Perfectionism: The need to be perfect /a strong intolerance for anything short of perfection is not always the athlete’s friend as it appears to be. On the surface, striving for perfection or to be the best seems like a pretty positive trait to have. It helps you set big goals and then motivates you to go after them. The drive to be perfect also motivates you to look for imperfections in your technique and performance, thus helping you to actually get better. The perfectionist athlete is never satisfied with his performance and therefore constantly looks for ways to improve. On the surface, this seems like a pretty good trait to have if you have big dreams that you want to turn into a reality.
The problem arises when your perfectionism gets away from you. When your drive to be perfect prevents you from appreciating what you’ve already accomplished your perfectionism is out of control. When your need to be perfect blinds you from seeing that your last performance was actually a good one or when it causes you to obsess about one minor mistake and thus lose perspective of the entire performance, then you know that your need to be perfect has turned against you. When your coaches, friends or parents tell you that you did well and you are absolutely convinced that they are all wrong, this is yet another clue that your perfectionism is out of control.
While it’s fine to strive to be perfect, to do everything in your power to improve as much as you can, it’s a huge NO, NO to expect it! If you expect perfection every time you go to compete, then you should plan on spending a lot of time frustrated and disappointed!
Perfectionism sets up a vicious cycle in athletes that will kill your joy and ultimately lead to performance problems and burn out. When you come up short, you’ll tend to respond to yourself with anger and impatience. This kills the natural joy that should be there whenever you practice and compete. In response to this frustration, you’ll tend to try even harder, placing greater expectations to be perfect on yourself for the next time that you perform. With all of this self-imposed pressure, your next performance will be sub-par at best, triggering even more frustration and self-directed anger. With each successive bad performance, your enjoyment will diminish even more and you will begin to lose your confidence. Soon your frustration will erode your motivation and you’ll start to question why you’re even bothering competing in the sport in the first place.
The other nasty thing that perfectionism does is it tends to rob you of the opportunity to feel good about what you did do well. If you’re always looking for things wrong and, in your mind, whatever you do is never good enough, then you’ll never have a chance to appreciate those times when you did play well. The games when you’re “on” tend to feed your self-confidence. However, if you always interpret these performances as negative or “not good enough,” then you lose a valuable opportunity to build self-confidence.