very interested, but out of respect for David, he heard his pitch. Instead of giving a flat-out no and shutting down the relationship for good, the seller told David, “Not yet.” He left the door ajar for a future opportunity, and later, David turned the not yet into a yes.

A Not Yet Worth $40 Million

Nine years later, David’s Teas is still going strong, but David hadn’t quite learned the lesson yet. He recalls a time when a startup met him for a few breakfasts in Montreal to discuss their app. It was built to help people find spaces in which to meditate or stretch. David, not seeing the potential, gave them a flat no.

The idea was reiterated a few times until it became an app for on-the-go professionals to find small office spaces to rent by the hour. The app, called Breather, expanded to New York and in late 2016, it closed a $40 million funding round.

What David learned is the flat-out no had ended everything at that moment. He didn’t get a second chance to get involved with Breather. In contrast, his Sri Lankan tea seller left room for future opportunities by saying, “Not yet,” and because of it, David successfully launched and grew David’s Teas.

Think about the ramifications of a flat no. How many times have conversations been ended, hopes been shut down, or opportunities been missed because we spoke with such finality?

I am not against saying no. Many times, I have held my sanity only through being able to say no . . . usually more like “not tonight” or “not now” so I leave the door open for the next time. What I am against is the complete finality of words like can’t, no, won’t, or not. Words that shut down a future in the mind of an athlete. Whether spoken by the athlete or by someone else, these words have a devastating impact on the performer’s mindset. It is fixed. Final. No possibility. What is done is done.

Imagine the power of three letters in one word. Yet. It leaves hope on the table. It hints at a future possibility, and it conveys that something is attainable in a short time with some work. This is a word all athletes should be quite familiar with and should use regularly. It is a word that Carol Dweck used to spark millions of minds across the world when she gave her famous TED Talk called “The Power of Yet.”

In her talk, Carol explains that a school in Chicago started giving “not yet” grades instead of failing the students. There were certain classes the students needed to pass to graduate, and if a student was told not yet, he or she could still have a chance to pass it.

Not yet, or yet, shows a belief that we are on a trajectory of learning. An ascension, so to speak, as we develop. We were not born with all the skills, and our abilities are not final; we can get better and accomplish tomorrow what we couldn’t today.

Yet is a bridge in the mind. It spans time for us from the present moment to an attainable future. It places failures and setbacks on this timeline as part of the greater journey, as waypoints, instead of being final stops or endings. It treats mistakes as a normal part of the trip we take in learning novel things.

Consider the idea of traveling across the country by car. Let’s say your trip goes from Cincinnati, Ohio, to San Diego, California. When you first hop in your car and drive a few hours into Indianapolis, only about a hundred miles, you come across a sign that reads, “Welcome to Indianapolis” and another that says, “St. Louis 100 miles.”

If you saw this sign, you could panic and think, “I didn’t make it to San Diego. I can’t get there!” That sounds silly. Of course, you wouldn’t make it to San Diego in only a few hours, and of course, you pass through Indianapolis on your way! It seems absurd to quit at that point. In this scenario, you are headed in the right direction and simply need to be patient.

Those signs are feedback that you are on course—just as we receive feedback during learning that tells us we are on course. It is part of the entire trip, and it’s commonplace to look for those signs so you can gauge how far you’ve gone, how much you have left, and how you are doing.

What if the sign read, “Welcome to Pittsburgh”? If you knew your maps and planned the trip ahead of time, you would know you went in the wrong direction. Would you then throw your hands up and say, “I can’t do this. I won’t make it!” No. I hope not.

You may curse a little and flip your map over (it was upside down, duh), but you would use that sign as feedback as well. It was a mistake. It’s negative feedback, but it lets you know to correct course and try again. It is also part of the trip. You can use that sign in the same way you used the Indianapolis sign. The signs are part of the journey.

The Pittsburgh sign is just like failing or making mistakes in sports. We’re made aware that we messed up, but in sports, we tend to give up in those moments where we get those negative feedback signs (a.k.a, losses). When we cannot acquire a skill automatically, as easily as our avatars in video games, for example, we quit. We toss in the towel and proclaim to the world we weren’t born to do this.

Yet transforms failure into potential.

