I’m sure you have heard the saying “practice makes perfect”. This saying is meant to motivate individuals to continue practicing so that over time they will improve. While this phrase of striving towards perfection may motivate you as an athlete, does it create a mindset that embraces failure and setbacks as you work towards your goals?
The fact is, you will always be working towards perfection because perfection is unattainable. No one has ever woken up and said, “Well, I’m perfect, so I can stop practicing.”. There has always been more to strive for. That’s why records are constantly being broken and new heights of achievement are being reached.
While perfectionism can push you to be extremely motivated and hard working, your mental game will most likely suffer. So what happens when you get so focused on perfection that it holds you back from being great? This may sound familiar if you tend to be a perfectionist on the field.
- Perfection in athletes can lead to low self-confidence. Have you ever made a mistake causing your confidence to go from 100 to 0 really quick?
- You expect yourself to make zero mistakes. Unrealistic expectations can overload you with pressure and anxiety on game day.
- You are extremely critical of yourself. After every game are you replaying all of the bad moments rather than celebrating the good ones?
- The opinions of others are very important to you. You will oftentimes determine whether a performance was poor or good based on the feedback others give you, whether it’s a coach, teammate or parent.
Many athletes have some degree of striving for perfection, but it can become an issue when it affects your confidence, performance and ultimately enjoyment of your sport. So what can you do to combat any unrealistic expectations of perfection you have for yourself?
- Give yourself permission to be imperfect! You have told yourself over and over “be better”, “don’t make a mistake”, “you have to perform well”, but have you ever given yourself permission to make a mistake? There has never been an athlete that hasn’t made a mistake before. Acknowledge this truth and give yourself permission.
- After each game and practice write 5 things that you did well. Take time to acknowledge the positives before you can ruminate over the negatives.
- When assessing how you played, talk to yourself as if you were talking to your best friend. So, if your best friend just played exactly as you did what would you tell her? My guess is that you would focus on the positives and hype her up. So do that for yourself!
- Change your self-talk from “Don’ts” to helpful instructions. For example, instead of saying “Don’t strike out.”, tell yourself “Watch the ball hit the bat.”
- Remember why you play. Why did you begin playing your sport? What do you love most about your sport? The answer to those questions can remind you of the joy and purpose your sport provides you with.
Having high standards as an athlete is a great attribute, but your standards shouldn’t be so rigid that you don’t allow room for failure and mistakes. Failure and mistakes are part of the process to becoming a better athlete. You will learn and improve the most when failure and mistakes occur. So embrace those times and give yourself the permission to allow them to happen.