The world of athletics is its own culture. In this culture, perfectionism is deemed a positive attribute to have. These types of athletes are highly motivated, always want to be the best, and work hard to learn and continue to improve their game. Who wouldn’t want someone like this on their team? Unfortunately, this isn’t the whole story. Perfection is something that can never be achieved. It doesn’t exist, and these athletes often struggle with confidence, self-doubt, high/unhealthy expectations, fear of failure, and underwhelming performance as a result. Fortunately, there is help for these athletes, but they can do it alone. Below are 4 tips for athletes and those who work with athletes suffering from perfectionism:
- “Practice makes perfect confidence”
The phrase “practice makes perfect” is commonly used to convey the idea that the harder and more you practice the better and more accurate the athletes play at game time. The problem is, athletes seeking perfection often have a hard time switching from a practice to game mentality. This phrase implies that perfection is what is expected out of the athlete, further adding to the unhealthy mindset. A more accurate phrase would be “practice makes confidence.” This way practice is separated from game by sending the message that an athlete practices to become confident with their play. They can then take this confidence and use it to perform at game time.
- Self-fulfilling prophecy
Athletes who seek perfection often have difficulty performing because they are afraid of failing. They play timidly, overthink things, and doubt their abilities. One mistake can then lead to a snowball effect and a rapid decline in confidence. When an athlete is afraid to fail, they often have many intrusive thoughts (i.e. You can’t make a mistake, You must be perfect, Don’t miss the ball, etc.) attacking them during play. Engaging in these types of thoughts takes away from being in the moment and just playing and reacting to the circumstances, thus increasing the likelihood of committing an error. Instead, athletes can be taught to acknowledge yet not engage with these intrusive thoughts allowing them to stay in the moment.
- Acceptance of mistakes
Perfectionism in athletes is ego-syntonic making it difficult to get an athlete to identify their perfectionism as a problem. Therefore, it is important to help an athlete identify the ways their perfectionism hinders their play and gets in the way of their success. From there, athletes can work towards accepting what they can and can’t change about their play and the game itself. This helps the athlete understand and get comfortable with the idea that mistakes can and will happen. In some cases, deeper core beliefs may need to be identified and addressed.
- Let it all go
One of the most important things for an athlete to learn is how to let it all go when it’s game time. Stop thinking about what happened at practice. Stop thinking about mistakes made last game. Stop thinking about the mechanics and corrections you have been working on. Be in the moment, just play, and trust in the work that was put in.
They say it takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to raise an athlete with a healthy mindset. It takes coaches, trainers, teammates, therapists, families, and more. If you have influence on an athlete, be mindful of your actions and the subtle (and blatant) messages you may be sending to them.