Beating Performance Perfectionism – Cross Country

Cross Country Mom:

My daughter is very hard on herself if she doesn’t perform very well the first time she attempts anything. She has been running cross country in high school for two years and has won more competitions than lost, but her behavior when she does not come in first place. So, how do we help her deal with her frustration at not being perfect and channel that energy into working for her? Is this a sign that she is too young to compete?

Coach John’s Answer:

This is a sign that you have a perfectionist daughter. Now some of this is helpful because it will help her get better, practice hard, and have performance standards for herself. Your situation is not uncommon as I have worked with many perfectionists in my practice.

Perfectionist tendencies in sports can be a challenge when she does not perform up to her ability (or her own expectations). So you need to talk about not having such strict expectations and being more human than perfect. Be clear with him that everyone makes mistakes, even the best competitors. A good place to start is to discuss with your daughter that mistakes (and sometimes losing) is a natural part of playing sports.

Encourage her to learn from her mistakes and reiterate that the lessons learned will actually help her become a better athlete. It’s Very important, however that you focus on what she is doing well in her races rather than dwell on the errors or the losses. My philosophy is two-fold; first to focus on the successes she does have, and second educate her of the disadvantages of perfectionism and alternative strategies to beat perfectionism. It all begins with the beliefs she is holding onto. For example, “I must be win every race (be perfect)”. Help her to identify the beliefs she has about being perfect and reframe those beliefs into statements such as “no one can be perfect, I need to accept that I am going to make errors.” If you can do this you will definitely help her deal with mistakes and in doing so she will learn to judge herself less and have more fun doing what she loves to do.

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