SportStars Magazine

Perfectionism. Another Reason for Underperformance

In continuing our series on bringing player’s best practice/training game over to pressured competition … I often find many athletes wear a badge of being a “perfectionist” proudly.

Unfortunately, many don’t realize this ends up only hurting their performance. How does trying to be perfect cause you to underperform?

Seems counterintuitive, right? Well, not really when you understand the youth mind. Let me explain using a client story of mine…

John, a 13-year-old basketball player, had been playing ball since he was 8 years old and absolutely loved the sport.

youth basketball tipHis coaches commented on how hard he always worked to improve his game and how he was an inspiration to his teammates.

However, John has not been getting as much playing time lately as he used to. He still worked as hard as ever to fine-tune his shot and advance his ball handling skills, but not getting “played” had affected his mood on and off the court. His mom has noticed he was more grumpy and less patient with his little sister.

youth basketball tipJohn asked his coaches what he needed to do to get more playing time. They told him he looked timid out there on the court and that he needed to get more aggressive.

This made John feel frustrated and stuck. He asked his Dad how he suggested he get more aggressive. His Dad recommended what had worked for him- to carry himself with a certain confident “swagger”, which made him more confident on the court and therefore more aggressive.

youth basketball tipThis advice actually confused John even more, because he did not remember acting like that when he was the star of the team a year ago. It just seemed like everything had come naturally to him.

What John is not realizing is that his problems began, when he started to adopt a “perfectionist” mindset. Somewhere between being the starter and leading the team in scoring and today’s troubles, John taught himself he had to be perfect.

…and this mindset eventually starting affecting his game.

As a mental trainer, I hear the word “perfectionist” used by some people as a sort of “badge of honor” they feel proud of. Unfortunately though, as you see with John, trying to be “perfect” causes all sorts of problems.

The problems show up when the perfectionists fail to achieve perfection and then they beat themselves up for it. They start by over-analyzing the game, picking apart their mistakes and thinking a bunch of negative thoughts about themselves.

youth basketball tipThis leads to playing “scared”, because they are in fear that they will make a “mistake”. A self-defeating, never-ending cycle is created.

Think about it… can you ever achieve perfection in anything? Are there any perfect players out there? In fact, in most sports, players make many mistakes and still win. In baseball, getting 3 out 10 hits is a success. In basketball, most pros only make 50% of the shots they take.

Are you getting the picture? In every sport, we expect to make more mistakes than do things “just right”. Failures are acceptable and you can still win!

youth basketball tipIf you are a perfectionist, you are expecting something that is impossible and setting yourself up for repeated failure! It is a formula for mental weakness.

Thinking you need to be perfect puts you in a state of constant fear of not getting it “right. It’s much better to set goals for yourself that are achievable, but still challenging.

There’s a subtle, but powerful difference between these thoughts.

See if you can see the difference…
1. I’m a perfectionist and I must do everything perfectly.
2. I strive for perfection, but I don’t have to be perfect.

The second point gets you where you want to go by allowing you to be human, while still striving for continuous improvement.

Point #1… well, that WAS John until he came to see me. Want to go a little deeper on this perfectionism issue? Watch this video

youth basketball tipWelcome to the Winner’s Circle!

Craig, the Mental Toughness Trainer


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