Mental Training for Perfectionistic Youth Athletes: Performance Tips. By Dr. K.C. Wilder

| May 30th, 2019

Mental Training for Perfectionistic Youth Athletes: Performance Tips to PLAY Well

Perfectionistic youth athletes have a lot on their minds when they prepare for an athletic contest. Academics, family, and friendships are major concerns at an age when they feel the need to be consistently progressing in their sport. As perfectionists, they carry the burden of strict or high expectations in each area of their life.

Expectations cause you to feel pressure and turn the focus to the outcome goal. If this outcome goal is not achieved your confidence level will suffer. Frustration will be triggered when you think that you are not performing up to your expectations.

Our short-term solution is to make a mental game change and replace your expectations with process goals and shift to a PRESENT-mindset to PLAY well. Let’s first focus on common expectations within sport.

Expectations come from four key areas in sport.

1. The absolute need to achieve an outcome, time, result or score.

2. The absolute need regarding the quality of a shot or performance.

3. Demands about your mental toughness and confidence.

4. Demands of adopted expectations from others.

With these common expectations in mind, here are three performance tips for perfectionistic youth athletes to use to make athletic progress without neglecting their school and personal lives. These performance tips will be instrumental in letting go of these strict expectations that can hinder athletic and life excellence.


Create a progress chart that gives a sense of accomplishment.

Create a simple progress chart where you can check the boxes in the following areas: homework completed, spent time with family, spent time with friends, 5 minutes of mindfulness, maintained a healthy diet, 8 hours of sleep. With a “check the box” progress chart, it is easy for youth athletes to keep a record of the consistency of their routines. This consistency lends to building good habits. And, we know how to foster excellence, as supported by Aristotle.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” —Aristotle


Differentiate between expectations and process goals to stay in the present.

Expectations are about absolute needs and they are plagued with self-judgment and criticism if these needs are not met. Process goals can effectively replace outcome goals and they are a basic performance principle for an athletes success on and off the field. If an athlete can focus on the process or stay in a present mindset on the athletic field, then they will have fewer distractions in practice and outside of practice.

Here are a few examples of expectations:

I should perform perfectly
I should never make mental mistakes
I should beat this opponent

Now, let’s replace these expectations with process goals.

I will perform free of expectations and do my best
I will carry myself to confidence and accept mistakes I may make
I will focus on process goals within my performance against a strong opponent

Replacing expectations with process goals is a healthy way to pursue excellence. This mind-set pivot will be a huge factor in a young perfectionists’ well-being, balance in life and avoiding BURN-OUT in the long term. With defined process goals the perfectionist is able to have more sustained focus and to stay in the NOW in all areas of their lives. They will be more focused, less prone to anxiety, distractions and self-criticism. In a short period of time, they will be able to consistently make the shift to having a PRESENT-minded focus and PLAY.


Establish concrete process goals for practice and games.

Your performance is based on your work ethic and your level of training. Process goals for practice are an ideal way to make progress without undo frustration. Once clearly defined, an athlete has a the mind-set pivot in place by executing to accomplish process goals. This gives a clear, concise pathway to maximize excellence. Focusing on these concrete process goals gives a perfectionistic youth athlete the tools to stay in the present. Not only the tools, but the permission that it is the optimal way to perform.

Here are a few examples of process goals for practice.

In practice, I will have a hard work-ethic.

In practice, I will focus on believing in myself.

I will have an effective and consistent practice plan.

Here are a few examples of process goals for games.

In the game, I will focus on this play, this moment.

I will be free of distraction and fear.

I will use my aggression as my reaction to execute the next play.

Once a youth athlete firmly implants process goals in their mental training foundation, they will experience success. In turn, success will reinforce the notion of process over outcome for sustained excellence.


With these three simple tips your perfectionistic youth athlete is more prepared to let go of expectations for maximal performance. With experience and success, the PRESENT-mindset will be reinforced. Carrying this PRESENT-mindset to other areas of their lives will reinforce the notion that being in the NOW is healthier and more effective than a perfectionistic mindset. With some solid performance management and sticking with this mental game foundation, even busy student athletes can make their process goals a reality. Youth athletes have a lot on their plates, but with a little guidance it is possible to find a healthy balance between life and athletic achievement.

Now, go out and…

Play Now

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