Grit and Resilience

Grit-What is it and how can we help our kids get it?

As sports parents, most of us are already familiar with, or becoming familiar with, the need for physical fitness and technical abilities required for our children to be successful in a chosen sport.  But are we as aware of the Mental Fitness required for success, and do we recognize our role as parents in helping our children develop it?

In a recent webinar hosted by Soccer Parenting titled “Resilience, Resetting, and Retraining our Brains, Dr. Brad Miller of Soccer Resilience addressed “Mental Fitness” and broke it into four areas:

  1. Awareness-identifying emotional triggers and having plans to handle them
  2. Purpose-finding those things they have a passion for
  3. Perseverance-fostering Grit and Resilience
  4. Focus-understanding the value of Process vs Outcome

While each of these areas are important to develop, I would like to focus on the idea of developing Grit.

Grit is a distinct combination of passion, resilience, determination, and focus that allows a person to maintain the discipline and optimism to persevere in their goals even in the face of discomfort, rejection, and a lack of visible progress for years, or even decades.

University of Pennsylvania psychologist and noted researcher, Angela Duckworth, defined GRIT more simply, as a child’s “perseverance and passion for long-term goals,” and believes it is a better indicator of future earnings and happiness than either IQ or talent. Her Ted talk True Grit in 2009 sparked a great deal of interest in the concept of grit. You can watch it on YouTube at this link- Duckworth Ted Talk-True Grit

Duckworth has said, “Kids are not able to just spontaneously grow up to be gritty people without being supported in that.” As parents, it is up to us to cultivate the confidence and optimism in our children that will allow them to power through inevitable low moments. So what can we do to provide that support? How do we teach our kids to push themselves? What can we do to help our kids be receptive to these tough lessons? Here are a few ideas gleaned from the “grit” experts.

#1 Help Them Find a Passion (or At Least an Engaging Activity)

In a story for NPR, Duckworth discussed the need for passion-“I don’t think people can become truly gritty and great at things they don’t love, so when we try to develop grit in kids, we also need to find and help them cultivate their passions.”

Okay, so it may be unrealistic to expect a 6-or 7-year-old to have found their “passion.” But as children grow older, pursuing a particular interest of their own choosing can help them to identify a passion and understand that practice, hard work and perseverance are the surest way to achievement. Keep in mind that we can’t  confuse our passions for our children’s.

So, how do we help our children find their passion? Ask them!

  • Ask them questions about what they like in the activities they do. Why do they like it? What would they miss if they did not do it? Would they like it as much if they were on a different team, or with a different group?
  • Work with them to develop a Dream Board, using pictures, words, drawings, and other things to show their passion. Then help them explore what steps are needed to succeed in reaching the goal.
  • Provide opportunities to explore other activities, sports, and hobbies, without pushing them into any of ours.

#2 Be Sure They Recognize That Success is Not EASY

In today’s world our youth have plenty of opportunity to see people perform at the highest level in a variety of sports, arts, entertainment, etc. They see the Best of the Best at the heights of their chosen path. When a skilled performer does something well, it looks easy. Watching Jordan Spieth drive a golf ball, Lionel Messi scoring a goal, Taylor Swift performing a song, or even Guy Fieri cooking up an amazing dish can make success seem easy because we never see the frustration, fatigue or years of practice and preparation that precede the final product.

In working to develop grit in our children, we must point out the work that goes on behind the scenes. The reality is that success rarely comes easily and frequently is a roller coaster journey.

First-hand accounts of the obstacles that experts overcome to “make it” have a real impact on helping kids manage frustration. According to the Duckworth lab, those who believe that diligence and perseverance pay off beat out their less optimistic, and often more talented, counterparts nearly every time.

Here are ideas for helping them see the work needed to succeed:

  • Have your child interview someone in their life about their journey and challenges to success
  • Encourage them to read books or watch shows (even animated, or fictional) that depict struggles
  • Have them do internet searches on people they admire and learn of how they got to the top
  • Ask them about the “hard” parts of their activity and help them devise the steps needed to succeed
  • Focus on Process vs Outcome. Praise them for hard work and effort.
  • We must be realistic ourselves about their journey. Remember they are not adults or professionals.

