Grit is a game changer.

Even if you’re not familiar with the term, you’ve probably seen it. The gritty dancer is the one who works so much harder than the “naturally talented” dancer who slides by. Grit is in the dancer who doesn’t quit when he struggles to get a new skill. It’s in dancer who gets back up every time she falls. 

The hard-working dancer always goes further, in life and in dance.

Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.

We see grit in the dancer who has true passion for what she does, and she never stops trying to learn and grow.

As a coach, can you imagine a team full of gritty dancers?!? When you have dancers with grit, everything about coaching becomes easier.  It’s not easy to teach our dancers to be gritty, but we can try to encourage it as much as possible. 

What is grit and how to we get it? There are two keys areas to focus on…

By definition, grit is a combination of PASSION and PERSISTENCE. 

That means that in order to increase grit on your team, you can encourage a healthy passion for dance and teach skills that lead to persistence.

Part 1: Encourage a healthy passion

Passion is a strong inclination toward an activity that you like, find important, and invest time and energy. 

When you are passionate, you will experience remarkable endurance. But not all passion is created equal. There is harmonious passion and obsessive passion, and it’s important to encourage a harmonious passion. (You can read all about the difference here).

Harmonious Passion

Harmonious passion means you dance for the joy of dance. You feel that being a dancer is part of your identity, but not so much that it takes over all of who you are. You freely choose to work at it and experience joy and happiness when you do.

Psychologists who study passion have also found that on average, passionate people spend 8 ½ hours a week for at least 6 years working on the thing they are passionate about. I bet by that definition, you are a passionate dancer and a passionate coach.

It’s also a beautiful thing to allow our passions to evolve. Here’s my story:

Around 19, I was a professional ballet dancer, but my passion for dance started to change. I started to resent that we had to take a full ballet class before every show rather than enjoying my time at the barre. I used to LOVE a good juicy plié!

But it started to feel like a job, and it was. I was no longer experiencing joy, instead, I had to keep doing it because I had worked so hard to get there. Ballet started to come at the expense of other things like my relationships and school. I couldn’t help but feel think if I wasn’t going to be the best, why had I spent so long doing it!  

Then I had one show towards the end of the season where everything changed for me. It was the first time I had taught a class for young dancers all semester and now had my choreography was in the show.  I was supposed to take the stage immediately after them for another piece I was in, so I watched from backstage. While observing their routine, I was so engrossed in watching their little eyes light up on stage that when they were done I wrapped them in my arms off stage and started to tear up. So much so, that I completely missed my cue to be on stage.  

That day, I had an epiphany about myself. I was still passionate about dance, but no longer experiencing joy. It was controlling me. My joy and passion for dance had transitioned to teaching dance rather than performing on stage. It was time to make a change.

When did you discover that you love coaching? Was there a moment or did it evolve?

I realized that day I wanted to teach, but I didn’t know how much it would become a part of my life for another 15 years. Today, teaching is my passion. It is my biggest goal, and my purpose in life.

Now I tell you that story to highlight what passion looks like and that it can change. I encourage you to notice what passion looks like in your life. And try to notice it in your dancers so you can see if someone is experiencing harmonious passion, feeling controlled by dance, or has lost their passion all together.

Coming back to grit…One of the ways to teach grit is to encourage harmonious passion.

Of course, we can’t force our dancers to be passionate, just as my ballet master couldn’t force me to love my training anymore. But you can encourage it.  Harmonious passion means you find joy and put in consistent work. You avoid intense hard physical and mental work followed by big breaks. Instead, you foster harmonious passion with slow consistent effort that includes healthy breaks and time for fun.  You can’t let dance overpower other areas of your life or your athletes’ lives.

You will naturally see ups and downs in effort on your team, but the most productive pace for improvement is a constant pace that’s sustainable. Rather than taking it easy for a while during football, ramping up to intense workouts for a few weeks during competition season, then letting it slip back down, focus on stable hard work. Training consistently throughout the year gives you the space to keep it fun and encourages your dancers to find their own harmonious passion in dance. 

Part 2: Teach the Skill of Persistence

If we want to improve grit on our team but we can’t force a harmonious passion, the thing we can focus on is teaching the skill of persistence. When we want our dancers to achieve more, strive for bigger, and push themselves, we want them to persist. 

Make it a priority to teach your dancers to give consistent effort towards a long-term goal.

Leadership Development

Make it a priority to teach your dancers to give consistent effort towards a long-term goal.

It’s this hard work and persistent effort that leads to actual skill improvement and better performance.

Psychologists have worked hard to understand where talent comes from. After years of work to define and understand grit, psychologist Angela Duckworth explains it with a deceptively simple math equation.

Achievement = Skill x Effort

If you want to be competitively successful, it comes from a combination of skill and effort. But where does skill come from? How do those incredibly talented dancers gain their skills? 

Skill = Talent x Effort.

Sure, there is something to be said for natural talent, but it’s a very small piece of the puzzle. You know the dancer that struggles at first and is a little awkward when he learns to leap or can’t keep her arms straight in a high-V to save her life. But she works at it. He gives it every ounce of effort day-in and day-out. Those dancers gain skill at a faster rate.

Now put the definition of skill into the first equation and you get:

Achievement = (Talent x Effort) x Effort

Effort shows up twice!

Think about the math, someone twice as talented who doesn’t put forth the effort, will never be as successful as someone half as talented who puts forth consistent effort.

Teaching your dancers to enjoy the effort, feel prideful when they work hard, and rewarding effort over talent encourages grit. 

And grit is the difference maker! 

Passionate people tend to be successful, because they put in the effort!! It’s no accident!

Remember, grit is the combination of harmonious passion and consistent effort. But it’s a lot easier to give consistent effort if you’re working towards a goal you are passionate about.

Bottom line: How do you encourage grit in your dancers?

  1. Challenge them and don’t let them quit.
  2. Challenge them regularly.
  3. Let them fail. Then teach them how to recover from failure.
  4. Show them you are proud of effort.
  5. Teach them to find gratification in small improvements and be proud of effort and growth even if the outside trophies and rankings don’t come out the way you wanted.

Consistent effort leads to a better performance and that’s usually what our dancers want. To win, to succeed, to make a certain college team, whatever their long-term goals are… grit is the difference maker. 

Help them understand that achievement comes from consistent effort.

The difference we can make as educators is to teach how to give consistent effort. And we do that through teaching a growth mindset. (Lots more on that coming up soon!)

If you want to win, consider this: Science has shown us that those people who persist in a goal they are passionate about, end up on top. You can’t force them to be passionate, but you can teach them the value of persistence.

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