Grit in psychology is a positive, non-cognitive trait based on an individual’s passion for a particular long-term goal or end state, coupled with a powerful motivation to achieve their respective objective. (Wikipedia)

(Image from GRIT to Great)

I want my players to fight and have more grit!

I want my teams to be resilient, flexible, tougher, and have more grit!

I want my students to problem solve, be adaptable, work hard…you know…to have grit!

GRIT might be a term suddenly used more in sports and life, but it has been around forever. We have always described great effort as gritty. Now we have a more specific framework to describe what GRIT really means.

My wife and I had this discussion about our kids the other day. As “unschooling” parents of three we have seen the bones and limbs of our children crumble to the floor when asked to complete chores or finish learning assignments.

“I need help.” “This is too hard.” “There better be a Youtube video about this!”

Yes, this is the feedback we are accustomed to getting from our kids. Then my wife and I get mad at them for their behavior, which is really just us being mad with ourselves because we are the ones who have allowed them to get to this state.

Our conclusion…we need to help our kids develop more GRIT. And, to steal the growth mindset term that I’ve been using with the MSA soccer teams all year – we need to encourage our kids to “Find a Way!”

But how do we do that? Is it as simple as the “sink or swim” mentality? Yes and no.

Yes. We need to put our kids (players, workers, etc.) in positions where they are stretched outside of their comfort zones.

But, if we have not given them the tools or context for problem-solving in that situation, that falls on us.

The reason this is so difficult is because it actually demands a lot of time, work, and effort on us in order to set our kids (and team) up for success.

For instance, as a coach, if I have not prepared my players to adapt in adverse situations, why do I get upset with them when they look confused or intimidated in a game?

And as a parent, when my kids collapse over having to do a few chores, and I swoop in and end up doing them because it is easier than dealing with the complaining and doing them poorly, why am I surprised when they don’t know how to do them next time?

GRIT needs to be modeled and taught.

Again, it goes back to the “bend but not break” idea of getting them out of their comfort zone. We need to create a safe environment where they are stretched just beyond their ability (like a rubber band), but not stretched so far that it is too difficult (and the rubber band snaps).

This environment needs to be established, fostered, and continuously nurtured and reinforced. There needs to be safety in failing in order to encourage creativity and problem-solving.

Anson Dorrance, the legendary UNC Women’s Soccer Coach is known for making practice and training so competitive and intense that when it comes to actual games his players are so used to the competitiveness, not much phases them.

Hall of Fame college basketball coach Tom Izzo has a reputation for putting his teams through a brutal regular season schedule, often with tough losses, in order for his teams to be battle tested for March Madness. As a result, the Spartans cut down a lot of Final Four nets. In fact, if his teams are out muscled for a stretch of games, he is known to break out the football pads in practice in order to raise the intensity and physicality in his players.

Bend, but don’t break. Over and over again. Create the environment. Pose the challenge. Give them the opportunity to fail and learn and overcome. Then, pose a new challenge and repeat the process.

And what do you get?


Yet, how often do we just want our kids, players, or workers to just “get it” without us needing to do anything in the process? (If you are like me…a lot!)

So, if you need a little more help, here are 3 Tips for Creating GRIT:

 1. Make it Safe!

The safety of the environment needs to be established. This is crucial! This is why it is not sink or swim. Sink or swim implies you either survive or you die. If that is the case, they won’t feel safe enough to take risks because the stakes are too high. As a result they’ll revert further into their comfort zones. Instead, reinforce the emphasis on learning. Let them know failing is okay in the spirit of growth and exploration. Define the goals and expectations, and then turn them loose to discover, struggle, overcome, adapt, invent, progress, and gain confidence.

2. Embrace the Adversity!

A lot of people hope to avoid adversity and challenges. This is counter though to everything you are trying to teach and create. Get very clear on what the distractions will be, and then find ways to tackle them head on. Again, you have created a safe space to do so, so now you can get your players comfortable addressing the areas that will cause the most pressure and struggle. Once they are met with these challenges in real life situations they will be skillfully and mentally prepared. They will have already experienced the pressure over and over in practice.

3. Bend, but don’t break!

Assess the learning opportunity, and then set a goal just outside the comfort zone. Instead of stressing outcomes around qualities of becoming “tougher” or more “aggressive,” give them goals on tasks that lead to those qualities. For instance, I was working with a basketball player recently who wanted to be more aggressive. Instead of focusing on “being aggressive,” we set mini-goals such as grabbing two more offensive rebounds, or diving for two loose balls. As a result the player focuses on the actions and process that leads to being more aggressive or tougher. And, the goal is just outside their comfort zone so that it is not overly intimidating, nor is it too easy. The goals help them bend, but not break.

This isn’t easy. I know it’s not for me. I still catch myself jumping back in and doing the problem solving for my own kids or players. It feels easier in the short term, but it always adds up to more work down the road, and it stalls the growth of whomever you are working with.

We all want GRIT. We want our kids to be gritty. We want out teams to be gritty. But if that is the result we are looking for, the onus is on us to create the environment, process, and mindset that leads to GRIT.


(Please comment below on how you develop GRIT with your kids, players, and teams)