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Sport Performance Anxiety and Social Approval

Sport Performance Anxiety and Social Approval

One of my mental coaching students who struggles with  performance anxiety, was overly concerned with what other people (coach, teammates, parents, spectators, etc.) thought about his performance. He often made assumptions about what others were thinking about him and his performance. We call this mind-reading. In this case the athlete literally thought that he could tell what others were thinking about him.

The Agenda That Causes Sports Anxiety:

  • Avoid embarrassment
  • Avoid making mistakes
  • Have others think he/she is a good athlete.
  • Mind reading what others may be thinking

Worrying to much about what others may be thinking causes athletes to play cautiously and avoid making mistakes.  For example, if a baseball player is worried about what his teammates will think if he gets thrown on the bases he may be less likely to tag on a fly ball, steal on a pass ball, or take a good lead.

Athletes who mind-read are plagued with thoughts such as, “The coach will yank me from the team if I miss an open shot!” or “My team will be disappointed in my performance.” My students performance suffered because he did not allow himself to perform freely without the fear of failure, fear of disappointing others, or fear of making mistakes.

When dealing with sports psychology there are many athletes who’s anxiety hinder their potential by focusing too much on avoiding mistakes and not embarrassing themselves. They think it is better to play it safe than risk embarrassment or disappointment.

While no one wants to feel embarrassed or get benched by the coach, avoiding mistakes and playing safe are huge distractions to athletic performance, at the very least. This type of thinking actually makes athletes perform worse, and then create what they feared might happen.

Ultimately, the fear of failure can cause athletes to play tentatively or defensively and actually hinder their ability to succeed. This state of mind certainly makes playing sports half as much fun for many athletes and causes some to drop out of sports.

Caring too much about what others think comes from the phenomenon called social approval. Social approval is defined as the need to be confirmed and validated by other people. In today’s society, many athletes learn *mind reading* when peer approval and gaining acceptance are primary motivators, especially for young athletes.

Let’s face it, we want the respect from our peers. And, whether you’ve been an athlete for 5 years or 35 years, the fear of letting others down can lead to tentative performances! That’s why helping athletes learn how to play without the fear of failure is so important.

How can an athlete be taught to focus on what’s important, rather than mind reading or focusing too much on the fear of making mistakes? I start by asking my students an important question, “Do you compete for yourself or do you compete to gain respect or approval of people around you?”

This is a tough question for some athletes to answer. Many find it difficult to admit that they compete because they yearn for the acceptance of their team, parents, coach or spectators.

However, the bottom line is that if you want to harness a zone focus and perform at your best, you cannot care about what others think about you and/or your performance. You must learn to overcome mind reading and fear of failure.

To learn more about how to help athletes who  are motivated by social approval or play with a fear of failure visit:

Mental Edge Athletics


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