Do expectations help or hurt performance?
So much has been written about how expectations affect athletic performance, but there is still some confusion about the impact of expectations.
On one side of the argument, athletes ask, “Shouldn’t I expect success? After all, if I expect to lose, I probably will, right?”
The flip side of the argument by athletes is, “I feel so much pressure when I’m expected to win. I become so anxious that I mess up and under-perform.”
In the first instance, ‘expect’ means I have the ability to make success happen if I work hard. In this example, success is not necessarily equated with winning.
In the second instance, ‘expect’ refers to high or unrealistic expectations. The message in this case is “I have to win or else.” The ‘or else’ can mean… or else people will think negatively of me… or else I am not as talented as people think I am…. Or else I’m not good enough.
It is the “I have to…” expectations generate pressure, anxiety and inability to focus. Under these conditions, it is nearly impossible to perform at your peak.
Managing expectations and a strong competitive mindset provided a distinct edge for 19-year-old Iga Swiatek in her impressive championship win at the 2020 French Open.
The victory was Swiatek’s first Grand Slam title. Though Swiatek was unseeded and ranked 54th in the world, she exhibited poise throughout the tournament, beating high-ranked players including Sofia Kenin 6-4, 6-1 in the final.
In her previous major tournaments since turning pro, Swiatek never advanced past the fourth round.
Swiatek has traveled with her sports psychologist, Daria Abramowicz, for the past year and a half. Swiatek prioritizes her well-being on and off the court. All of Swiatek’s mental training payed great dividends as evident in her evolved mindset.
SWIATEK: “The psychological work is very complex and continues all the time… You should not think that a psychologist is for people with problems, I think he is also for people who want to develop.”
Abramowicz sees high expectations as one of the biggest hurdles for tennis players.
ABRAMOWICZ: “Sometimes the thought might be, for example, I have to win this, or I felt so good during training or preseason, I have to perform well. This word ‘have to’ or as I said earlier, ‘must’ is such a heavy word. It brings an expectation after. So then we have emotions and this is often one of the biggest reasons of choking up.”
Abramowicz offers a clear solution to the problems of excessive expectations… have low expectations and high standards. This mindset focuses on putting in the physical and mental work every day and paying attention to the little things that contribute to great success.
Focusing on your work keeps your mind busy on something you can control and minimizes the stress that comes with focusing on expectations.
ABRAMOWICZ: “But it’s always important to be aware of your possibilities and potential and accept it, but then try to be aware of the limits and areas that you can improve. Having this healthy perspective and then trying to be focused more on the standards and work, not on the expectations, can give you the chance to have a good result.”
You may not be able to afford traveling with a sports psychologist, but you can afford the time and effort to put in the mental work so you can manage expectations and improve your mental game. After all, it will pay off and show up in your game.
Tardio Tips: Managing Expectations
Look to gain a sense of thought awareness.
Stay away from “I have to” statements. These statements are result-oriented and only serve to increase performance pressure and anxiety.
Instead ask yourself, “What can I do?” This mindset is based in the present and focuses your attention to aspects of your performance that you can control in the moment.
Take control of developing your mental game and seek out assistance to build the mental skills necessary to perform at your peak.