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The Downside of Perfectionism in Sports

The Downside of Perfectionism in Sports

The saying “practice makes perfect” has its downside in sports. Today many athletes who strive for perfection in practice also embrace this mindset in competition. Athletes who aim for perfection in competition often struggle with fear of failure, fragile confidence, lack of trust and frustration during games. On the other hand, perfectionism has its advantages. Perfectionists tend to be highly motivated, work hard to succeed, and strive to be the best.

However, perfectionists rarely perform up to their abilities because they’re afraid of failing or making mistakes that will prevent them from winning. These are the athletes who want to win the most and train the hardest, but rarely meet their potential on game day.

Perfectionists often worry too much about technique, overanalyze their performance, and play tentatively to avoid making mistake. This limits their ability to play freely and aggressive with high confidence. When perfectionist athletes do make a mistake it has a negative snowball effect on their mental game. They see this as failure which causes them to lose confidence, dwell on the mistakes, overanalyze their performance and become frustrated.

Athletes who struggle with perfectionism need to transition from a practice or ‘training’ mindset, to a performance or ‘trusting’ mindset prior to competition. A training mindset is good for practice, and allows athletes to analyze execution, correct technique, and address mistakes.

Conversely, in competition a trusting mindset is required in order for athletes to excel. A trusting mindset is based on a solid foundation of confidence, repetition, and preparation. When athletes are in a trusting mindset they react to the environment, play freely, and focus on each play.

To overcome perfectionism you need to keep it simple in competition.  Avoid filling your mind with too many thoughts at once and trust your preparation. Let go of the “how to’s” (your technique or mechanics) and allow yourself to let it happen. You practice to prepare for competition, so now that the time has come, let yourself play!

The following are additional tips to free up your game:

1. Accept the fact that you will make mistakes. No one is perfect, but what separate average athletes from the elite is the ability to maintain confidence, focus and trust, after mistakes.

2. Don’t focus on end results. Focusing on results causes pressure, and will not help you play with a present focus. Think more about what you can do in the present moment to help you succeed, and the results will come.

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