Michael Jordan Growth Mindset

7 Inspiring Michael Jordan Growth Mindset Lessons for Parents Trying to Raise Successful Kids

I’m sure you know who Michael Jordan is.  But did you know that there are numerous stories in his life where he struggled, failed, and made bad choices?  Often we fantasize what it would be like to be an all-star athlete, but fail to appreciate the grit required to achieve those successes.  Michael Jordan’s life is full of stories that showcased his growth mindset.  Understanding these stories will help you be a better parent, and if your child likes basketball, provide another role model for your child to look up to.

Here are seven inspiring Michael Jordan growth mindset stories that will inspire your kids.

Before we get started, if raising a child with a growth mindset is a priority for you (and it should be), then sign up for our  free & fun seven day "Yes, I Can!" Scavenger Hunt.

1. Sibling rivalry can sometimes be a good thing!

Michael Jordan was blessed to be raised in a large family where expectations were high, and discipline was enforced.  Mom especially didn’t tolerate shenanigans from the five boys.  When Michael acted up, mom would get Jordan back in line!  The parents pushed their kids academically and encouraged them to play sports.  Jordan’s basketball and baseball life began early.

Jordan especially loved basketball, even though he wasn’t as tall as he’d like to be.  What Jordan lacked in natural advantages, he made up with his ferocious spirit.  His basketball rivalry with his older brother Larry was mainly instrumental in developing Jordan’s competitiveness and ball skills.  Even though Larry was taller and older, Jordan would go toe to toe with Larry.

Jordan isn’t the first younger sibling to take advantage of family rivalries.  Other famous sibling rivalries include the Jacksons and the Williams sisters.  If both siblings interests are aligned, a little rivalry can be a powerful focus agent as it was in both above cases.  In my case, while my younger brother and I had our fair share of rivalry, neither of us were passionate about the same topics.

The lesson here isn’t to encourage your kids to be overly competitive.  Its to encourage them to find their passion.  If both your children have the same love, the multiplier effect from both kids helping each other improve their skills can be quite dramatic.

2. How parents react to their child’s failures can have a considerable impact on a child's resilience

The Jordan’s high school varsity coach soon began to take notice of the rising talent that many nicknamed "Larry's brother."  Michael was invited to try out for the high school team.  The coaches were impressed by his speed and hustle, but he was too short according to their requirements!  When the tryouts concluded, sadly Michael’s name was not on the list.  Michael was humiliated.  He later admitted that he went home and cried.

Fortunately, as mothers often do, Jordan’s mom helped her son rebound on this dark day.  “She said that the best thing I could do is to prove to the coach that he had made a mistake,” said Jordan. “And, leaving my disappointment behind, I started to improve my performance.”

The first step was increasing the frequency of practice.  Jordan would get up early, and practice at the gym before school.  His legendary work ethic had begun and thanks to a growth spurt, he now possessed natural advantages as well.  Jordan was the best player on the court by miles, and already was entertaining the crowds with his uncanny scoring abilities and his slam dunks.  Jordan leveraged the respect of his peers to demand more from his teammates, and he insisted that they play as hard as he did.

Jordan made the varsity basketball team that fall and was heavily recruited for the top NCAA college programs before choosing to go to the University of North Carolina.

What can you as a parent learn from Jordan’s story?

Be supportive of your children when they fail.  All of us have our ups & downs.  All of us have to deal with some adversity, and many of us come up short during those moments.  How you as a parent react during these highly emotional periods is crucial to encouraging your child to continue to grow and not retreat.

Here are are ways for you to respond to your child when they encounter a setback.
  1. Acknowledge your child's disappointment.  Maybe the child put a lot of effort in but still didn't succeed.  Empathize with your child.
  2. However, don't let your child off the hook.  If they didn't win a prize, its because they haven't earned it yet.   The competition either worked harder or had a better strategy.  Ask your child what they should have done differently.
  3. It's not easy to self-reflect, so teach your child how to.  Writing a quick journal daily documenting wins & challenges will help your child process their day, and think through: what is the one thing they can do differently next time?  How do I know this?  I started writing a daily 15 min journal at the age of 35 years old, to help me process the incredible complexity of my regular workday.  Its been a game changer for me in helping me non-judgementally realize my progress, and where I need to do better.
  4. Encourage your child to think of a change to their process that will enable them to make progress.  Don't rush this, nor judge it.  At first, it may be closer to brainstorming.  Once they've run out of ideas, help them focus it down to one or two meaningful strategies.
  5. Just Do It - As the Air Jordan famous slogan proudly states, let's go!  Encourage your kid to go fast and try their new process now.

