Fortune Telling and Fear Go Hand in Hand

When athletes become overly concerned with what other people (coaches, teammates, parents, spectators, media, scouts, etc) think about their performances they often engage in a process often referred to as mind reading. During the mind reading process the athlete makes certain assumptions about what others think about him. This predicting can get an athlete very distracted and performance can be affected. I am reminded of a college baseball pitcher I worked with that was so worried about where the pro scouts were in the stands and what they were thinking about him that it actually kept him from focusing on his execution.

The worry and the anxiety is caused by:

1. Trying to avoid embarrassment.
2. Trying NOT to make mistakes.
3. Worry that others will not think he/she is a good athlete.
4. Attempting to predict what judgement others are placing on he /she.

The athlete I speak of could not stay focused and execute on the most simple tasks. The fear of embarrassment, and actively trying not to make mistakes drastically reduced his ability to perform FREE of mental congestion – a term I describe in my book; The Mental Edge – Performance Journaling System.

While no one wants to feel embarrassed or get called out by the coach for making mistakes, and playing a comfort zone (fear of failing), the actual process of trying to avoid mistakes turns our to be a self-fullfilling prophecy. Defensive play blocks the athletes ability to achieve success. When an athlete plays tentatively it is quite likely he/she is not playing in the present, but actually attempting to predict the future.

Everyone wants to be liked, loved, and appreciated for the talents they possess. Sometimes the desire to seek social approval develops into a need to be validated. Self-Esteem refers to how we feel about ourselves in relation to the world around us. Social feedback helps us develop a general appraisal about how we feel about ourselves. Without the social feedback / approval some athletes lose motivation, desire, and sometimes stop playing the sport because they don’t feel worthy or capable.

Helping athletes to learn to play without fear and to better understand that outside forces (other people) have no real physical power over their success is a very important concept. It’s the fear of failure or the lack of social approval and letting others down that leads to play with the intent to not make mistakes.

The questions to ask athletes that suffer from the mind reading syndrome are; (1) Who really has power to make you perform? (2) Do you compete for yourself or for others? These powerful questions are difficult for some answer honestly. If athletes are willing to answer these questions, the mind reading and future predicting can be eliminated.

Everyone want s to experience FLOW in sport performance, but flow can never be achieved if you care about what others think about you and your performance. To get there you must first be AWARE you are mind reading. The next step is to articulate HOW mindreading affects performance and WHY mindreading offers no positive performance advantage. Lastly, it’s important to offer an alternative strategy to eliminate mindreading.

I help athletes achieve success over mind reading in a number of different ways. One class I teach is entitled, You May be Watching, but You Can’t Control my Performance. In this class and others I cover specific techniques to stop mind reading and mental congestion and how to develop a performance enhancing mindset.

About the Author:

John Ellsworth, M.A. is a mental game coach who works with athletes, sports parents, teams of all levels including corporate teams. For more information on how to identify and beat the Mind Reading Syndrome, call 408-891-1388.

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