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Positional roles and player mindset

I was recently asked a question regarding positional roles and mindset for our high school players.

It is often the case that the composition of players in our program is heavily weighted toward (or away) from a position. A typical example in recent years is the presence of several midfielders and an absence of forwards or backs. Typically, we want to select the “best” players, but ultimately we need to pick the best team. A solution is to “repurpose” players who have developed comfort in one position to play another in our high school program. Ideally, we can identify these players during their freshman or sophomore year and begin the process at the Frosh or JV level.

The success or failure of the repurposing exercise is heavily dependent on the mindset of the athlete. Ironically, it is sometimes the most talented players who are the most rigid in their self-beliefs.

Dweck (2008) described a growth mindset (incremental theory) as a belief system based on the premise that “your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts, your strategies, and help from others” (p. 7). In contrast, Atwood (2010) defined the fixed mindset (entity theory) as the belief that “traits and characteristics are hardwired, intractable, and predetermined, perhaps etched in our genetic code … any effort to manipulate a static trait as inherently ineffectual” (p. 3). The act of repurposing involves taking risks: for the athlete and the coach. When it works, the athlete improves self-efficacy and is made aware of new possibilities for herself. The challenge becomes handling situations where the repurposing effort does not work – perhaps the coach has misjudged the player’s abilities, or the player cannot embrace the risk.

Ideally, my coaching staff can spend the time with the player to develop positional understanding and also provide the appropriate supportive environment. In many cases, I’ve pointed out to the repurposed player how her experience in her club position will make her better than players who usually play her new position. I’ve found that I have to give these players some room to make mistakes in training and also to allow them to express their natural tendencies outside of what I might typically expect from a position. One of our most successful out-of-position players was a club #8 who played right back for us. She was a solid enough defender but destroyed teams when she came forward, particularly her movements into the central channel. She was paired with a girl at right mid who was aware enough to know when to cover and when to combine with the right back. It was awesome to watch.

During the past high school season, attempts to repurpose players already on our varsity squad through autocratic methods were unsuccessful. It was not until a player volunteered to play a new position that we were able to remove a logjam at one position and solve a gap at another position.

Mindset plays a large role in the behavior and success of athletes. Asking players to take on new positional roles involves careful consideration of the athlete’s mental makeup in addition to her physical attributes. The application of an individualized teaching experience, with an emphasis on building up strength and shoring up weakness, is crucial in creating a successful outcome for the repurposed positional player.


Atwood, J. R. (2010). Mindset, Motivation and Metaphor in School and Sport: Bifurcated Beliefs and Behavior in Two Different Achievement Domains. Online Submission.

Dweck, C. S. (2008). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House Digital, Inc.