We’ve all been there.
You’re in the middle of a game, and you miss a shot—or make a mistake that costs your team the game. You feel like the worst person in the world. You want to crawl into a hole and die.
Or you feel like the whole world is watching, and at a critical moment in the game, you trip up and make a small error you’ve never made before. Maybe you feel like you didn’t put in as much training as you could have before the game, and now you’re feeling like a failure.
Again—we’ve all been there.
It’s called perfectionism, and it’s something that plagues athletes of all ages—all the way from high school/college athletes, to professional athletes being paid millions of dollars a year to play.
In short, perfectionism is the belief that if you make a mistake, you’re a failure.
When you read that definition, it almost sounds silly. But the feelings can be very real.
The fear of “not being good enough” can be debilitating.
Perfectionism is often lauded as a positive trait. After all, it can be motivating. It can push you to train harder and strive for peak performance.
However, it can also be a negative force if it leads to unnecessary anxiety, burnout, and constantly feeling disappointed in yourself.
Ambition is one thing; perfectionism is “too much of a good thing,” you might say.
It’s easy for young athletes to get caught up in “the perfectionism trap.” At its worst, making even the smallest mistake can feel like the end of the world to us.
But even at its best, perfectionism can be really tough to deal with. Especially when it’s directly impacting your game.
But here’s the thing: you’re not alone. A lot of young athletes struggle with perfectionism. It’s a real obstacle to success (and happiness) for many people. And even professional athletes who achieve success at the highest levels often deal with the same feelings from time to time.
Here are some tips for young athletes who want to start to overcome their perfectionism:
- Set realistic goals. It’s important to set goals that are achievable and realistic. If your goal is too lofty, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Break your goals down into smaller, more manageable pieces so you can feel a sense of accomplishment along the way.
- Talk to someone. If you’re feeling really overwhelmed by perfectionism, it can be helpful to talk to someone about it. A coach, a therapist, or even a trusted friend can be a great sounding board. Talking about your perfectionism can help you to understand it better and figure out how to deal with it.
- Be kind to yourself. This is probably the most important tip of all. It’s easy to be hard on yourself when you make a mistake. But it’s important to remember that everyone makes mistakes—even the best athletes in the world. So cut yourself some slack, every now and then.
- Focus on the process. When you’re caught up in perfectionism, it’s easy to get bogged down in the details and lose sight of the big picture. Instead of worrying about making every shot or getting every rep perfect, focus on the process of training and playing. Trust that if you work hard and focus on the right things, the results will take care of themselves.
- Remember that mistakes are part of the game. This is a big one. It’s important to remember that making mistakes is part of being an athlete—and it’s also part of life. Mistakes are how we learn and grow. So instead of beating yourself up over them, use them as an opportunity to learn and improve.
- Take a break occasionally. If you’re feeling really stressed out about your performance, it can be helpful to take a step back and take a break from training and competition for a little while. This can help you to reset mentally and come back refreshed and ready to perform at your best.
Perfectionism is a common issue among youth athletes, and it can be a stubborn one to get rid of. But it doesn’t have to be a roadblock to your athletic success. By setting realistic goals, talking to someone, and being kind to yourself, you can start to overcome your perfectionism and perform at your best.
Remember, everyone makes mistakes—even the best athletes in the world. And even they often feel the same pressures and anxieties that you do.
So cut yourself a little bit of slack. Focus on the process. Focus on becoming faster and stronger. Trust that if you truly work hard, the results will take care of themselves.