Coaching the Young, Perfectionist Athlete

By: John Ellsworth 1


"Athletes or parents who demand high levels of performance are rarely satisfied with incremental levels of performance achievement because the standard of acceptable performance has been set extremely high. When the “expected” result is not achieved, they can be very self-critical and display perfectionist traits. Perfectionistic athletes get frustrated easily after making mistakes, engage in negative self-talk, are focused on results or outcomes, and can often miss the joy that comes from playing their sport.

Although these athletes have an incredibly strong work ethic, are highly motivated, committed to their goals, and want nothing more than to learn and improve, they cannot see the forest for the trees. In fact, most athletes display some ""perfectionistic"" traits in their athletic careers. That is not to say that perfectionism is all bad. On the contrary some levels of perfectionistic thinking can be helpful. For this article, however we will focus on the aspects of perfectionism that impede performance.

Perfectionistic athletes are blocked from performing up to their abilities by their extremely high performance with little room for error causing them to fear failure. They worry too much about pleasing others, are anxious and stressed out or allow statistics and winning to become most important. Perfectionists believe performance results are what make them ""good & valued"" human beings, and that others will respect them more if they perform to the highest levels.

It is important to identify the traits that may be blocking confidence, performance success, and enjoyment in sports. In a recent performance did you or your child want to win so badly that the pressure and stress of this demand caused anxiousness at crucial points in the game? At critical times, does the athlete play tentatively, with caution, and appear unsure about the next move? Are you aware that trying too hard sabotages a performance? Is practice an exercise in being perfect or in learning how to execute? Does the athlete practice hours and hours without achieving “expected” success?

Parents or perfectionistic athletes who are uncomfortable with their performance levels try too hard to adhere to the demands of others and set unrealistic goals for their actual skill level. In essence, does the challenge they are attempting to master match up with the athletes skill level.? The key is to replace these ""demanding"" expectations with simple, challenging, and achievable process goals that enhance self-esteem, build confidence, and are designed to improve performance incrementally.

If the athlete believes he or she should pitch to win every game, you might suggest the athlete replace the demand ""I must win every game"" mind set with simple process oriented objectives: 1) Focus on the target every pitch, 2) Commit to being in the present one pitch at a time, 3) Believe you can execute each pitch.

To learn more about ""perfectionism,"" how to help the athlete confront it, and replace it with healthy strategies for success, please send me an email with your questions.

You will learn strategies to help: 1) Decide when pressure is too much, 2) Motivate athletes to master their sport, 3) Kids feel confident in sports and athletics, 4) Athletes reduce the worry and anxiety about performance, 5) Your athletes cope with anger, frustration, and stress in sports, 6) Understand what happens when athletes are burned out, 7) When the coach is very demanding, 8) Parents to communicate with their young athletes, 9) Learn more about what they have in their control, and 9) Athletes after a defeat or mistake.
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John Ellsworth brings a multifaceted approach to the mental aspects of sports and health. Combined with his expertise in clinical and applied www.protexsports.com ">sports psychology, John has extensive experience coaching, teaching, and consulting with serious athletes of all ages. For more information visit: www.www.protexsports.com ">protexsports.com

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