Think back to David’s Teas. If the tea seller had said no, he would have missed out on a great opportunity, just as David did with Breather. What if David had quit when he heard no? What if Breather had thrown in the towel when David didn’t think their idea had legs? Both either kept going or corrected course, and the ability to see past the no moment allowed them to cash in on millions and build successful companies.

Growth Mindset

Continued learning is the power of yet for our athletes. The ability to set a growth mindset that says if we have not reached our city yet, we can check the road signs and keep going. When my children are riding in the car, the question they ask the most is, “Are we there yet?” They trust me to get them to their destination safely and, sometimes, in due time. As a coach, I hope my players see me in the same light. I hope when they are learning they think, “Are we there yet? If not, I know Coach Reed will get us there safely and in due time.”

We give our athletes that kind of trust, resilience, and effort mindset when we teach them to believe in the power of yet. Instead of thinking they can’t do things, meaning ever, we can help them shift to knowing they may not be able to do it now, but with effort, focus, and resilience, they will soon be able to do it.

Yet is the hopeful, nearby, and fully attainable future we need our children to see. Instead of seeing life as a series of unfortunate events in which they are constantly faced with failure and loss, they could see life as full of challenges that make them better, make the journey exciting, and are filled with wonder and hope. They come to cherish the challenge more than the arrival itself because life is lived, as I like to tell my kids ad nauseam, “on the side of the mountain” not in the valley of comfort.

Here are four things the power of yet can do for our athletes and ways we can cultivate them to help our athletes embrace the power.

  1. Yet creates a growth mindset. It allows athletes to realize their skills and abilities are not fixed at birth; rather, they can learn and accomplish new things if they are willing to cherish the challenge and put in the work. Teach them to see yet as a battle cry for battling on like little warriors unwilling to stop at the first sign of resistance. This is easy to teach but takes time and repetition. When your athletes say they can’t do something, you have to happily claim, “Yet! You mean you can’t yet?” Teach them to tack yet on the end of their statements to develop that growth mindset
  2. Yet builds resilience. The worst thing we can do for our athletes is to teach them to quit. Even when the chips are fully stacked against us, we need to believe in the power of yet and teach our athletes to always bridge that gap between the insurmountable odds of now to the attainable success of the future. We will not always win or learn the skills, but the battle makes us tough. Learning to lose, having given all you had, is as much a growth or development moment as winning, if not more. They learn to always press on in the face of challenges. This builds resilience for life. When our teams lost, we told them one of two things: 1) We were not ready to win this game yet, but it has prepared us for the next time. We have yet to reach our full potential. 2) We will use this game to learn for the future. We have not learned all we were supposed to yet and needed to lose to learn a bit more. The season is not over yet. (If it is, there is always next year).
  3. Yet focuses athletes on mastery and process instead of outcomes. An athlete focused on outcomes will cut corners, finish as quickly as possible, or do what is only necessary to get the job done. My son is notorious for speeding through his homework so it is done, and he can mark it off as such. He will sacrifice great grades for mediocre grades if it means getting things done. He is now learning the value of mastery. Mastering the learning allows him to do well on tests, embeds the skill for later use, and gives him a better sense of accomplishment. In sports, athletes who want only outcomes succumb easily to cheating or taking the easy route. Youth sports don’t exist to teach kids that; they exist to teach them new skills, life lessons, and values. Learning to embrace yet means being willing to master new skills, seek personal excellence, and stay focused on the process. You can’t look at the end if you have both eyes focused on the path. You also don’t fall off the path if you have both eyes on it. Teach them to focus on the path and not the outcome.
  4. Yet builds a sense of trust. An athlete who is taught yet is like my kids in the back of the car. They have no idea how close they may be to their destination, but they are ever hopeful and will trust you implicitly.

“Are we there yet?” they ask from the back seat. They know the answer is probably no. They also know I won’t steer them wrong. I made a promise to deliver them, and I will keep it. They are safe in that car and will arrive because I will keep my word. They may be a little curious, sometimes impatient, but they never fail to believe we will make it.

Then they return to their videos because they are enjoying the journey. They know they will get there in due time.

It’s okay to be impatient. It means you are seeking excellence, but the impatience must be tempered with a belief you are headed in the right direction and that you will get there in due time.

You can see the power of yet, and why one of the world’s leading experts on mindset used yet to fill a TED Talk. It has this amazing ability to transform what we say from a failed stop to a hopeful belief in a bigger destination.

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