Training for a Champion Mindset

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  • Sushmitha Francis

    Curriculum Developer,

I joined Fountainhead Leaders in December 2017 as the Curriculum Developer for Primary classes. I hold a Masters in Psychology and my passion has always been to work with children. Stemming from a Psychology background, it has opened up a myriad of perspectives on human behavior and their needs over the years for me. Looking at our society today, I feel that everyone needs someone to listen to them, someone to understand them at their level, someone to lend not just a physical helping hand but an emotional hand as well. Especially as we focus on children, they require it more than the adults at times, except, they might not be aware of it or understand it yet. If children are the future of this country, where better to start than with them?.

Their minds are fast filling bowls with unlimited space to be filled.  It's important we understand what those bowls hold and what's the best way we can help them manage what’s in those bowls. Our curriculum consists of concepts like self-esteem, independence, assertiveness, which has proved to be a very important aspect in a person’s life. While developing these lesson plans, it has not only seen to benefit the children, but it has broken through to me as well. There are things that I have learnt working with these concepts which I have never paid heed to before.

Growing up, I have always struggled with self-esteem issues, feeling I am not good enough, I am not talented enough, I am not smart enough which resulted in me doing poorly in my studies, taking the back seat when it came to using my talents, etc. This all seemed to stem from incidents in my life where I found myself dwelling in my failures more than striving to improve myself. Incidents such as when I used to get opportunities to sing on stage and it did not go as planned, either I got too nervous or forgot my lyrics, which made me feel like I was just not good enough. Or when it came to studies, if I felt I put in my best effort and it would end up in poor results, I would find myself losing hope easily.

Up until the 10th grade, I refused to acknowledge that I would become better, that I could be satisfied with things I do. It was after my 10th when I continued in my own school pursuing 11th grade was when I decided to change the way I view myself. It was not an easy task to go about and one person who stood out to me through this was one of my teacher’s in my school who encouraged me and showed me my true potential. I can never forget her words to me, “You might fail a few times, but that is okay, you are capable of much more than you think, you need to just start using those capabilities and giving yourself praise for it rather than being disappointed with it.” That is when I realized I had been undermining myself and was not giving myself enough credit, that I was reducing my self-esteem rather than trying to increase it. Once I realized all this is was when my life took a turn. I started putting in more effort into things I did, I started giving myself credit for that effort. I found myself feeling better as a person, excelling in my studies, displaying my talents whenever the opportunity rose and actually using my potential. Looking back, I realized that things would have been a little easier if all my teachers were supportive and encouraging just as that one teacher was. We may not notice the importance of having a sense of self-regard in our lives, but once we do, as individual’s we can begin to start living up to our full potential.

While formulating the lesson plans, we focus on very specific aspects of the concepts, for example, while working on self-esteem, we emphasize on children becoming aware of their uniqueness and the things that make them stand out as individuals, their likes and dislikes, finding ways to love themselves, finding ways to respect themselves, what they think about themselves from the outside, their talents and abilities, dealing with success and failures, focusing on the process rather than the result, the importance their name holds, ways in which they can increase their self-awareness and self-regard and helping them find ways to view themselves in a more effective manner.

Our lesson plans are a lot of fun. We have a lot of activities that the students can do along with their parents. These include either exercise sheets, posters or different activities to do together. We believe that an active participation from the parents is very important in the student’s life as the parents can be aware of what their child is going through and be a part of their child’s life in that way. We bring out our concepts through storytelling, videos, songs, games, and many such activities.

I don't know if children will eventually become aware of themselves, but I'm certainly aware that I'm having fun developing these lessons

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  • Saisudha Sugavanam



I was involved with high performance sport for over ten years, first as a journalist for the British Broadcasting Corporation covering sports and then as the Programme Director at GoSports Foundation, a leading Sports Not-for-Profit. During these years, I have had the opportunity to interact with elite athletes and their coaches and this gave me a unique peek into the fascinating ‘champion mindset’. Today, as an educator and leadership coach, when I observe bright young minds with big dreams, all I wish is to do is to instill in them the same ‘champion mindset’.

In more ways than one, sport represents many of life’s experiences. While victory and defeat are the most tangible, visible elements of sport, there are a number of factors – and sacrifices – that go into the career of an elite athlete. Skill building, competition, mental preparations, injuries, recoveries and so on. None of these is easy. And the path to success in sport is quite similar to the path to success in any field. The ability to have a vision, to be in the moment and to learn from success and failure is what sport is all about.

