Scotland MNT - Maradona, The Three Kings, and Growth Mindset
Updated: Nov 28, 2020
'Yes! One big yes! It's a happy ending for Scotland for a change! The time has come! The time really has come! A night for the players! A night for the fans! A night for all of Scotland! Serbia are complaining here, but Scotland can still rise now and be a nation again! Scotland will be part of Euro 2020!'
- Ian Crocker, Sky Sports Commentary
For the first time in a quarter of a century, Scotland Men's National Team will be participating in the UEFA European Championship Finals next Summer. If you're reading this article, you know this already of course, in fact, you probably shared scenes similar to that of our video (well, hopefully not the thumbnail) which went viral in the days following.
This is a strange phenomenon for us to partake in, and we hold it lightly, we don't really make videos after all! Whilst deeply appreciative of the views accompanied by kind comments regarding the (hastily-produced, auto-correcting, typo-containing) edit, we knew we were really only a conduit to something bigger - namely that of a nation's joy - and that's all A\M ever wishes to be, whether by a large or small measure. That said, if you're new to A\M, then we feel it important to write this article clarifying what our priorities are, what matters to us, and where the video came from.
Alba\Matter exists to expound the virtues of Scottish footballing talent from a Growth Mindset perspective.
This means, everything we do and have done thus far, has risen from this soil. We rarely mention it explicitly, but if you're wondering why everything reads, looks, or sounds 'positive', perhaps even nauseatingly naive or occasionally over-eager, then this is the reason.
Our conviction that adopting a Growth Mindset can change people, teams, and organisations for the better might be stuttering in its communication, but it has roots, and really quite deep roots at that.
More than just being our chief tenet, I have had a few privileged conversations recently with folks at the SFA assuring me that a Growth Mindset is equally embedded there, at every level, and is the foundation of all that the Scotland teams (MNT & WNT) have achieved recently.
I have had a few privileged conversations recently with folks at the SFA assuring me that a Growth Mindset is equally embedded there, at every level.
We are looking to have upcoming interviews on that subject soon, with prominent figures within the SFA, so stay tuned.
In the meantime, let's ask why a growth mindset can be legitimately regarded as the source of our qualification and the subsequent boogying phenomenon.
We exist to expound the virtues of Scottish footballing talent from a Growth Mindset perspective.
'Mindset drives the coaching process. It drives how you are going to get better as a team, basing it upon effort and learning. Keep talking about that. Look at skill and execution of skill as something you've worked hard on to get better, rather than just saying, 'wow, he's got an outrageous talent'. If people have very good skill, that's because they've worked hard on it. Keep reinforcing that... and when things become too easy, make it harder for them. The ones that seek that, are the ones you know have a Growth Mindset.'
- Gregor Townsend, on his Championship-winning Glasgow Warrior side, 2014
No magic wands have been waved in my direction, I didn’t win some kind of lottery to land a spot on one of the biggest clubs in the world. The reason why I’m a Liverpool player is the same reason why I’m captain of my country: I’ve worked my bollocks off to get where I am, and by doing that, I’ve been able to make the most of whatever talent I have... Now I've got two kids of my own, that message is more important than ever. I don't want them to think that their dad got a lucky break. I need them to understand that whatever potential they have can only be fulfilled if they put their minds to it. Fairy tales? That's bedtime stuff.
- 'This is for Liverpool' by Andy Robertson, Players' Tribune, June 2018
Since 2012, growth mindset has been cited in official SFA documentation. It is why prominent SPFL clubs visited Gregor Townsend's training sessions, following the merited attention that accompanies a championship-winning team.
So what is a growth mindset, and how is it behind the winning mindset Robertson and Townsend both share?
Growth mindset is the theory that the brain is malleable and can form new connections and learn new information, at any age.
