In this week’s Educational Insight, Director of Sport at Wellington College Hangzhou, Jason Billows, explores the importance of physical activity and adopting a growth mindset where we teach our children about perseverance and resilience in the face of challenge.
Since arriving in Hangzhou in August 2018 to lead the Sport Department at Wellington College Hangzhou, I have loved getting to know the children and have relished the opportunity to utilize the fantastic facilities that we have available on our campus. Throughout that time, my department and I have shared the message that physical exercise is critical for every single person. It should not be something that only elite athletes are concerned with, but instead should be part of everyone’s daily lifestyle and routines. Physical exercise does not have to be complicated or a chore that puts a young person under unwanted stress. My aim is to ensure that all pupils leave Wellington with an appreciating and understanding about how they can stay involved in physical activity, and the significant benefits that this can bring to them.
Developing a mindset where effort and perseverance are highlighted and rewarded more than results is one of the key principles that we would like to teach our pupils. Through physical activity we aim to create an attitude of always trying and never giving up, even if there are obstacles preventing us from reaching our end goal. We would like our pupils to see a setback as a part of learning and something they can grow stronger from. Every single adult in the working world has been turned down at a job interview at one or several times of their lives. The individuals who succeed at their next interview are those that ask for feedback and also react positively to the points that are given to them. My department will give regular feedback to all our pupils, to ensure they can develop these skills. Those pupil’s that are early developers tend to excel when they are very young but as their peers begin to grow alongside them, this is often the environment that becomes challenging. They must keep striving to improve and accept that they may not find sporting situations as easy any more. These pupils can no longer rely on their strength and size to stay at the top. Young people involved in sport become experts at analysing feedback and do their best to act on it. At the highest level they may be involved in watching a past video of them playing. At a school level, there will be some video feedback, but they may have to act on comments in reports or react to moving down a team for an important fixture. It is learning to react positively to this and not give up too easily because they are uncomfortable. Having the courage to put themselves in a difficult situation is the time a pupil can really grow and develop.
Having a growth mindset and being able to positively reflect on feedback we receive is more important than ever in the 21st century. We are surrounded by so many opportunities, that it is easier than ever to forget that failing is not a bad thing, but rather that failing to learn from previous setbacks is a key mistake that will inhibit their future growth. We must help young people discover how to learn from failure and setbacks so that they can become more reflective as they mature into adults. Those who are most reflective and able to constantly self-evaluate, usually outperform those around them. They set high standards for themselves and are constantly working towards a set of goal that have developed out of reflections on past experiences.
Naturally, as a Sports department, we will do our best to produce as many accomplished sports men and women at Wellington College International Hangzhou as possible. However, we collectively believe that it is more important to instill a growth mindset in our pupils. We believe that a person develops this when they are out of their comfort zone. When young people find themselves in uncomfortable positions it may not be a smooth journey to begin with. But when pupils push through this initial discomfort, they grow stronger from their experience. It is through these kinds of experiences that children develop not only physically, but also mentally. Through this process they can develop and harness skills that will carry them beyond school life and into the working world. It is the same skill set that will ensure they stand out in a competitive environment where it counts the most. We want the pupils at Wellington to seek out challenges that we offer, we do not want them to coast through school by never putting themselves forward for the swimming team, for example. Swimming in a gala or running in an athletics meeting are scary situations for many people. You are by yourself, with everyone watching with your heart beating very quickly. But learning to perform in this environment is what will make them successful when they are older. Clearly not always in a swimming gala but perhaps in jobs where the demands are high and deadlines are crucial. If children are never exposed to stressful situations when they are younger, it is something that is really difficult to learn when you are an adult.
Resilience is a character trait that can be tested at many stages of life. For example, having just moved to China from the UK, the challenges and setbacks involved with moving to a new country are all too familiar. Each day can be a challenge, whether it is navigating a new city or learning to operate in a foreign environment with a language barrier. But, it is how one approaches the challenge that will ultimately determine the outcome. With a resilience and growth mindset, setbacks are seen as opportunities to learn and grow.
I truly believe that sport at Wellington College International Hangzhou can develop adaptable people with a growth mindset. They will experience some difficult situations and may fall, hurt themselves and experience some pain, but they will all certainly grow stronger from this experience. It is the psychological growth, and the skills that they will acquire through learning resilience, that will always stay with the pupils in our care, and will ensure that they are successful in later life.