#19: 3 Strategies For Athletes Who Are Too Hard On Themselves

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I have yet to meet a female athlete that doesn’t struggle with some aspect of perfectionism. 

It’s pretty common, in fact. Athletes want to do well. They want to constantly be improving. They want to hit new levels of performance. 

This is all GREAT and necessary. However, there’s a fine line between healthy striving and the unrealistic expectations that come with perfectionism. 

Below, you’ll learn the difference as well as three key steps to help athletes shift from perfectionism to having a healthy relationship with striving. 

The Difference Between Perfectionism and “High Standards”

Oftentimes, athletes like to mask their perfectionism behind having “high standards” or goals for themselves.

They think that if they aren’t relentlessly hard on themselves and aiming for perfection, they won’t perform well or improve. 

When, in fact, the opposite happens. The need to be perfect and achieve unrealistic standards actually leaves athletes feeling less confident in their abilities when they fall short. 

Let’s break it down…

Perfectionism: an extremely rigid commitment to attaining high (often unrealistic) standards of performance, and becoming highly critical of oneself if standards aren’t achieved. 


  • Overly anxious or upset by mistakes
  • Chronic procrastination or difficulty finishing tasks
  • Easily frustrated or gives up easily
  • Chronic fear of embarrassment
  • Refusal to try new things
  • An “all or nothing” attitude
  • Meltdowns when things don’t go perfectly

At its core, perfectionism is a self-defeating way to move through the world because it leaves little room for mistakes. We know that mistakes help us get closer to our goals, therefore perfectionism actually gets in the way, rather than pushes us towards, what we want. 

Healthy Striving: Healthy striving on the other hand is the ability to set goals, work hard in the process to achieve them, and use the information to adjust course (rather than criticize and tear apart). 

There’s a BIG difference between perfectionism and healthy striving. Healthy striving is focused on the PROCESS of improving, whereas perfectionism is only concerned with the OUTCOME. 

Why is this important? If athletes are only focused on the outcome or expectation (especially an outcome that might be unrealistic or rigid), they will always tie their self-worth to that outcome and judge themselves as failures if they can’t meet it. 

If they are focused on the process to get them to where they want to be, there is freedom. They are in control, can adjust, and are always responding to feedback to get better! 

How do we help athletes make this shift from perfectionism to healthy striving?! Three steps…

1. Identify and discard strict or meaningless expectations

This is where I want athletes to physically write out and list all the expectations they have for themselves or that they feel from others (coaches, parents, teammates, crowd, etc). 

Now, after looking at that list, I want athletes to cross off any expectations that don’t matter to them. 

Then, circle the ones that DO matter. 

Finally – ask yourself – for the ones that are circled, are these realistic? Cross of the ones that aren’t (be honest). 

Often, we hold onto expectations for no reason, and when we actually get them out in front of us, we find they actually don’t matter and we can release them! 

2. Replace expectations with a process-oriented goal

The expectations that are left should be ones that are realistic and meaningful to the athlete. 

From here, we are going to focus on changing them to process-oriented goals. 

This means we need to take the expectation (or outcome) the athlete wants and break it into the process that will help her get there. THAT is where she will place her focus now, rather than the outcome. 

For example, “Score 15 points a match” is an expectation or outcome goal

We can change this to “Be open on offense” or “Get available for every set” to make it a process goal. 

Focusing on process goals can actually help athletes outperform their original outcome goal!

Do this for every expectation that is listed. 

3. Remove judgement from performance

Finally, remove judgement from performance. This is key! 

We want to CRITIQUE, not CRITICIZE performance. Athletes need to stick to the facts when evaluating how they performed, rather than judgements.

“I had a horrible game” is a judgement.

“I missed 3 serves” is a fact. 

Facts we can build on and work to improve. Judgements are emotional reactions and kill confidence. 

Remember, critique, not criticize. 

Bonus Tip!

We become, move towards, and create what we think about most. This can work both FOR and AGAINST our athletes. 

If our athletes are constantly looking to the past and beating themselves up for what they did wrong and never feeling good enough, then that’s the future they will create for themselves!

On the other hand, if our athletes have a vision of who they want to become, visualize it daily, and align their actions to that vision, they will be well on their way to reaching potential and handling setbacks as a way to propel them forward. 

One fun way we tap into this is through creating a vision board! We host a Bonus Vision Board Workshop with each new group in the Elite Competitor Program and the athletes love getting creative and seeing their goals and visions come to life in a way they can see daily. 

Helpful Links:

  • Download the free resources we’ve created for you
  •  Join us inside our FREE Facebook Group – The Elite Competitor Society – for weekly Q&A, periodic trainings and challenges, and the support of an amazing community of moms, coaches, and the men who partner with us!

The BEST way to help us spread the word and get this information into the hands of millions of parents, coaches, and female athletes is by leaving a rating and review on Apple Podcasts. Thank you in advance for joining us on our mission!

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