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A Case For Perfectionism

Updated: Sep 30, 2020

Perfectionism Builds Confidence

Who has told you that being a perfectionist is bad? It was probably a coach or a parent that believes comparing yourself to a somewhat abstract “ideal” is futile and can only end in disappointment which is why it is generally frowned upon.

Who has told you that being a perfectionist is bad? It was probably a coach or a parent that believes comparing yourself to a somewhat abstract “ideal” is futile and can only end in disappointment which is why it is generally frowned upon.

Sticking true to the openness of the #GRTcertified educational campaign, we will look at what at least one researcher thinks is actually going on when you break down perfectionism into two distinct parts.

Joachim Stoeber, a researcher from the University of Kent discuses in his articles about breaking down the general concept of “perfectionism” into different parts.

Joachim states that:

"Striving for perfection may even be associated with fewer thoughts about failure (cognitive anxiety), fewer bodily reactions of nervousness (somatic anxiety), and higher self- confidence during competitions in athletes who focus on the attainment of the best possible performance, but do not react in an overly negative fashion if they fail to attain it.”

What does this mean? It means that Joachim believes that perfectionism and high standards are good for younger athletes as they develop. Why shouldn’t kids want to be high achievers? I believe they should be. I believe parents and educators will feel that if the athlete or student doesn’t try too hard then the fall can’t be too bad. It is a defensive strategy and for the most part keeps most people at a happy balance between success and failure. Is that good for a competitive athlete though? Doesn’t their very sporting career depend on some level of perfectionism?

From my experience, I put very high expectations on myself as a kid and my coaches would tell me to not be so hard on myself but my thought was that “If I am not hard on myself to be better then doesn’t that just mean I didn’t really want it and didn’t care?”

This is where Joachim’s research is very interesting, but finding a way to create a training program that can focus on perfection to gain confidence without naturally having the downside when it does not work out could be tough to do practically. How could you do that?

I believe you simply need to let the athlete tell you how much they want to be pushed, you let them take the lead and then when it still doesn’t work out you have to be their inspiration to get back up the next time. An athlete can be pushed and many times enjoy the push because in many ways it shows the athlete you believe in them but if you push them too hard, you will simply get them hurt and then, like compounding interest’ the negativity is doubled because if the athlete fails then they may think something along the lines of:

  1. The coach should not have believed in me

  2. I shouldn’t trust my coach, they don’t know what I can do and not do

  3. I guess I was right, I do suck!

Either way you get a steep down turn when perfectionism fails no matter if it builds confidence before the ‘crash.’

For this reason what I suggest is that you let the athletes pick their perfectionism standards and the coach is simply the “cushion” when they come up short. The coach can help put the past failure into perspective and even use some distancing techniques as I discussed in another article.

If the coach is creating the standard and then the athlete falls, even if the coach catches them it just evens out and the confidence has gone up and right back down with no net gain. When you let the athlete pick their perfectionism standard you simply make the coach the shoulder to cry on in some sense. Of course the coach needs to be firm and not just coddle every failed attempt but by looking at perfectionism through this lens a coach can get the best out of both aspects of perfectionism.

The athlete decides how far to go down their path in as sense and this builds responsibility and the coach can still help the athlete learn but when they fall short of their own goals the athlete will naturally look for consolation. They will not always do this outwardly, especially as they get older, but they will want a hug like we all do when we don’t get what we want. The coach can metaphorically hug that athlete by inspiring them, having a big smile on their face despite the outcome and generally being ‘on their side’ despite the outcome.

I think the big mistake is to have the coach play both roles, the perfection standard setter and the ‘pick me up’ afterwards which in many ways can cross wires in the brain leading to little overall confidence growth and sometimes even the reverse effect that actually makes athletes more self conscious. From an athlete’s perspective they are getting mixed signals, so coaches, think about letting your athlete determine their own perfectionist levels if you believe in a perfectionist mentality and let yourself be more of a cushion and stick to that role at least for those athletes who you believe are already perfectionists.

If you want to learn more about ways to approach athletes on the floor check out our other articles, videos and podcasts on the Freestyle Trampoline Association website HERE.

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