Coaching the Perfectionist Young Athlete

Often I hear from athletes or parents of athletes who worry about their or their child’s sport performance. Athletes, or parents for that matter, who demand high levels of performance are rarely satisfied with incremental levels of performance achievement because they set the standard of acceptable performance extremely high. When the standard is not achieved, they can be very self-critical. These athletes, or parents of athletes have perfectionist traits.

Perfectionistic athletes criticize themselves for making mistakes, often hold high expectations for themselves, get frustrated easily after making mistakes, engage in negative self-talk, are focused on results or outcomes, and rarely enjoy playing their sport.

On the flip side of the coin, these athletes have an incredibly strong work ethic, are highly motivated, committed to their goals, and want nothing more than to learn and improve. It ‘s this deeply strong work ethic and strong motivation that keeps them from seeing the forest through the trees. In fact, most athletes display at least some “perfectionistic” traits at some point in their athletic careers. I know because I was a perfectionist!!

The “wall” that blocks these athletes from performing up to their abilities is their extremely high demands for their performance. There is little room for error in the perfectionists performance. Athletes that are perfectionists (try to be perfect), and can undermine their own performance potential very quickly. The strict expectations about their performance drive them to fear failure. When they fear failure they worry too much, are anxious, and stressed out because they worry about pleasing others, or – results – like statistics, goals, scores, or winning become most important. They believe performance results are what makes them “good” human beings, and that others will respect them more if they perform to the highest levels.

If you identify yourself as a perfectionist, or if your young athlete has perfectionistic tendencies, it is important to identify the traits that may be self-fulling and blocking their confidence, performance success, and enjoyment in their sport.

Think about a most recent performance. Did you or your child want to win so bad that the pressure and stress of this demand caused anxiousness at critical performance times in the game? Does the athlete play tentatively, with caution, and unsure about the next move at critical times? Can you see that trying too hard simply sabotages a would be performance success? Is practice an exercise in being perfect or an exercise in learning how to execute? Does the athlete practice hours and hours without achieving success?

One important task to implement…

Parents of or any perfectionistic athlete that is uncomfortable with their performance levels and tries too hard to be like “Mike” or “adhere to” the demands of others is setting unrealistic goals for their individual level of talent. For these athletes it’s all about the “demand” of performance rather than setting realistic performance goals and “striving” to reach them. The key suggestion for parents and all athletes alike is to replace these “demanding” expectations with simple, but challenging and achievable process goals. These goals enhance self-esteem, build confidence, and are designed to improve performance incrementally.

For example, say your athlete believes he or she should pitch to win every game. You might suggest the athlete replace the demand “I must win every game” mind set with some simple process oriented objectives: 1) Focus on the target each and every pitch. 2) Commit to being in the present one pitch at a time. 3) Believe you can execute each pitch.

To learn more about “perfectionism” and how to help the athlete confront it, and replace it with healthy strategies for success, please send me an email with your questions.

You will learn strategies to help:

1. Decide how much pressure is too much pressure
2. Tools to motivate athletes to master their sport
3. Help kids feel confident in sports and athletics
4. Help athletes to reduce the worry and anxiety about performance.
5. Simple strategies to help athletes cope with anger, frustration, and stress in sports.
6. What happens to athletes when they are burned out.
7. What to do when the coach is very demanding.
8. Provide parents with ideas and strategies communicating to their young athletes.
9. Provide athletes with self-support tools to implement after a defeat or mistake.

I look forward to talking with you soon.


Coach John

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