One of the more common, yet costly mental mistakes that athletes make is to go into a competition carrying their expectations. “I want to win, beat this opponent, go 3 for 4, score 17 points, pitch a shut-out, prove to the coach that I should be the starter,” etc. Your expectations and the fear that you might not realize them, i.e. the “what if’s” will guarantee that you always play tight and tentatively, a mere shadow of your potential!
Your expectations make the present performance too important to you. They will create a sense of urgency inside and pressure that you experience with self-talk like “I have to,” “I’ve got to,” “I need to,” and “Oh my God, What if I don’t?” This pressure will tighten your muscles, choke off your breathing and insure you under-achieve.
I got a phone call yesterday from a talented boxer who was struggling with a “mental block.” Her block was an inability to box in fights the way she did in practice. When she sparred, she was loose and relaxed and executed the way she was supposed to. However, in the ring, under those hot lights and in front of an audience, she was way off, complaining about feeling slow, tired and ineffectual. Her won-loss record reflected this as she seemed to lose to lesser talented boxers.
Before each of her fights she’d think, “I have to win! I’ve got to beat this opponent! I need this victory to help me get a bigger payday and move up in the rankings!” All expectations! At times before she fought she’d tell her trainer, “Please, don’t let me fail! Don’t let me fail!” This kind of pre-performance focus on the outcome (i.e expectations) will always crank up the nervousness an athlete experiences and lead them to a very disappointing finish.
Your expectations have no place in a competition. NONE WHAT-SO-EVER! You need to get in the habit of leaving them at home whenever you step onto the court, course or field to compete. If performing well and winning is critically important to you, then the time to think about that and your expectations is when you practice. In fact, your expectations should be what fuels you to practice hard and consistently. Expectations, i.e. what you hope to accomplish are your source of motivation, like goals. This is their only constructive value.
When the pressure to produce is turned up high, your focus of concentration needs to be on what’s right in front of you, in the moment and NOT on what’s at the end of the performance, an expected outcome. Keeping your concentration in the moment will help keep you relaxed and loose, enabling you to pay close attention to the important performance cues as they unfold in the competition, moment by moment.
Go into a performance with expectations and I guarantee you that you’ll come out of that performance with DISAPPOINTMENT. However, if you go into the performance without expectations, without a focus on the outcome of either what you want to happen at the end or what you’re afraid will happen, then the emotion that greets you at the end is PLEASANT SURPRISE.