The Confidence-Expectation Connection for Your Athletes

Youth Sports Psychology

Expectations in Young Athletes

Mary, a sports mom, says she’s at a loss about how to help her talented 16-year-old baseball player overcome his perfectionism and start playing well again.

“He has always been a very strong baseball player. He is a pitcher who hitters don’t like to face and a strong hitter. He pitched games where he would strike out 16 of the 18 batters he would face. He hit grand slams in close games. Until the age of 15 he had strong emotional command of his game, which made him perform consistently well,” she says.

Now comes the problem many perfectionists face.

“Last season and this season he has been such a perfectionist that he isn’t playing well at all. He thinks that others are expecting so much from him and he is letting them down. I’ve tried to tell him all the things that I’ve learned from your emails but he denies that he is being hard on himself… He loves baseball,” she says.

Often, when kids excel in sports, they start feeling as if they have to carry the team. They worry about letting down their teammates if they don’t perform up to unreasonably high expectations. This is a classic characteristic of perfectionism.

How can you help kids like this baseball player?

First of all, help your athletes identify their high expectations. These are the unwritten demands they have for their performance.

  • Do they expect to always be the highest scorer?
  • Do they feel as if it’s up to them to carry the team?
  • Do they have to perform at their peak all the time or they fold?

Next, explain that such high expectations only lead to frustration. Encourage your young athletes to focus on small objectives that help them focus on the process, rather than on the outcome. Some examples:

  • I’ll be a great team player today.
  • I’ll improve my rebounding.
  • I’ll focus on passing well to my teammates.

Next, watch what you say to your young athletes! Often, parents say things that makes kids’ adopt your expectations.

You may not mean to do this, but often, saying things like, “Go out there and score 10 goals!” or “I’m sure you’ll be the lead scorer today,” makes kids feel as if they have to achieve these high expectations. When they don’t, they get frustrated and their confidence and performance sinks.

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