Based upon the research of Professor Carol Dweck, the renowned psychologist at Stanford University, growth mindset is the theory that the brain is malleable and can form new connections and learn new information, at any age. In other words, you are not merely a result of your gene pool. Lionel Messi might be an 'alien', as his teammate's joke, but it's not really true, not really. The old narrative of Messi having 'natural' talent, and Ronaldo 'working hard' is somewhat lazy, at best. The truth is, both worked hard and harder than most, to be where they are today. They maximised their undoubted potential.
As Diego Maradona, the most naturally talented footballer to ever walk the earth, once mused to Guillem Balague, 'just imagine what I could've been had I been clean'.
Some things are harder to learn than others.
This focus on effort and learning seems straightforward, right? Well, in my experience as an educator and university tutor, all good research is, because it only reveals what is true about our world.
In the social sciences, this means revealing what is true about ourselves; footballers and coaches included.
The power of 'not yet'
As Townsend observes, embracing difficulty and challenge is what separates those with a growth mindset from those with a fixed mindset. This is why it is so crucial for athletes to understand.
How you deal with a challenge is dependent upon more than what you do, because what you do stems directly from what you believe, and what you believe is in turn dictated by what you set your mind upon. In other words, your mindset directly impacts your output.
Admittedly, sometimes your mindset is affected by situations outside your control or by those around you. In Maradona's case, the Neopolitan Mafia were but the most intimidating in an innumerable number of hangers-on. However, they presented a difficult, nay, impossible decision for him to make which would have been to say, 'no' to those whose offers you can't easily refuse.
'just imagine what [he] could've been'... but for the offers he couldn't refuse.
This is why A\M makes a point of being positive and saying 'not yet' rather than 'can't'. Maradona might not have been able to say 'no', but rather than the prison Naples eventually became for the superstar, I wonder if anyone worked with him to say 'you can't say no... yet'. This is no criticism of Maradona, we're as sad as everyone else about his passing, but we can learn a very interesting point here - that the power of 'yet' is a substantial one, but one not easily met.
This belies a common misconception of growth mindset, that it is chiefly concerned with 'positivity' and merely the latest of fads in a long line associated with achieving a 'PMA'.
Does wielding a growth mindset mean we praise everything? Not at all. Rather, as Dweck states, we need to 'praise wisely'. This means not praising 'natural ability' or 'fixed intelligence', but rather, praising process and effort. Praising growth.
You would think that this is also a given, but mentioning process and effort following a loss is often described as showcasing a 'losing mentality' and appearing 'weak' - which couldn't be farther from the truth.
Klopp showing his 'ignorance' of English football and forcing his players into an awkward embrace with the fans, following a meagre 2-2 draw at home to lowly West Brom, was fascinating. It still is. When the above video starts, you can hear the boos melt away, usurped by singing. It's massively powerful if you know the context, both then, and now. Following this act, for which Klopp was slated, Anfield became a 3-year unbeaten, record-breaking, domestic fortress... and Liverpool won everything in sight.
Speaking or acting in this way doesn't mean you blind yourself to criticism, Klopp is not blind. But it does demand you learn from it, which you heard him say a lot in the early years, and still do now. Learning demands that you grow.
Conversely, the levels of meltdown, hysteria, and resignation some fans display post-Scotland defeat are not only negative, not only wayward, but ultimately; blind, and blind to what exactly? Points for learning. Points to concentrate effort. Points for growth.
Opinions like those showcased after the Israel and Slovakia losses were are as changeable as a Scottish Summer, but somewhat ironically, were also a perfect representation of something that doesn't ever change; a 'fixed mindset'.
Roots matter. They really, really matter. What you believe and value really, really matters. It affects, or rather, effects, everything you do and the person you become, the person you are. Depending on the root, these beliefs can transcend and/or dismantle the barriers presented by accents, cultures, ethnicity, race, gender, sexuality, disability, or prejudice based on any of the above. Roots, beliefs, and values, are powerful because they feed the thing that grows.
