#44: Overcoming the Fear of Success in Athletes

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After my senior year in high school, I quit playing volleyball. 

It was a shock to many of my coaches, teammates, and parents. Mostly because I was destined to play in college, somewhere. 

There was pressure coming from all directions to be successful at the next level. It wasn’t a matter of if I was going to play in college, it was where. 

This seems like an athlete’s dream, right? In fact, I’ve worked with hundreds of athletes that have their sights set on competing in college. 

But as a 17 year old, I was struggling with a fear that I haven’t been able to fully understand until I became a Confidence Coach for female athletes. 

Yet, now that I am aware of it, I can see how clearly it was controlling me (and how it controls many of the athletes I work with today!)

What is it? Fear of success

Sounds crazy, but you’d be surprised how many female athletes are held back by the fear of their own success. 

Personally, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to live up to the expectation that others had of me in their minds. 

And it wasn’t until I embraced and moved past this fear that I was able to finish out my career as a successful (and happy!) collegiate volleyball player. 

Below I dive into what this fear is, how to spot it, and mindset shifts to help athletes move through it. 

What is Fear of Success?

First, we need to examine what “success” is in the eyes of many female athletes. 

Success could mean:

–   Being good (and maybe better than teammates/opponents)

–   Getting recognition

–   Achieving new levels or playing on higher teams

–   Being a bigger contributor on the team (scoring the most points, making the plays, etc)

These all sound like good things, right? They are, but in many female athlete’s minds, these successes can also mean…

–   Being expected to live up to a new standard, and fear of failure if the expectation is not met

–   Jealousy from teammates

–   More work

–   More pressure to perform

It can feel overwhelming and cause athletes to shut down before they even start, stopping them in their tracks and preventing them from reaching potential. 

What Does Fear of Success Look Like?

For many athletes that struggle with fear of success, it can look like:

– Hesitating: When competing, they don’t “go for it,” but rather play it safe, don’t take the shot, and second-guess themselves.

– Not giving their all: Athletes don’t give all they have in training or competition because they are afraid of the standard they’ll set for themselves if they do. 

– Quitting/Losing Motivation: Avoiding or quitting the sport all together can be a side-effect to avoid the pressure and expectations

– Procrastination/Avoidance of Training: Similar to losing motivation, athletes who procrastinate or avoid training relating to their sport could be struggling with a fear of success

Strategies to Overcome Fear of Success:

Much of overcoming this fear includes shifting athlete’s mindsets and creating new thoughts and stories around their success. Here are three ways:

1. Realize that more damage is done by avoiding success

I love this quote by Marianne Williamson: 

“​​Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.”

When we dim our light and avoid success by hesitating, holding back, quitting, and avoiding, we rob ourselves and those around us of our power. 

Many times female athletes think that by dimming their light, they are making others feel better (not outshining them), or making it easier for themselves. 

In reality, they are missing an opportunity to inspire and be the best versions of themselves, always settling below their potential. 

2. Understand that being great doesn’t mean being perfect

Many times, athletes avoid success because they feel it adds another layer of pressure on them to perform perfectly. They feel like if they don’t live up to the expectation, they are letting themselves and others down. 

Being perfect isn’t attainable (nor is it wanted). As Dr. Pippa Grange says: 

“Success comes from trying, extending yourself, and taking risks, which means that, inevitably, you will fail along the way. And you will fail often. Yes, everyday of your life you’ll win some and lose some.”

In order to succeed, we have to embrace failure along the way. The quicker athletes realize and accept this, the faster they can allow themselves to achieve success without the pressure of needing to be perfect.

3. Ask Yourself: What story do you want to write?

We have the power to create and change our stories. It’s important that athletes decide what story they want to create for themselves. 

Athletes: Would you rather look back and see that you took the safe path, didn’t push the limits, and made others comfortable?

Or would you rather look back and see that you stepped into your greatness. Pushed the limits, leaned into the discomfort, allowed yourself to risk it all to find out how good you could truly be?

As a result of this, maybe you are able to truly see how strong you are. Maybe you get that scholarship you’ve been dreaming about. Maybe you do a skill you never thought you’d be able to do.

You truly never know unless you allow yourself to see what’s on the other side.

Write your own story.

There you have it. The fear of success is very real for many female athletes. It’s one I’ve battled as an athlete and still struggle with from time to time as a business owner and entrepreneur. 

It’s important that our athletes are able to recognize when this is happening and shift their mindset to move past it. 


Helpful Links:

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