Social Approval in Sports
If you perform well in practice, but in competition feel like a different person, this says that you can benefit from sports psychology coaching. The inability to take your practice game to competition is a sign that you are not feeling confident or comfortable in competition. From my perspective, you have to determine how your mindset changes in the game.
For many athletes, they become distracted when others are watching them compete, which means the presence of others changes how they think and perform. Your anxiety and tension may increase when you perform in the presence of others, such as scouts or parents, and this leads to a lack of focus. All this leads to the fear of failure and worrying about playing up to others’ expectations.
So if this is indeed the case, what is the solution?
One sports psychology strategy is to stop caring about what others think about your performance. Easier said than done, right? Most fear of failure is driven by how you think others perceive you. Most of the time it has to do with gaining acceptance, being well-liked, wanting respect, or just not wanting to let others down. The bottom line is that you have to go into a cocoon when in a game and not let your focus drift outside of what is happening on the field.
For example, a pitcher needs to focus on the task of pitching, not outcomes. Much of the stress players feel comes from paying too much attention to results and worrying about the what ifs; the classic fear of failure syndrome. When you are motivated by the fear of losing or not embarrassing yourself, you are handcuffed before you even get on the mound. You need to learn how to focus on one pitch at a time and let go of the “what ifs.”
If you have fear of failure, most sports psychology experts would agreed that you should practice in conditions that mimic competition. One approach is to practice in a way that simulates the real competition. Many teams do this type of simulation training to get athletes prepared for the real thing.
Practice is most effective if you can mimic the conditions you will be faced with in competition—so you will be ready for anything. This means you should practice when significant others are watching you and get used to refocusing your attention when you start mind reading (worrying about what others think).
Another sports psychology strategy is to perform as if you do not care.
Sometimes athletes care too much about their sport performance, as if it is life or death. In practice, most people don’t have any cares or worries about performance, they don’t feel judged, and are able to play free without anxiety. Try less or the same amount you “try” in practice. Are you being too serious at game time? Embrace the feelings you get in a game and use it to help you focus better.
Most sports require you have a game plan or strategy for how to approach the competition.
Baseball players, for example, have an at-bat plan, football teams have a game plan, golfers have a strategy to play the golf course, race car drivers have a race plan, and you too should have a strategy for how to approach each game. It may be a simple plan that says you will commit yourself to throwing each pitch – no second-guessing.
I am convinced that a person’s expectations can have a huge impact on their performance. If you label yourself as a “choker,” you will play to this standard. If you think you will choke on the mound and will probably do it again, you are done before you even start.
I call this a self-limiting label of generalization. Based on a few starts where you did not perform up to you ability, you generalize that this is ALWAYS the case, especially if you have a shaky or slow start in the first inning. You must start thinking like a champion would. How would you approach the game if you were to think like a champion? I hope these sports psychology strategies can help you overcome the fear of failure.
Want more tips to improve your mindset for sports? Download a free PDF sports psychology report.
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