Perfectionism is often revered in our culture and can be a good thing in small, healthy doses.
All too often though, we see athletes who aim to do everything flawlessly and are not happy unless they play the game perfectly.
Traits of perfectionism often include being overly critical in self-evaluation, setting excessively high achievement standards and feeling like a failure if certain levels of success are not achieved.
What goes along with the belief that you can be perfect is the thought that you can always be doing something “better” or “doing more.”
Perfectionists are great at seeing details, but have an inner critic than tends to find flaws in everything, especially themselves.
Research shows people who have a daily mission of perfection, can suffer from depression, anxiety and body image dissatisfaction.
Perfectionists can use their desire to get things “just right” to set goals and push themselves harder in practice, but it’s got to stop at game time.
Most elite athletes possess perfectionist tendencies and have learned to use those traits to their advantage when it comes to practice and training. But this is the key…they learn to put perfectionism aside on game day and instead focus on the task at hand and their love of the game.
When an athlete is a slave to perfection, it usually causes them to get angry with themselves.
Why? Because if you set too high expectations and goals for yourself and you don’t reach the mark, then you invariably end up frustrated and upset. Which typically messes up your focus and concentration and leads to a loss of confidence and beating yourself up.
So if this sounds all too familiar, I am going to give you some techniques that will help you in overcoming perfectionism.
Set smaller short-term performance goals
Set mini goals that are a stretch to achieve, but are doable.
For example, for a soccer player it could be, “I’m going to dominate the player I’m marking today”. A baseball player could say “I will bat 400 for the next 5 games”. Or maybe for a swimmer or track athlete, “I will hit personal best times in 2 out of 3 events this next meet“.
Love of the game
Your mind and body works best when you allow yourself to play, to move and to think with a mindset dedicated to fun and freedom.
Take some time to review and ideally write down what makes playing your sport fun. See if you can create a picture of yourself enjoying all the things you love in your mind.
For example, laughing with your teammates, feeling the great feeling of being outside and the warm sun giving you energy and clarity, your body feeling strong and loose.
You get the idea. You need to see, feel and hear the fun and build it up in your mind. Make it big, bold and bright and practice it daily in training so it become ingrained in your mind and body.
Thinking this way will keep you feeling light and loose and full of energy.
Let no one knock you off your game
You are in charge of keeping your loose, fun, confident attitude – not your teammates, not the coaches, not the opposing team, not the crowds, not the weather.
Take responsibility for your thinking!
Accept it now. Playing sports is a game of mistakes. Typically, but not always, whoever makes the least mistakes wins. But you can forget perfection, it just doesn’t exist. It is normal to slip-up, make mistakes and even choke.
I bet you can’t name a top athlete, who is perfect. So to let go of perfectionism, you have to accept the fact that you will make mistakes and embrace that as much as you love the game and winning.
Have you heard of the Serenity Prayer?
“Accept the things you cannot change, change the things you can and have the wisdom to know the difference.”
It’s about striving for the feeling of completeness from giving it your all, rather than faultlessness.
Wendy Lynne, Director of Mental Toughness Academy. The Academy’s online Mental Toughness Training helps kids build confidence, focus, determination and the ability to bounce back from adversity – what they call Mental Toughness.