Perfectionism and Athletes

What is Perfectionism?

Many athletes share the drive to work hard and do their best. It’s normal and admirable to have a strong work ethic, and to succeed, athletes need to have a desire to improve. However, there’s a thin line between striving to be your best and striving for perfection.

It might seem like perfectionism is a tool that helps motivate you to work hard, but perfectionism can actually get in the way of your progress. Moreover, it gets more and more difficult to enjoy your sport when you’re constantly worried about messing up and when you rarely feel like you’re doing well enough. As a result, athletes who are perfectionists might have both low self-confidence and a tough time coping with mistakes. They might doubt themselves and put a lot of pressure on themselves to do well. Additionally, they might place more value on how they think others perceive them than on how they perceive themselves.

Symptoms of Perfectionism

It’s healthy to want to do well, but if you are dealing with the following symptoms, you might be experiencing perfectionism:

  • Feeling like you fail at everything you try
  • Procrastination — you push off tasks because you’re worried you won’t complete them perfectly
  • Struggling to relax
  • Finding it difficult to open up and share your thoughts/feelings
  • Needing to control everything in your environment, including your friendships/relationships
  • Obsession with rules, lists, sports, and school, OR extreme apathy, meaning you no longer care about your commitments

Causes of Perfectionism

The causes of perfectionism are not always clear. Often, a combination of factors contribute to someone feeling like they need to be perfect. Athletes in particular are prone to perfectionism because they’re often in environments that put a lot of pressure on them and hold them to high standards. Athletes are also prone to perfectionism because they tend to be motivated and a bit stubborn. As a result, they don’t like to fall short. Often, the combination of underlying personality traits and the competitive nature of sports environments brings out the perfectionism in athletes

Treatment for Perfectionism

Athlete preparing for the game lacing up cleats OCD & SuperstitionsPerfectionism itself can keep a lot of athletes from changing their perfectionistic thought patterns. For example, as a perfectionist, it might sound like the end of the world to share your thoughts and feelings with someone else. It might feel like you’re putting yourself at risk for being perceived as “not perfect.” Rather, vulnerability can help you reshape how you view yourself. Finding someone to confide in is a great first step. You can also practice a number of tools and techniques on your own to help you deal with perfectionism. Some of these tools include positive self-talk and relaxation techniques.

If you’re interested in meeting with a professional, look for someone who specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is often an effective treatment for athletes who are goal-oriented.

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Thomas Smalley Stretching an Athlete
Soccer players kicking a ball