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Article: The Imperfections of Perfectionism: 1 Related Resources
© Patrick J. Cohn, Ph.D.

Persistence, determination, and a strong work ethic are excellent qualities to possess in any endeavor. But in sports, if taken to an extreme these same qualities that help you raise your game to the next level can also cause failure. Most perfectionistic athletes are dedicated to an extreme level, and this can interfere with reaching peak performance. Players who set their goals too high and expect too much run the risk of trying too hard, being too controlled and reaching burnout.

Most perfectionistic players learn early in life that hard work and effort are the keys to success. A perfectionist sets extremely high goals and has very high expectations. When this person fails or can't attain his or her goals, frustration occurs and he or she increases effort and determination. Soon, the athlete wants to succeed so badly that he or she fears failure and is caught in a web of anxiety.

A perfectionist has good intentions but an ineffective attitude. Many sports foster perfectionism, yet as human beings we are not perfect, and can't be perfect. Sports involves the ability to react appropriately to mistakes and manage yourself well. In this article, I present some ideas for dealing with perfectionism.

1. Throw Away Your Expectations. Expectations can do more harm than good. You don't want to expect to perform poorly, but you shouldn't expect too much from yourself. Placing high expectations on yourself puts you in a win-lose or success-failure situation. If you don't reach your expectations, you view your effort as a failure. Setting attainable goals for yourself is a better option.

2. Emphasize Fun, not Winning. The anxiety you experience partially results from an overemphasis on winning or beating others. Everybody is trying to win and you can't control the outcome of a game. Your competitive goal should be to play for fun and the enjoyment of the game. This is easier said than done for athletes who constantly tie themselves up in knots because the try too hard to play well.

3. Don't Dwell on Mistakes. If you are a perfectionist, you spend most of your time dwelling on your mistakes and weaknesses. This is unhealthy for your self-confidence and doesn't let you enjoy your sport. Dwelling on your weaknesses and errors sends a message to yourself that you are never good enough. You are not a failure, you just choose to think more about your faults. You have to make the choice to think about positive aspects of your game and remember the what you did well instead of replaying the poor plays or events over and over.

4. Give Yourself Permission to Make Mistakes. Perfectionists think that anything less than a flawless performance is a failure. You have to accept that you are human and you will make mistakes just like everyone else. Sometimes it helps to give yourself permission to make mistakes. You're not perfect and even the best athletes make mistakes. Allowing yourself to make an error helps you play on after that first error without having it ruin your game.

5. Try Less. Most hard-working athletes think that the harder they try, the better they will play. Trying hard in most sports is an ineffective attitude. The harder you try, the more you interfere with your coordination. When you press, you usually tense-up, overcontrol, and over control your performances. To perform your best, you need to let it happen rather than make it happen. Try less, you may surprise yourself.

Dr. Patrick Cohn is a leading mental game coach, author, and professional speaker in the field of sports psychology. Visit for more info.
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