Signs your child is passionate about a sport can often be seen in the number of hours they spend playing, watching or talking about it. When this passion turns into an unrealistic drive to perfect their game – throwing a no hitter every game or sticking the landing at every competition – parents should help their athlete focus on setting goals rather than fixating on imperfections.
“Perfectionism in sports often looks very similar to perfectionism in school. It’s putting hours of work in on and off the field, and always finding little things to criticize themselves about,” said Allyson Weldon, PhD, sports psychologist at Akron Children’s. “Over time, these athletes can have a hard time identifying the good things they do in practices or games because they focus all their attention on mistakes, which causes frustration, stress and emotional duress.”
Sports are competitive by nature, but when kids put pressure on themselves to achieve perfection, it’s important parents step in to show encouragement and level-set expectations.
“Athletes often place pressure on themselves for fear of disappointing parents, coaches and teammates so it’s important people in their life praise them for their EFFORT and not just the outcome,” said Dr. Weldon. “As humans, we have a natural tendency to praise the outcome but this thinking can cause athletes to have a false belief that they are letting someone down if they don’t out perform others, win or come in first.”
To help an athlete overcome feelings of perfection, Dr. Weldon suggests a few tips to help parents and kids identify strengths and then frame the “negative” as the areas for growth.
- Set realistic, measurable and achievable goals to improve specific aspects of a game, which will also help improve an athlete’s mental and physical performance.
- Make short-term, mid-range and long-term goals to identify what athletes need to accomplish along the way to reach the big goal.
- Recognize the effort your athlete puts into her sport and celebrate small goal success, not just big wins or outcomes.
“The fact is, no one is perfect, and we’re all entitled to a ‘bad day.’ All athletes, at all playing levels, make mistakes and can have a bad game or season,” said Dr. Weldon. “Encouraging athletes to do their best may sound cliché, but it will help them achieve results and keep their love for the game.”
If you think your child is struggling to set realistic goals or is obsessing over their performance, talk with your child’s provider or find one at www.akronchildrens.org.