3. You are never too old to keep learning or develop!

At the University of North Carolina, Jordan won his first national championship when in his freshman year he sunk the game-winning shot against Georgetown.  The next year he was drafted number three in the NBA Draft, joining the Chicago Bulls.

He quickly made an impression in the NBA by averaging 28.2 points a game in his first year.  If you watch the highlights from his early career, Jordan dominated in the paint.  His ability to drive to the basket and win the vertical game was impressive.  It was during this period, the famous title "Air Jordan" was bestowed.  However, he wasn't unstoppable.  Teams like the Detroit Pistons figured out that by being very physical and making contact, it was sometimes enough to affect Jordan's game.

During this period, Jordan's 3 point game was more of a liability, then a strength.  Check out this graph to see his 3 point percentage vs the average in the NBA during the same years.

Michael Jordan 3 Point Field Goal Percentage

The problem for Jordan was that as he got older, he knew his physical assets and ability to quickly drive to the hoop would no longer be an asset.   He needed to pivot in order to continue to be successful.  He famously said.

"My attitude is that if you push me towards something that you think is a weakness, then I will turn that perceived weakness into a strength."

Wow, did Jordan do that!

Hubie Brown describe's Jordan's transformation for NBA.Com

"And at the end of his career, Michael transformed himself into one of the best post-up players in the NBA. He was nearly unstoppable because he perfected his bump and fadeaway jump shot. That one move, never mind all of the other things that he could do with his back to the basket, made him one of the most dominating post players in the game.” (Hubie Brown)

Think about it.  Michael Jordan was an NBA veteran, but due to his growth mindset and insane competitiveness, unwilling to rest on his laurels.  In fact, he was so admired, Hollywood recruited him to headline Space Jam.  Most people would have taken the time to enjoy the fruits of their labor.  Not Michael.  He was working on his next big thing.  This story from the New Yorker  beautifully captures a moment in time.

"In 1995, after Jordan returned to basketball from his year-and-a-half-long baseball sabbatical, he spent the summer in Hollywood making the movie “Space Jam,” but he demanded that the producers build a basketball court where he could work out every day. Old friends dropping by the Warner lot noticed that he was working particularly hard on a shot that was already a minor part of his repertoire but which he was now making a signature shot––a jumper where he held the ball, faked a move to the basket, and then, at the last minute, when he finally jumped, fell back slightly, giving himself almost perfect separation from the defensive player. Because of his jumping ability and his threat to drive, that shot was virtually unguardable. More, it was a very smart player’s concession to the changes in his body wrought by time, and it signified that he was entering a new stage in his career."

The lesson for both parents & children.  Learning & development should be a lifelong pursuit.  Teach your kids how to learn to love learning.  Teach them that with enough practice and innovative strategies, most challenges can be met.  Teach this by modeling this behavior yourself.  How are you as a parent demonstrating continuous learning to your kids?  How are you modeling the right behavior?

Here are some suggestions for modeling a continuous improvement mindset.
  • Choosing a topic you are interested in, and watching a Ted Talks on the family tv.
  • Going on vacation?  Download an app and try to learn some common phrases in the local language.
  • Read at bed before night, and make sure your kids know you do this.

Before I go to the next point, I’ll leave with you one last Michael Jordan quote.

“If you’re trying to achieve, there will be roadblocks.  I’ve had them, everybody has had them.  But obstacles don’t have to stop you.  If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up.  Figure out how to climb it, go through it or work around it.”

4. Surround yourself with talent and work with the best coaches

When one thinks of the dominating Chicago Bulls of the 90’s, Michael Jordan is who comes to mind.  However, Jordan was surrounded by a very strong team which is why they won championships.  Scottie Pippen would have been the #1 player on any other team.  Dennis Rodman was a fierce rebounder and defender.  Phil Jackson was a legendary coach.

One of my favorite sayings is “If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.”

Jordan understood that.  He said "Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.

Lebron James is perhaps the best basketball player of the last ten years.  While 2015 was a remarkable exception, even he hasn’t been able to single handily win the National Championship.  Without a diverse team with capabilities that complement each other and a shared vision and norm, it's very very hard to have big-time success in this world.

The ability to work collaboratively with people from different sexes, cultures, religious background, etc. is crucial now, and I see no reason, why it won’t be even more critical in the future.  It's encouraging to see our kid's classrooms focus more on group projects and collaborative learning.  If anything, I’d like to see more of it.

