Perfection in sport – Why this should be avoided

If you were to ask any young athlete how they aimed to get to the top of their game, the majority of them would say they need to be the best.

They would explain how they would need to perfect every skill, train harder than everyone else and not have any weaknesses. But is that right? Is it better to have the correct mind set instead?

The reason for my questions is that in this era of perfectionism there is a worry that rising athletes focus too much on the physical aspect and less on the mental game. This can lead to a greater sense of failure if they don’t progress as they feel they should, or they have a bad game.

Being human and making mistakes in sport is something that every athlete needs to accept. No one will ever have the perfect game. It is therefore important to develop your mental game, so you are better equipped to deal with upsets. It can be frustrating, heart breaking and embarrassing to watch a young athlete struggle and even act out after a mistake. As a coach, teacher or team mate it is important to recognise these behaviours – this athlete has begun to attach their identity to their achievements, or failures. It is important to encourage a process orientated focus rather than one of perfection.

A recent article by Amanda Ruggeri says that unfortunately perfectionism is on the rise. Her article for the BBC highlights, “Perfectionism, after all, is an ultimately self-defeating way to move through the world. It is built on an excruciating irony: making, and admitting, mistakes is a necessary part of growing and learning and being human. It also makes you better at your career and relationships and life in general. By avoiding mistakes at any cost, a perfectionist can make it harder to reach their own lofty goals.”

Sport in its essence provides an outlet. It is a way to relax, meet like-minded people and learn new skills. If the focus is swayed from this then sport can quickly change to a source of high anxiety and promote a win at all costs mentality.

Goal setting and a desire to progress to the top is vital in the pursuit of elite sport – however instead of chasing perfection, young athletes should be encouraged to chase excellence. The difference is the inclusion of the human factor! Acceptance of this element means that the athlete can focus on comparing their performances to previous exertions and looking to work on their personal game, as opposed to perfection.

If this is supported with praise and encouragement based on effort instead of outcomes, then we can look to change the young athletes’ values. We can develop a growth mind set alongside a strong work ethic. This puts the control on the athlete as everything is process orientated.

My favourite saying is ‘No one remembers a mistake if you work hard afterwards to rectify it. Your mistakes will be magnified if you spend time highlighting them.’

At TEAM Sports Travel we are passionate about everything related to sport! We understand the importance of athlete progression, and support to correct channels and networks to bring the best out of them. Our sports tours are personalised to enable all teams to grow and flourish. Our pro-led sessions are process orientated to allow all athletes to improve their game. If you would like to speak to one of our sales team, please contact us on info@teamsportstravel.co.uk

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