You know the player: he or she is so ridiculously hard on themselves that they might as well be playing with handcuffs on. They obsess about mistakes, they have anxiety about failure that hasn’t even happened, they are at times even harder on themselves than you are on them.
One of the biggest issues I see repeatedly in my work with athletes is the tendency to expect perfection, be obsessive about details, be competitive to the point of making yourself sick with anxiety. I call it a ‘rigid’ mindset. High standards are of course desirable, and if you ask any coach they’d obviously prefer perfectionist athletes over unmotivated and lazy. But the problem with this perfectionism is that it almost always leads to anxiety, fear, and unnecessary stress.
I know this because I had this tendency myself. And the upside was that this rigid mindset kept me in the gym shooting for hours, made me lift weights on days when my body woke up screaming, and wouldn’t let me quit until I did the entire workout, shot a perfect swish, or won whatever competition I was engaged in. It was a very good thing when applied to my work ethic.
But then I got a little older and my work ethic was solidified. I was in the habit of outworking people, I was set in my routines of shooting and lifting and running. I knew how and what to do to keep me at the top of my game.
And I started noticing that this mentality that had gotten me so far, was now holding me back when it came to competition. And this is why:
This rigid mentality that can be so helpful in our quest for improvement, actually holds us back when we take it into performance and competition.
In other words, we can continue to be obsessive about the work that goes into success, but we must learn to turn that off when it comes to performing successfully. Players must play with a ‘free’ mindset and let go of the rigidity of perfection.
This can be much easier said than done, unless of course one learns some mental skills training, which is what I did. Sometimes I would revert, try to control the game, try too hard, feel anxiety and stress when things didn’t go perfectly, but by then I was training my mind and had the skills and tools to get back to the right mindset. And so I learned a simple but profound truth: Be obsessive about your work ethic, but then let the game flow through you.
Next time we’ll talk about the skills and tools I used that allowed me to do this.
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