How Perfectionism Can Hold Back Your Kids in Sports

By Dr. Patrick Cohn and Lisa Cohn

One of the biggest challenges for young athletes today: They try to be too perfect when they perform. They try to have the perfect game or match. Kids set high expectations, then become upset when they fail to match their own standards.

Don’t get us wrong. There are some advantages to perfectionism. Perfectionist kids have a strong work ethic, are committed to goals, and are willing to learn and improve. These great traits often disguise this “mental roadblock” to success.

Kids who try to be perfect can undermine their performance in many ways. They often expect too much of themselves, are afraid of failing, feel anxious, are frustrated, and worry too much about the “score” or the “win.” This can stifle their talent.

Perfectionist athletes often unknowingly embrace very high expectations. When they don’t achieve their expectations, they feel frustrated. They feel like they have failed. This can become a bad cycle. With success comes higher expectations and demands. Successful young athletes expect more and more from themselves—and so do their peers and coaches.

Here’s a classic example from a sports dad: “My son is a good athlete who has always had good success. However, he seems to focus on the negative, not the positive. If he is practicing hitting, and doesn't make good contact, after about three swings I hear ‘I stink.’ Unfortunately, things tend to go down hill from there.”

Perfectionists think that maintaining very high and often unrealistic expectations is a good thing. They believe that the only other option is to live in a world of mediocrity.

But at The Ultimate Sports Parent, we have a different take on this.

If kids can’t achieve their expectations, they become frustrated and lose their composure. Then they won’t achieve their full potential in sports. They begin to think they are failing at some level.

Begin by identifying the strict expectations that pressure your young athletes to have a “perfect” game or practice. Once you identify these expectations--“I need to throw a no-hitter in today’s game”-- your job is to replace them with manageable goals.

Manageable goals focus your athlete on execution. For example, a player might visualize good pitches before each pitch. Your athletes will achieve better results by focusing on execution and setting small goals.

As a parent, you want to be careful about placing expectations on your sports kids. They may adopt them as their own.

Award winning parenting writer Lisa Cohn and Youth Sports Psychology expert Dr. Patrick Cohn are co-founders of The Ultimate Sports Parent. Pick up their free e-book, “Ten Tips to Improve Confidence and Success in Young Athletes” by visiting

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