It follows, therefore, that what we see on the football pitch with any given team has roots that go deeper than mere natural ability, and what the players believe and value in communion with one another really, really, matters. A 'feel-good factor' or 'team spirit' is more than just a bonus, it is necessary for a winning team.
Roots go deep, forge new pathways and establish strong connections
But surely there are some roots that are fixed! Surely club loyalties, historical failures, or even 'genetics' limit our potential? 'Growth mindset' might be empirically proven and fine for the rest of the human race, but we're Scottish! Not Brazilian or Spanish or Italian! We do have rubbish weather. The kids are on the PlayStation all day. We do just lump the ball forward. He is a Rangers man. He is a Celtic man. Who does Billy Gilmour think he is talking about wanting to be the best player in the world? He's from Ayrshire, he should know his place! We can't change. We won't change! How dare you ask us to change! It's who we are!
That may be true, for starters, but with a growth mindset, one of effort and learning, it is not only possible to shed unhelpful stigmatisms and limiting mindsets; we can also go one further. As our anthem sounds; 'we can still rise now, and be a nation again.'
With a growth mindset, one of effort and learning. It is not only possible to shed unhelpful stigmatisms and limiting mindsets, but we can also go one further, as our anthem sounds, 'we can still rise now, and be a nation again.'
We can form new organisations and structures based upon the cohesion and unity that embracing a growth mindset brings.
Renton, Spud, and Sick Boy are catching on.
Steve has been fantastic in building a unit and sticking to it with the same players, giving consistency and [forming] a nucleas that makes for a very together, constructive, team.
- Alex McLeish, in conversation with Football Pass, Nov 2020.
Thank-you, Alex McLeish. This is exactly what a growth mindset forms, and you know it better than most. Let's pause for a moment to acknowledge that Big Eck probably knows more than about football than you, and we wouldn't be here without him. It's why we wrote the poem and pre-final video, 'The Lion and The Unicorn'. We wanted to chart the journey of growth, of which he was very much a part.
Yes, we may have had the 'challenge' that was Kazahkstan, but we also had Israel and the James Forrest hat-trick that got us to where we are. As the poem states, 'growth is often hard to see, harder yet when ye don't believe'.
Why then, don't we just 'all believe'?
Well, that would mean confronting and changing our deeply-held, 'fixed', beliefs, and values, which flow directly from our mindset. If you have a fixed mindset, you won't tolerate flexible thinking... yet. It's easier just to stay where we are and moan if things go awry. It's hard to believe.
It's difficult to be positive and say we can do this but 'not yet'.
You put yourself up for being hurt, looking weak, and feeling foolish. Embracing a growth mindset takes guts.
It's a bit like Stockholm Syndrome. We might want to hope, but we end up loving our captor instead because it's easier to say, 'it's shite being Scottish' than it is to aspire or hope for something better.
I get this. I really do. I struggle with depression and will do forever. Every day is a choice to grow or stagnate, but in order to be a good dad, husband, son, friend, teacher, or whatever else the day presents; I know which one I want to pursue.
I know what choices I should make, and they are hourly/minutely ones. This is why when A\M says that 'growth is hard and often painful', we really mean it because we really feel it. We're prone to the odd slip into a fixed mindset, and we need to stop and think, 'how can we learn? How can we grow?' Why?
Because, my goodness, is the choice to hope and grow worth it.
Hope is a path worth treading.
What then of qualification and this Scotland team? How do we recognise their growth? What does it look like? Well, for specific analysis, see others who have described it sublimely (above). That's what it looks like, and we can't do it better.
But if you want to know what is in the soil responsible for that growth, then hopefully we've made you think a little.
The pertinent question now becomes a happy one for us to consider, 'if that's growth, how does it make us feel?'. Let's listen to one of our most hopeful characters describe it for us.
Do you know something? It would've been a travesty if we had not made it. Particularly within the 90 minutes, it was as good a performance as I've seen from Scotland in years... We switched off in the 90th minute, and all of a sudden we're going through the agony of extra-time and penalties... I am absolutely thrilled. I'm thrilled for everybody, but I'm really, really, pleased for the boys because there's been a generation of great players who haven't made it... I'm so pleased for them. Magical.'
