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Pros and Cons of Being A Perfectionist in Sports

Many coaches and parents know young athletes who are too hard on themselves. They criticize themselves for making mistakes, often hold very high expectations for themselves, and get frustrated easily after making mistakes. These are the boys and girls that get upset when they miss a basket, don't get a hit in baseball or softball, or drop a pass in football. They're perfectionists. They haven't yet developed the understanding of how success and failure works, how they compliment each other, and how often athletes actually fail.

Dr. Patrick Cohn is a leading sport psychologist and he has published information on this topic.

On the positive side, these perfectionist athletes typically have a strong work ethic, are committed to their goals, and want to learn and improve. In fact, most athletes display at least some 'perfectionist' traits from time to time.

It's not always easy for perfectionist athletes to perform up to their abilities. 

When kids try to be perfect, they can undermine their own talents quickly. They hold strict expectations about their performance, are afraid of failing, and worry too much about results--statistics, goals scored or wins.

If your young athlete is a perfectionist, begin by identifying the traits that may be sabotaging his or her confidence in competition. 

  • Does your child want to win so badly that he feels anxious?

  • Is your athlete afraid of failing or losing? 

  • Does he or she play tentatively during games?

  • Does your athlete try too hard and then over-control his or her performance? 

One Important Task For Parents To Help Their Athlete with Perfectionism

Parents with perfectionist athletes should help kids identify their high (often unrealistic) expectations about how they should perform. Then help your child replace these expectations with simple process goals. 

For example, say your athlete believes he or she should hit every shot perfectly. Suggest that your child replace his or her "I must hit every shot perfectly" mindset with these simple process cues or objectives:

  1. Pick the right target for each shot

  2. Be decisive

  3. Be confident. 

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