Expecting the worst is a recipe for getting the worst. Expecting bad athletic performance and mistake-ridden competitions become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Does that mean the opposite end of the continuum, the highest expectations are the optimal strategy for eliciting top sports performance?
Actually, contrary to popular belief, excessively high expectations are just as counter-productive and can hinder an athlete from achieving their potential.
Many athletes believe the higher expectations the better but that mentality often sends athletes down a dangerous, slippery path…
- It happened to Robert Griffin III, who barely made the Washington Redskins as a backup quarterback, after being selected second overall in the 2012 NFL draft and being named Rookie of the Year.
- It happened to Jordan Spieth, who after reaching the #1 ranking, missed two tournament cuts in just over a week.
- Most recently, it happened to Serena Williams who suffered a semifinal defeat at the US Open as she attempted to complete the Grand Slam.
Many athletes erroneously conclude that expecting less than perfection is settling for average. These athletes believe excessively high expectations can motivate them to constantly push, achieve more and reach their potential. Moreover, athletes who place excessive demands upon themselves attribute the success of their athletic role models to crazy high expectations.
Let’s examine expectations with a practical example…
Think of a tennis player who wants to go undefeated during a season…
Of course, you need to believe you have a chance to win every match. If you don’t believe in your chance to pull off a victory, why would you even compete? But, in terms of expectations, there are only so many things under your direct control.
You can expect to play well. You can expect to hit a certain first serve percentage. You can even expect to play with a certain level of aggressiveness and energy. Even these realistic expectations may need to be tempered due to injury, health, weather and court conditions.
The problem is when your expectations lie outside of your immediate control like winning matches or achieving a certain ranking.
When your expectations are unreasonably high, you feel every match, every set and every point is a “must-win.” This mentality is born out of perfectionism and sends the message if I don’t accomplish “x”, there is something wrong with me.
The result is, when you’re in danger of not hitting your expectations, your brain sends out panic signals and your body fills up with anxiety, negative emotions (such as frustration, anger, resignation) and performance-damaging thoughts.
As if that wasn’t enough, athletes with excessive expectations often suffer other performance-detractors such as:
- Social evaluation
- Fear of failure
- Devastating reactions to defeat
- Depression, harsh self criticism
- Low self-esteem
- Decreased self-confidence
In order to have a long and successful athletic career, you need to learn how to set the bar high, but attainable. Realistic expectations will help foster self-confidence and sustained motivation as you move forward and explore your athletic potential.
Tardio Tips for Great Sports Performance Expectations
- Maintain a good balance – Create goals that are challenging and achievable in the near future (within a year). If you accomplish your goal, you can always raise the bar. Learn to balance your ambition to be “your best” with what can be achieved in the present.
- Pump the brakes – When you feel yourself experiencing excessive pressure to perform, slow down and ask yourself, IWhat can I reasonably expect of myself right now? Does this expectation fit my current circumstance?” By examining your expectations, you can adapt those expectations to work for you rather than against you.
As NFL great Terrell Owens once said, “If you align expectations with reality, you will never be disappointed.”