NEWS FLASH: You are not your performances. When you play well, this doesn’t mean that you are a better person than when you trip all over yourself and perform badly. The outcome of your game, match or race is nothing more than the outcome. It does not and should never make a statement about your self-worth as a person.
Unfortunately keeping your ego and self-worth out of the athletic arena is a whole lot easier said than done. As a serious athlete, your identity is largely tied up in your sport. You spend a large proportion of your time practicing and competing. You invest a tremendous amount of your physical and emotional energy in the process. You pride yourself on being a high achiever. People recognize you for what you’ve accomplished in your sport. Because of all of these investments, it is extremely difficult to separate your self-confidence and happiness as a person from your athletic performances.
Like most athletes, you probably feel great about yourself after a good game or practice. Similarly the frustration and disappointment from a poor performance seems to carry over into your non-sport related activities. When you struggle with a slump or losing streak the bad feelings tend to bleed into every other aspect of your life. Given this, it’s easy to make the mistake of believing that you are somehow worth more and are a much better person when you are successful and winning than when you’re struggling and losing.
Our winning crazed society certainly reinforces this destructive belief. We put our “great” athletes up on pedestals based mainly on their winning, not on their character, integrity, generosity, honesty or other important qualities of good human beings. We overlook their faults, rationalize away their bad behaviors and make them our heroes as long as they continue to win. Similarly, when these athletes start to stumble and fall, performance-wise, we dismiss them as “losers,” “has been,” “over-rated” or “all washed up.” It’s no wonder that athletes make the mistake of treating themselves in this very same way: i.e. when you win, you’re a winner and when you lose, you’re a loser.
Here’s the problem with this equation: If your ego or self-worth is on the line every time that you compete, if you measure your value as a person solely on how well you throw a baseball, swing a tennis racquet, swim a 200 IM or catch a football, then you will end up being a very unhappy camper a lot of the time. Whenever you compete, you will always have too much to lose. By making your performances too important in this way, you will continually feel a lot of pressure to win. You will also tend to worry too much about losing. Having this kind of outcome focus whenever you compete will actually sabotage your performances and lead to choking.
Let’s try to keep this sport thing in perspective. Being an athlete is only one part of who you actually are. You are also a son or daughter, big brother or sister, student, mentor, parent, spouse, musician, worker, etc. So what really makes you a winner? Being a great athlete is a very shallow and narrow way to measure whether you’re a winner or not. Who you are as a person in the world, interacting with others is a far more important way to determine your real character and self-worth.
So the next time you step up to the line to compete, leave your pride/ego/self-worth at home. When you do this you’ll end up feeling more relaxed, having more fun and therefore, playing much more to your potential.