Athlete Expectations & Sport Performance

Athletes often set expectations on how they will perform in competition. These expectations could be based off of their past results, competitor match ups, environment, and in many cases, what they hear from other people.

What research has consistently shown is that expectations often cause anxiety when the athlete feels that his or her skills do not match up with the expected results. This often leads to an increase in pre-competitive and competitive anxiety causing poor performance and over time may even cause burnout. Many coaches and parents are unknowingly at fault at producing anxiety among athletes.
For the athlete to improve performance he or she must first build confidence and focus on the things that they have the most control of. If the athlete has low confidence then he or she should focus on the smallest thing that they feel they can do well; even if it is to simply smile or go out and compete.
Confidence is mostly produced by the results an athlete receives. It’s no wonder that setting small goals help athletes produce more confidence because the athlete can see and experience more positive results.

Below are 3 examples of how coaches and parents can help set the right expectations for anxious athletes.

The first column above [Athlete] shows 3 examples of anxious athletes who are focused on expectations that they feel they need but exceed their current level of confidence.

The second column [Coach] shows 3 examples of how coaches can reinforce small goals to the athlete to calm the athlete and center their focus on things that are easier to control but critical to peak performance.

The third column [Parent] shows 3 positive responses to athletes. Notice how every response avoids giving tips of instructional feedback on how they should perform. In fact, each example shows the parent avoiding feedback related to expectations and instead focuses on positive emotional support. This helps the athlete to focus on him or herself more easily and increase the likelihood of success.