- Ally McCoist, Sky Sports punditry
It was, Ally. It really was.
The performance only became more magical following the news that Serbia had battered Russia 5-0 a few days later. One lapse in concentration by an otherwise excellent Scott McTominay may have presented our 'challenge' in the 90 minutes, but what strength of mind the young man had to rise again. As the Manchester United man has said before, 'all our challenges are in front of us now', and we can learn from this.
We're huge fans of McTominay's mindset because whenever he speaks, he is committed to identifying room for growth. He chose to learn and grow - performing admirably in the subsequent thirty minutes and striking his penalty with conviction into the corner. Learning and effort.
Or what of the much-maligned Stephen O'Donnell? The Motherwell man dominated the right-side just as Robertson did the left. Faultless in execution, it was arguable if the uninformed could tell which one had a market value of £70m. Natural ability? No. Learning and effort.
In truth, each member of the team gave a priceless performance. One that as McCoist rightly points out, will go down in the annuls of Scottish footballing history, giving rise to the playfully plagiarised postscript on our film;
'In the Year of Our Lord, 2020, Scottish footballers, written off and derided, Charged the field of Belgrade. They fought like Warrior Poets. They fought like Scotsmen. And won their freedom... ...and their right to boogie.'
In closing, let's once more borrow from Gregor Townsend,
'Growth Mindset is the belief that if I work hard and if I learn from what I'm doing, I can get better. What we try to do as a coaching team is create a growth mindset environment, so that the players who have that mindset are rewarded. We are trying to engender that with our players. We talk about our mistakes because we want people to succeed. We want to attract people to this environment, recognising that hard work and learning will get you closer to your potential, whilst playing well.'
- Gregor Townsend, on Growth Mindset, 2019
As the recent and typically excellent Jonny Owen film, 'The Three Kings', records, Sir Alex Ferguson, Jock Stein, Bill Shankly, and Sir Matt Busby inspired awe wherever they went. They may well have inspired some level of fear (in the classic sense), however, ask any of their players whether or not they also felt valued, encouraged, and/or supported and you'll hear words like 'respect', 'admiration', 'inspire', 'motivate', 'father-figure', and even, 'love'.
Before the days of signing players for vast sums, these men were above all, 'good coaches' and 'people people'. In other words, they nurtured, fostered, and instilled growth in the players they had, adding sparingly, and with incredible results.
Effort and Learning
Asking Denis Law, Jimmy Johnstone, or Ian St.John if this growth-based environment was an 'attractive movement' to be part of, would be as daft as asking our current team if they had a 'good time' boogying after the Serbia game.
Winning teams, therefore, share one thing in common. Starting with where they are, they work, in a culture of honesty, toward better things, toward improvement, or rather, they choose to learn, apply effort and grow until better things became possible and available to them.
They identify challenges, but they also support one another on that journey with the changes needed to improve, and once these things are in place, the 'boom' of growth is inevitable.
Don't think that Scotland MNT have fluked upon victory here. All their goals are ahead of them now, and you'd best get on board because hope is a path worth treading.
'[The success is] not a myth. It's not an accident. It's all laid down. The plans are there... If a manager is honest and has this natural enthusiasm, whilst he can't go onto the field with the players, he can convey it to them... if [the players] keep on improving, [they can achieve even more]'... it's like the hydrogen bomb. All the particles come together and 'boom!', it goes off.
- Bill Shankly in 'The Three Kings'
'It's something we've been thinking about and working towards for a year... everyone involved should understand that we're in the Euro 2020 because of the path that started under Alex McLeish and his staff and players. This is the path that lead us to Euro 2020...We want to keep going on the same path... We have to remain humble, the performances have to remain honest... We're on a journey and we can still improve.'
- Steve Clarke, Nov 2020