#3 Share Our Failures with Them

Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed says, “Lots of parents don’t want to talk about their failures in front of their kids, but that’s denying kids the potentially powerful experience of seeing their parents bounce back.”

It is easy to provide them with catchy phrases like “Nothing ventured, nothing gained,“When the going gets tough, the tough get getting,” but letting our kids see us stumble and get back up may build the optimism and courage they need to take some risks themselves. Failure is painful and humbling, and as parents it is difficult to admit to our kids that it happens to us too. Yet exposing them to failure may be the very thing to inoculate them against giving up when they come face-to-face with failure themselves. They need to know that frustrating and painful moments are not the end of something but a natural part of the journey toward achievement.

#4 Teach Them That Failure Is Not the End

Grit demands risk taking and most successful people are willing to risk failure to learn something new or pursue a long-term goal. And while, by definition, a risk may end in failure, successful people do not give up.

As parents, we all want to see our kids succeed, but it is important to show them that failure is part of the process, not an endpoint, but a necessary crossing on the road to achievement

5,127 – The number of failed vacuum prototypes created by James Dyson before he came out with the Dual Cyclone bagless vacuum cleaner that made him a billionaire.

30 – The number of rejections Stephen King received before his first novel, Carrie, was finally accepted by a publisher.

$4 million – The number of dollars lost on GoPro inventor, Nick Woodman’s, failed first company.

Michael Jordan-cut from his HS basketball team

Kurt Warner-cut in NFL training camp and worked at a grocery

Carli Lloyd-cut from youth national team at 21, told she was too slow and did not work hard enough


Grit means maintaining the hope and vision to continue even under the most challenging circumstances, being able to endure rejections, setbacks and failures, especially painful ones.

As parents, it is important that we do not let our protective instincts rob our kids of first-hand experiences with hard-won victories. To teach children to be resilient, we need to show them real examples of how failures and setbacks can lead to success—by talking about them regularly, providing recognition of hard work and effort, sharing our own experiences, and most importantly allowing them to fail. If we do not let them see us fail or experience a failure themselves in the safety of our presence, they may not have the stamina to overcome one when they are on their own.

Additional Resources

3 Ways Soccer Parents Can Build Grit in Their Kids-Soccer Resilience, Dr Brad Miller, YouTube video

How to Develop Resilience and Grit in Teenagers and Kids

9 Activities to Build Grit and Resilience in Children

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth

This book is a must read, if you are looking to understand the importance of grit and what it is.  Duckworth does a great job of balancing understanding gleaned from her research and stories of successful people.  The perfect place to start if your desire is to understand the necessity of grit on a deeper level.

Mindsets: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck

The perfect partner to the above book, Mindsets, details the difference between a fixed and growth mindset.  A fixed mindset person believes no amount of hard work, effort, or practice will change your ability.  While a growth mindset person knows that current abilities can be grown and developed through hard work, effort, and practice.  The book provides practical strategies for helping yourself and your kiddos change a fixed mindset into a growth mindset.

Choice Words: How our Language Affects Children’s Learning by Peter H. Johnston

A short read, Choice Words, asks the reader to think about the impact their words have on student learning. The examples and transcripts of conversations with students can cross over into multiple contents and even into the world of sports. This book will cause you to think about how the language we use in our daily interactions with youth dramatically influences who they become.

Old School Grit: Times May Change, But the Rules for Success Never Do by Darrin Donnelly

The book is put together as a collection of letters from a grandfather, who is also a successful NCAA basketball coach, to his grandchildren.  In his letters, the grandfather explains the importance of grit in determining the success of individual athletes and ultimately the team.  Written in story form with a specific focus for each letter, the book makes a powerful case for the development of grit in today’s youth.

Grit for Kids: 16 Top Steps for Developing Grit, Passion, Willpower, and Perseverance in Kids for Self-Confidence and a Successful Life: Motivating Children...Perseverance, Setting Goals, Power

Grit for Kids by L. Daniels

Grit for Kids will teach you how to help your child to develop their own grit in just 16 easy-to-follow chapters. Each one contains real stories of real kids facing common situations, proven steps to take in these situations, and the outcomes after the steps were taken.

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