Does Perfectionism Sabotage Athletes?
Is being a perfectionist a good thing?
Does perfectionism help an athlete strive for more?
Many elite athletes call themselves perfectionists. In fact, many Olympians and top-level professionals attribute their success to being perfectionists.
Well, you can’t argue with success, right? If a gold-medalist or an All-Star believes perfectionism helped them achieve the pinnacle of their sport, then shouldn’t all athletes seek the same perfectionist mindset?
On the flip-side of the coin, there are countless athletes who talk about how the pursuit of perfection caused them overwhelming anxiety and eventually lead them to quit their sport.
So the debate rages on… But we know that perfectionism has it’s advantages and disadvantages.
Texas Rangers pitcher Cole Hamels is a self-purported perfectionist. Hamels has been elected to four All-Star teams, was named World Series MVP (2008) and pitched a no-hitter and contributed to another no-hitter.
There is no denying that Hamels has been one of the best pitchers in baseball over the course of the last ten years. Hamels claims that perfectionism is the key to his career success.
HAMELS: “[Perfectionism] can get you in trouble, but that’s who I am. Perfectionism is the way to push yourself to the next level.”
Next level success is what all athletes desire.
Hamels goes on to say…
HAMELS: “On top of that, the guys I played with in Philly were just so good that I had to keep grinding away, and that definitely is a contributing factor. I’m the one who has to look at myself in the mirror and ask if I’ve put in all the work to get myself better, because no one else is going to do that for you.”
The second part of Hamels’ quote does not sound like perfectionism at all. “Grinding away” and “putting in the work to get better” are the antithesis of perfectionism–what I call performing functionally.
The term that successful athletes use is what trips up younger athletes. When successful athletes talk of perfectionism, what they really mean is striving to get better or a daily commitment to improve.
In reality, perfectionism is a trap that leads to under performing, unrealistic expectations, anxiety, fear of failure and frustration in your sport.
Perfectionism is not an achievable goal and it leaves you feeling like a failure.
Imagine having high expectations for each season and missing it every single time… How would you feel?
Constant failure to achieve expectations leads athletes to feel like they’re failing. This is why athletes give up, put in less effort and eventually quit competing in their sport.
So is being a perfectionist a good thing? Not when it comes to competition!
Adopt the philosophy of getting better each day. When you do, each step of the way will grow your confidence and lead to even better performance.
A Tip to Develop the “Strive for Better” Approach to Performance:
Identify small daily goals… “What can I do today, that can help me be better than yesterday?”
Small steps forward amount to long-term improvement.
Don’t think you have to be drastically better than yesterday. Many athletes fall into that trap.
Let go of the need to be perfect or have others see your performance as perfect when you perform in competition.
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