Sports Psychology: Why High Expectations Causes a Loss of Composure

by Patrick J. Cohn, Ph.D.

To be a consistent performer you *must* slay the raging monster within (control your emotions during competition). I am sure at one time (or two), you became upset, frustrated, or angry with yourself and it cost you the game or match. How quickly you can recover from errors and mishaps will hinge on your ability to let it go and remain composed.

Many talented athletes who do not know how to control their negative emotions fail to reach their potential because they get hot-headed, angry, or just crawl into their negative mental shell and don't return. You know the type: The perfectionist athlete who is prone to emotional outbursts after errors or when not performing up to his or her expectations.

Emotional control is when you stay even-tempered, level-headed, or poised even when you are challenged by mishaps or adversity. Even the top athletes, such as Tiger Woods, get upset. But they are able to gain control quickly and get back to business. Recovering quickly from mistakes, separates champions from athletes who crack under adversity and are cooked mentally for the rest of the competition.

To get control of the raging monster within, you must do two tasks: Have an accepting mindset before competition, and arm yourself with mental strategies to cope with errors or mishaps.

My students are taught two top strategies for regaining emotional control quickly:

  • (1) How to have a positive pregame mindset for competition.
  • (2) How to let go of errors before emotions snowball out of control.

Your very first step is to identify strict expectations that cause you to become upset when you do not achieve your own expectations. Here is a baseball example to highlight the mental game dangers of expectations. One of my students, a college pitcher, expected to throw a no-hitter every game. What do you think happened when he gave up his first hit? He got frustrated and negative with his game because the perfect game was no longer obtainable. It took him several innings to get his emotional balance back and by the time he did recover, it was too late.

    Some expectations that can lead to feelings of frustration include:
  • I must play perfectly to be successful today.
  • I expect to perform perfectly today and if I don't, I am failing.
  • I cannot make any mistakes if I want to win.
  • To play my best, I must have an error-free performance.
  • I canít stand making stupid errors and should be upset with them.

If you carry these expectations into competition, you set yourself up for feeling like you are failing. In reality, you leave yourself no room for success.

Dr. Patrick Cohn is a master mental game coach who works with athletes, sports parents, and teams of all levels. For more information about Fear of Failure, call 888-742-7225.

01/25/08

Jeremie Rentas Barlow, M.S., can be reached at (502) 553-8299.

 

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