I am 15 years old and have been involved in sports at a high level for most of my life. My problem is that as soon as I make a mistake I fall apart. It happens to me even in practice. I usually start well but then I can make the littlest mistake and I can’t let it go. My coach says I am a perfectionist – and I probably am – but that’s not something I can change. Do you have any suggestions?
Being a perfectionist is common in elite athletes. You probably are the type that works real hard and gives 110% in every practice. Perfectionists have high expectations from themselves and are often afraid to make a mistake. They are very critical of their performance and are frustrated because they can’t perform as well as they would like. The more afraid they are to make a mistake, the more they freeze up in competition.
Andre Agassi, in his autobiography, describes himself as a perfectionist. In describing Agassi’s game, his coach, Brad Gilbert, says: “You always try to be perfect and you always fall short…Your confidence is shot, and perfectionism is the reason. You try to hit a winner on every ball, when just being steady, consistent…would be enough to win ninety percent of the time.”
What Agassi learns in his climb to #1 in the world is that he can change: “Perfectionism is something I chose, and it is ruining me, and I can choose something else. I must choose something else… I’ve always assumed perfectionism was like my thinning hair…an inborn part of me.”
So, Almost Perfect, how can you make the change? I suggest you start by setting small goals for yourself that aren’t related to winning or losing. For example, playing more aggressively, focusing on defense, passing more precisely or rushing net more often. By not focusing on the score, you take the pressure off and improve the different aspects of your game.