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Is it Perfection, Afraid to Fail, or Afraid to Prevail?

By Rochelle Long, MA, LMHC, 04/12/17, 1:15PM PDT


Special to WWFHA, pro-staffer Rochelle Long, MA, LMHC in Sports Mental Training

Many athletes feel the need to be perfect, afraid to show their weaknesses, or fear being too successful and keeping up with that expectation. Have you ever wondered why your athlete (or yourself) does well during training sessions, and either blends in or bombs during their game?  Many people (especially parents) ask why?

As usual there is no easy answer. However, the majority of athletes I have worked with have told me when they are at practice or training, they are relaxed, no pressure, and have fun.  While during games, these same athletes that shine during training, face challenges during their games.

For example, one baseball pitcher told me he could throw a 90 mph pitch during practice, yet during a game his speed averaged 80 mph.  He also said he knew how to adjust his pitches during practices and training, yet had a hard time during games.

Another athlete that is an ice hockey goalie said she could 'shut them down' (average percentage was 92%) during practice or pond hockey, however, during games, her average percentage was 78%.

A high school track athlete said he could run the 1200 in 4:52 during practice, however, at meets he could not break 6 minutes.

A hockey player was trying out for an elite team, and during tryouts he blended in with everyone else (82 others); while during practices, and scrimmage games he stood out with his quick skating, and puck handling. Yet, he under-performed at the tryouts and was cut first round.

While these above averages are good for athletes, the question is why did their performance decrease during their game, meet, or tryouts?  How did they perform at optimum level during practices and not have this follow into their games?  Will they be able to perform like this during a game or tryouts when they feel under pressure? 

There is a lot of research that suggests some athletes feel the pressure, and the mind and body have a disconnect. Think about it, and we most likely have all been there. Think back when you studied hard for an exam, test, rehearsal, etc. and felt prepared. The big day comes, and you barely remember your name and ultimately fail your exam or do not make the play. What happened?  FEAR is what happened. Majority of us are not aware that FEAR crept in and stole our confidence resulting in failure. 

Afraid to Fail?

Many athletes are afraid to fail or make a mistake, so instead these athletes either blend in with others so they do not stand out (and this is unconscious) or they completely lose it or give up when they feel they are not performing well.  This is frustrating for athletes and their support team who know their potential.

Failure will either make you a better player/person, or allow you to continue to perform below your potential. Athletes can either embrace their failures, learn from them, and continue to work through their mental road blocks by figuring out what they are and how to defeat them; or athletes will continue to fail and blame others, weather conditions, etc. about their own performance.

Some athletes may succumb to failure, while other athletes rise to the occasion and overcome these failures head on. This all comes down to the athlete’s desire and ability to learn from their mistakes, take constructive criticism from their coaches, relax during performance time, and find what works for them. If an athlete chooses to not embrace their fears, they will either stay stagnant, or their performance will eventually decrease. 

Afriad to Prevail?

Why would anyone be afraid to prevail?  Many athletes have faced many fears, have stood out majority of their athletic career, and then something happens (an injury, steak of bad games, personal life, etc), and these athletes 'lose their game.'  Or they fear this may happen so they play cautiously rather than give their all.

Athletes that fear to succeed are usually combating in their own mind they are afraid to disappoint themselves and others if they have an 'off-day, off-week, month, etc.  Although most of us know this happens naturally in life (growth spurts, hormones, personal, injuries, etc.), this fear is real and usually the athlete is not even aware this is happening. Have you heard of 'self fulfilling prophecy?'  

"Self-fulfilling prophecy are effects in behavioral confirmation effect, in which behavior, influenced by expectations, causes those expectations to come true" (  Other words, athletes begin to believe they are going to perform poorly, therefore they do.  Some athletes like to believe this in hopes they will perform well, however, if they don't they will not be disappointed (yet, we all know they still will be).   

Athletes can overcome this fear once they identify what their fear is, and find ways to overcome the hurdles that are blocking them from truly believing in their performance, and finding peace that they can learn from their failures and find success.

As you read this article, and possibly identify (for you or someone you know) with some, or all of it, find a professional sports mental coach that will help identify the road blocks, and help guide you over these hurdles; success is just around the corner. It is not about the physical (that is solely the physical effort you put in), it is about the mental ability to believe in yourself, allow yourself to prevail, and find comfort knowing every time you train, or play, you are giving 110% effort. If you can truly say "I did my best (and truly did...only you will know)" you will be successful regardless if you play sports for leisure, or elite.  As this quote says, "I do not lose, either I win, or I learn."

-- by Rochelle Long, MA, LMHC in Sports Mental Training

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Special to WWFHA, pro-staffer Rochelle Long, MA, LMHC in Sports Mental Training

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