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Overcoming the fear of failure


In professional sport fear of failure can be detrimental to the athlete’s success.

In highly competitive environments so much depends on winning and losing that it is understandable that the fear of failing to perform well is common among athletes.

This article aims to highlight the paralysing effects of fear and it also aims to address some of the mental strategies that can be applied to overcome the damaging nature of this emotion.

The relationship between fear and success

Athletes who become consumed with the worry of not meeting expectations and hitting certain targets consequently increase the likelihood of their fears being realised.

Arguably this can be attributed to a common law that is regularly stated in popular psychology.

‘What you fear you attract towards you’ Mckenna

There are degrees to which one can become preoccupied with fears of failure, but the general trend is the more intense and persistent the fears of failure are, the greater the likelihood that these fears will be realised.

Working in professional sport for a number of years has cemented this belief for me.

In my experience athletes that are full of positive energy and excitement, relishing every challenge, are always the ones that outperform their negative and fearful counterparts.

Another interesting phenomena that I observed, showed that those who feared getting injured were always the ones that were more likely to pick a subsequent injury, compared to those kept their minds on the positives.

I also observed that athletes, who worry incessantly about being dropped by the coach, were nearly always the ones that ended up begin dropped.

Observe the sequence of events that may follow due to this inhibiting mindset:

A high level of fear----------- Becomes convinced that the coach will drop him------------Feels uneasy when the coach watches him play, because of a constant worry of what he is thinking---------Damages his performance----------Forces the coach to replace him for the next match--------The fear has been brought to life

Fear and risk taking

Fear of failure prevents the athlete from pushing outside the comfort zone. All top athletes take sporting risks even at the potential cost of jeopardising their performance.

Risk taking is a fundamental component of being a successful athlete, and it is only through bold and committed actions that sporting contests are won and lost.

Fear of failure can cripple the athlete’s sense of adventure and the ability to take match winning risks. The thought of making mistakes in front of team-mates, coaches and spectators can be so paralysing that the athlete sits inside their comfort zone just doing the bare minimum.

When the athlete refuses to push outside the comfort zone performances become reactive instead of proactive. Instead of taking positive risks which empower the athlete to influence the contest, they allow the opposition to take control and dictate the direction of play.

Learn to tolerate mistakes

The illusion that it is possible to go through professional sport without making mistakes, can feed the feeling of fear.

The first step to overcoming the fear of failure is to understand that failure and making mistakes are an inevitable component of sport.

There is not one athlete in the world that has not experienced set-backs and difficulties. But what separates world-class athletes from average athletes is an understanding and acceptance of failure in sport.

By accepting the undoubted occurrence of mistakes and errors the athlete can control and manage the fear of failure more effectively.

Onto Part Two

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Click here to read part two of this article.

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