Allow me to Explain:  The journey in sports starts with a dream, a vision. Sometimes this vision is the spark that sets things off, and sometimes it is the outcome of seeing initial, encouraging success in a sport that an athlete may have picked up for various reasons (sometimes something as simple as a summer camp for sport can be the starting point). Once the vision is there, it can take two paths. For some, the dream remains a dream. For some others, it is acted upon – either through an external agent like an encouraging parent/coach, or sometimes self-driven. Budding athletes hone their skills through practice, train their bodies through rigorous fitness regimes, and put their skills to test through elaborate competition – intra-school, inter-school, district, state, national, international levels (with a further hierarchy within each of these). There are no success guarantees at any of these levels – success and failure are part of the game, and the truly great athletes are able to learn from both and move on without wearing either on their sleeves for an extended time. Perhaps there’s the occasional stroke of luck as well, but it’s evident that in every case, the ‘lucky’ opportunity has been grabbed and utilized.

Turn the lens to actual competitive games in elite sport, and all the years of training, the sweat and the tears – are all tested. And yet, in a humbling way, the starting scoreline is 0-0, regardless of the opponents or their reputations. You vs me. Every day, every match. And then there is the actual result – victory, or defeat – celebration or dejection – exultation or frustration. The greatest of athletes view these as milestones in their careers, stepping stones to a goal they deconstruct their games, and move on. 0-0 again for the next game.

Now compare this to education. While there are certain elements that are easily recognizable as being common between education and sport, we can ask ourselves what lessons we can learn as educators, from the sport. As a key influencer in a child’s life, can we instill a mindset where the child develops an interest in the subject we teach, aspires to learn more, get better and most importantly learns to see both success and failure as feedback to his/her effort and learns from both?
Here are some key traits I’ve known elite athletes to possess, and that I believe are applicable to the world of education:

1. Belief in effort – train, train, train:

The first investment that you can make is to get your child to trust you. Believe that they can share anything and everything with you. Trust me, this will be very handy when they enter their teens.

2. Outcomes are feedback, not results:

Tournament outcomes are viewed as feedback – effectively telling athletes whether their skills and strategies are effective or not. Of course, there is the jubilation of victory and the heartbreak of defeat, but neither of these is permanent since the next match starts at 0-0.

Often in students, we see an internal belief system that is built on the basis of results. For e.g.: “I’m a failure at maths; maths is not for me,” etc.; are powerful negative statements that stem from the habit of defining themselves on the basis of results. And personally, I believe that inculcating the beliefs that ‘they can acquire the skills that they want to is primarily the responsibility of the educators, not the students. After all, there’s enough research to tell us that any skill a child wants to learn can be acquired through practice, patience and perseverance.

3. Having a plan in place:

Top sportspeople often talk about having a plan in place for matches and sticking to that plan. In ultra-competitive examinations like the Common Aptitude Test (CAT), Joint Entrance Test (JEE) as well, toppers talk about having a preparation strategy in place that helps them maximize their performance. Helping students understand the importance of a plan can help them structure their thoughts and put together a strategy for their preparation. It helps to have a role model, to explore ways in which they have achieved their goal.

4. Patience and perseverance:

Rome was not built in a day and neither is a champion. It takes years and years of practice to master a skill. Even the best in the trade practice every day. After all, even for a Sachin Tendulkar, it took five years to get his first ODI century. He had to wait, he had to be patient.

In today’s world of instant gratification, children tend to give up easily because they expect instant results. In order for them to truly achieve their fullest potential, they need to learn to endure, endure when they face setbacks, endure when the going gets tough. Nothing boosts a child’s confidence as much as them overcoming their own challenges. But that needs grit.

5. To be in the moment:

Champion sportspeople talk about being ‘in the zone’ – a state of being in the present moment, fully focused. Champions speak about this often, and also how even the smallest distractions – sometimes intentionally thrown at them by opponents – can make them lose focus and consequently vital points. There may be a daunting target to chase or they may have made terrible blunders in the past. But when they are in the moment, it’s that moment that matters. Nothing else. As students too, when they are working towards their goal, being in the moment is likely a trait that will greatly help them focus on just the current task and nothing else, and consequently, will help them give their best.

The above are just a few examples of how sports and education are similar, and where the actual skills needed to succeed in them are broadly the same. It is our duty as educators to instill these values in an effective manner in the students’ value systems. This I believe can be achieved when we begin to view each child as unique and special, that they can learn any skill if they want to and that they can learn from both success and failure. I believe that when we encourage students to view academics like athletes view their sport – and begin to enjoy their game – we will be encouraging students to put in their best performance. And more importantly, enjoy discovery and learning – because that’s what academics is, at the end of the day.

*The article first appeared in Teacher Plus magazine.

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