What is Fear of Failure?

~2 minute read

Most of us have a voice in the back of our heads that criticizes us during practice or after a game for not doing well enough. Sometimes, that voice comes from external forces, like a coach or parent who expresses disappointment in our performance, but more often than not, we’re the ones getting caught up in our mistakes. There’s a lot of hype surrounding winning, so it’s completely understandable to worry about making mistakes, but when the pressure to perform well comes from a fear of failure, it makes it difficult not only to perform well but also to enjoy sport.

The more aware you are of self-critical thought patterns, the better able you will be to shift your perspective from fear to confidence. Worrying too much about failing can cause you to focus on all of the things that could go wrong. The more attention you bring to potential mistakes, the more likely you are to perform too carefully or cautiously and end up making those mistakes. Reframing those worries into things that could go well gives you the opportunity to direct your focus and energy in a positive way.

We have a tendency to link how we think about ourselves to how we think other people perceive us. If we put too much value on what our coaches, teammates, or parents think about us, then we are constantly trying to prove something to them. Learning how to validate yourself and view your self-worth as independent from the perceptions of others can be incredibly freeing. Here are a few ways to practice this switch.

Stop trying to read minds.

Guessing what someone is thinking about you is a slippery slope. When you notice yourself starting to worry about what others think, check in with yourself. Do you really know what they’re thinking about you? Chances are, you don’t. If you’re really curious to know someone’s opinion, ask them in a non-judgmental way.

Know who you are.

Identifying your values and who you are on the inside can keep you grounded when you feel yourself start to worry about what others think of you. Remind yourself that you’re playing for yourself, and your own self-concept is much more influential and important than what others think.

Separate yourself from your sport.

Athletes tend to get wrapped up in their sport and have a tough time identifying who they are outside of it. This is completely understandable given the time and energy you commit to your sport, but it undermines all of the characteristics and identities that you have outside of athletics. Try writing down a list of hobbies you are interested in (music, video games, art) or other social roles you play in your life (brother, daughter, best friend, volunteer). Remember: you are more than a score and you are more than your sport.

I am ____ (as an athlete)I am ___ (as a person)
a team playerthoughtful
dedicated to my sportinterested in traveling
hoping to play in collegea Marvel fan

If you find yourself driven by fear of failure, remind yourself that this is not your fault. You’ve been taught by many people that how you perform is important. Of course, how you perform does matter, but it isn’t the only thing that matters. Try to reframe how you view yourself in relation to others and place more importance on your own self-concept rather than on how you think others think of you.

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