Entity vs Incremental Theories of Intelligence

Dr. Carol Dweck, a leading researcher in the field of developmental psychology, makes the distinction between entity and incremental theories of intelligence. Consider these theories relevant to your mindset for wrestling…

Individuals who are ‘entity theorists’ are prone to language like ‘I am good at this’ and tend to attribute their success or failure to an intrinsic level of ability. That is, their skill level within a certain discipline (like wrestling) is a fixed entity.

Incremental theorists are more prone to describe their results with sentences like ‘I got it because I worked very hard at it’, or even ‘I should have tried harder’. Individuals with the incremental (or learning) theory of intelligence tend to sense that with hard work, difficult material can be grasped–step by step, incrementally, the novice can become the master.

Dweck’s research has shown that when challenged by difficult material, learning theorists are far more likely to rise to the level of the game, while entity theorists are less resilient and more likely to quit.

If you’re a coach and/or parent of a wrestler, know that in just minutes kids (and adults) can be conditioned into having a healthy learning modality for a given situation. Be sure to give feedback that is process-orientated and connects achievement with effort.

When you’re wrestlers do well, avoid feedback like ‘That’s great, you’re so talented!’, and instead choose ‘Well done! I’m so proud of how hard you’ve been working at this!’ When they don’t meet their own expectations, help them be grateful for the insight that was gained regarding what we need to improve in our next practices.

In doing so, you’re helping your athletes embrace an organic, long-term learning process that will help them achieve excellence on and off the mat!

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