NCSA Book Review: Grit by Angela Duckworth

USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the college recruiting process. Here, you’ll find practical tips and real-world advice on becoming a better recruit to maximize your opportunities and play at the college level. Jason Smith is a former NCAA DIII athlete and college coach at all three division levels. Jason is just one of many former college and professional athletes, college coaches and parents who are part of the Next College Student Athlete team. Their knowledge, experience and dedication, along with NCSA’s history of digital innovation and long-standing relationship with the college coaching community, have made NCSA the largest and most successful athletic recruiting network in the country.

Written by academic and psychologist Dr. Angela Duckworth, the influential book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance was released in May, 2016, and appeared on The New York Times bestseller list for more than 20 weeks. The book is a product of Duckworth’s research into tackling the question of who is successful and why. To complete the book, Duckworth studied national spelling bee champions, West Point Academy cadets and top corporate salespeople. After crunching the data, she found that the biggest predictor of success was grit. But what exactly is grit, and how can it be applied to the college recruiting process? Read on to find out.

Effort vs. talent

In our society, we generally commend people for their effort, but often believe that talent is what wins out. How many times do we hear that someone is “just” a math person? Or “just” good at art? This kind of talk supports the idea that people who are good at something are usually naturally good at it. And while this is occasionally the case, talent is not usually the defining factor for success — it’s effort.

Duckworth describes grit as the sustained application of effort towards a long-term goal. In her research, she found that grit is the biggest predictor of lifelong achievement, and effort is the biggest component of grit. That’s because it acts as a multiplier, like so:

Talent x Effort = Skill

Skill x Effort = Achievement

Therefore, when it comes to achievement, talent counts once while effort counts twice. Effort is so important because it allows people to accumulate hours of practice and training. Conversely, some people see talent and use it as an excuse for why they can’t achieve something. And while not everyone can grow to 6’8” and become an offensive lineman in the NFL, they can apply sustained effort and grit to get very good at something they concentrate on.

The proof is in the process

The key to grittiness is largely found in the process. People tend to get grittier with volume — as in racking up hours of effort spent on a goal. This principle of daily discipline and trying to get better with continuous improvement is often maximized with deliberate practice and coaching, as opposed to just going through the motions. In fact, many of the eminent individuals in society attribute their success to having zest and a capacity for sustained, hard effort.

The key to executing this process starts with finding something that fascinates you. Then, focus on daily improvement, regardless of how good you already are. Once you’ve aimed your efforts on something, don’t forget to remind yourself of a greater purpose, because higher levels of purpose correlate to higher levels of grit. If you apply this process to your athletic career and your college recruiting journey, you’ll give yourself a good shot at seeing the results you want.

READ MORE: Managing Your Recruiting Process

Don’t fear failure

Admittedly, this can be difficult to do. But it is also the central mantra behind the growth mindset, which allows people to stay gritty. The growth mindset is essentially believing that the ability to learn is not fixed and can change with your effort. It allows gritty people to focus on things they can change, making them much more likely to persevere when they fail because they don’t believe that failure is a permanent condition. The key takeaway here is that people who succeed fail all the time. In fact, that is what makes them successful: Failure provides an opportunity to gain information about oneself.

Focus on focusing

One of the things that we celebrate in society is being good at several different interests. Even in college, we’re not just graded on our chosen major, but on our ability to study for several different requirement topics as well. Of course, this is a commendable achievement, but it doesn’t exactly mirror real life.

Most of us in life are going to become — if we’re lucky — good at something. And it’s that one thing that matters, not the other things that we didn’t invest in. if you’re a truck driver, your boss will evaluate how good you are at truck driving, and not truck driving plus writing about Russian literature. That’s why people shouldn’t fret so much about averaging and being good at everything. Grit is not a snapshot. It is a movie and it is a long movie. But if you focus on what you want to achieve and put in the time and effort, you can eventually have that cinematic crossing of the finish line.

Gauging grit

The lessons that Duckworth outlines in her book offer a useful structure for self-improvement and achievement and can be used to great effect in the college recruitment process. But what if you’re curious about your current level of grit? Over at Character Lab, Dr. Duckworth outlines a few questions to ask yourself about your own grittiness. Use them to focus yourself and get the results that you want.

  • I enjoy projects that take years to complete
  • I am working towards a very long-term goal
  • What I do each day is connected to my deepest personal values
  • There is at least one subject or activity that I never get bored of thinking about
  • Setbacks don’t discourage me for long
  • I am a hard worker
  • I finish whatever I begin
  • I never stop working to improve
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