I firmly believe that this data can cross over with athletes. In my experiences as a coach and working with athletes in therapy, I’ve encountered athletes who are perfectionists. These athletes often seem to experience higher levels of anxiety and inner turmoil when they fail, lose a game, and/or do not perform up to their expectations. If you read my previous blog regarding anxiety and negative self-talk, you might have a better understanding why anxiety often leads to more failure.
A form of therapy gaining popularity is called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. One component of this form of treatment is called self-forgiveness, which encourages clients to “cut them self a break” when they make mistakes. Think of it this way: when a close friend makes a mistake, be it social/interpersonal, academic, or sport-related, you would respond by offering support. You might normalize the mistake by sharing a similar experience and letting him/her know that it happens to everyone. You might try to diminish their emotional pain through minimizing the mistake by saying, ”It’s not a big deal, this kind of thing happens all of the time.” However we, as humans, are our own harshest critics. We are so quick to comfort a friend and forgive them for a mistake, but we rarely use this strategy with ourselves. Think about how much more confident and happy you might be on the field/track/court if you could make a mistake, forgive yourself, and move on. Unfortunately, most of us refuse self-forgive, resulting in negative self-talk, increased anxiety, less enjoyment on the field, and decreased performance.
I have yet to meet a perfect athlete and I know I never will. This statement is true because sports are full of failures. Eric Savage, a brilliant person (which is difficult for me to say) and former coach at Swarthmore College constantly said, ”Soccer is a series of successes and failures, and the failures often outnumber the successes.” This comment is so true in all sports; however athletes, coaches, parents, and fans fail to accept it by demanding perfection.
This is no truer than in the Philadelphia area. As a die-hard Eagles fan I (as well as the rest of the fan base) am quick to boo whenever a mistake is made. It is so easy to expect athletes to be perfect every time they perform. But in
reality this is ludicrously unrealistic. I’ve recently been thinking about a possible connection with this concept and when the Flyers biggest problem over the past 20 years in the playoffs has been goal tending. It might have something
to do with the likelihood of them becoming the scapegoat after one poor performance. I cannot imagine the negative mindset that could emerge for these goalies.
The point is that athletes need to work at forgiving or cutting themselves a break when they fail. This adds credence to the idea that the most successful athletes are the ones with the shortest memory. When an athlete cannot accept
that he/she will repeatedly fail they end up creating a detrimental sense of anxiety. Whereas, athletes who accept failure as a normal part of their athletic career tend to feel more confident and happier about playing, ultimately leading
to better performances. If you have seen my presentation on mental toughness, you have probably seen this clip, which illustrates the main point of this blog.