5. Effort isn’t enough. Fundamentals & Strategy matters

One of the wrong notions about the growth mindset is that hard work and dogged determination is all you need to succeed.  So when a child follows through on this perceived wisdom only to repeatedly fail, it should be no surprise that they stop believing in a growth mindset, and instead shift to a fixed mindset.

However, grit, resilience and hard work are not enough.  You also need to have a winning strategy in place that enables you to succeed.

Toys R Us didn’t go out of business because they didn’t work hard enough.  They didn’t provide enough value to justify coming to their stores versus buying from Amazon.

Also, core strengths do matter.  Yes, technology has eliminated the need for memorizing facts, but if you’re not able to do mental math, you’ll never be able to quickly size issues & solve corresponding solutions.  The ability to think critically, write clearly, do mental math and read efficiently are foundational requirements for being successful.

As Michael Jordan said:

“You can practice shooting eight hours a day, but if your technique is wrong, then all your become is very good at shooting the wrong way .  Get the fundamentals down and the level of everything you do will rise.”

6. In order to have massive success, you have to be ok with failing

This famous Nike commercial beautifully encompasses Michael Jordan’s mindset.

"I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Honestly, I love watching it over and over.  I was walking through my son’s future middle school and saw a teacher had the Michael Jordan poster & quote hanging on his door.  What a GREAT teacher.  What an important message.  And its something that I’d argue we don’t promote enough.

Any and every breakthrough idea requires risk. Otherwise, everyone would be doing it.  If you want your child to be a creator, innovator or leader, then you have to teach them to embrace risk.  Now ask yourself, do you encourage your child to take risks and challenge themselves?

A) Are you comfortable enough to let your eleven-year-old walk less than one mile to school?
B) When your child gets a 95% on a test, do you congratulate them on their result or do you point to what they got wrong and challenge them to be perfect?
C) For the science fair or craft project or speech competition, do you let your child own the project end to end, stepping in only when asked for feedback or as necessary to ensure timelines & certain quality levels are being met?
I don’t know what the right answer is for any of the above scenarios, but when I look back on my childhood, I credit my family for empowering me from an early age.  My parents set high expectations, but they didn’t micromanage every aspect of my life.  From an early age, my dad would remind me that I had to pay for my college tuition, and so I could either work hard now and earn a scholarship or I could work hard later (for low pay).

Regarding the question about an eleven-year-old walking to school, my dad let me complete a 26-mile charity walkathon by myself.   My dad was a champion walker, and he placed 3rd place in the same race.  While I was never felt scared, there were some stretches in that trek in the English countryside where I was completely by myself.  I met a lot of very friendly people that day who were impressed by my stamina and determination.  I remember turning the corner to complete the last two hundred yards and seeing my dad run to me, in what seemed like slow motion.  It felt like something straight out of the movies.  Experiences like that are what made me the man I’am today.  I’m glad my parents empowered me to take those risks.

7. How Michael Jordan risked it all to try something completely new.

After winning three NBA Championship titles, Micheal Jordan retired from the NBA (for the first time).  He was only thirty years old.  Fans were surprised that they wouldn't be to watch Michael play professionally.  Less then six months later, fans got the chance to watch Michael play again, but instead of on a basketball court, it was on the baseball mound.

Jordan shocked the sports world by signing a minor league baseball contract with the Chicago White Sox.  Think about this.  Jordan transitioned from a sport that he dominated to play baseball, a  high-pressure game he hadn’t played since he was a teenager.

Jordan played in the minor leagues for a short stint.  While his batting average was impressive considering he hadn't played since high school, it must have been humbling to see the below Sports Illustrated cover.

How did Jordan react?  By continuing to be the first to practice and the last to leave.  As he said

"I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can't accept not trying."

This video beautifully captures this challenging period in Michael's life.  It's worth watching to see a growth mindset in action.

In summary, Michael Jordan exhibited a growth mindset throughout his career.  The man had many faults (gambling, overly competitive, etc..) but his strengths made him a legend.   Michael Jordan is an excellent growth mindset role model for your child, which is why we feature him in our 7 Day Growth Mindset Scavenger Hunt.  Its free, so please sign up now!

If you’re interested in another incredible growth mindset role model, check out: 5 Growth Mindset Skills That Enabled Albert Einstein’s Achievements.

I’ll leave with you this amazing video: Michael Jordan Top 50 All Time Plays

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