Ask The Experts
Fearing Failure

Fearing Failure

9/12/2018

By Ker’Shyra Myrick

Young athletes want to perform at their best on game days, but those who fear failure aren’t likely to meet performance expectations.

This fear can strike any athlete in any sport. For example, in basketball it can be a youngster afraid to have the ball in her hands in the closing seconds of a tight game because she doesn’t want to disappoint herself, her teammates and coach, and her parents by missing it.

“Fear of failure can be problematic because over time individuals can experience a decrease in self-esteem or self-efficacy,” says Dr. Jason Youngman, a licensed psychologist and empowerment specialist at Peak Functioning in Miami, Fla. “Self-esteem is our general view of ourselves and self-efficacy is the belief in your ability to affect the world and ability to accomplish things. A fear of failure can cause a decrease in belief of one’s self.”

We spoke with Dr. Youngman to get his insights on this issue that plagues youth sports. Read on to learn how you can help young athletes conquer these fears:  

SPORTINGKID LIVE: How common is this issue?

YOUNGMAN: Fear of failure is one of the most common sources of stress in sports. When we talk about fear of failure, we are talking about the idea of someone’s tendency to avoid failure, or to experience shame or humiliation. Young athletes tend to deprive themselves of opportunities to prove they can do something themselves, meaning they don’t try something or keep their world very small to skills they have already mastered and know they can do instead of challenging themselves.

SPORTINGKID LIVE: Are there any signs parents and coaches can look for?

YOUNGMAN: Fear of failure normally kicks in when a child does not meet their expectations or the expectations of someone else, usually a parent or a coach. Some things parents and coaches can look for are frustration, behavior outbursts, and a loss of composure. Frustration is a big key. Demonstrations of frustration include self criticism or being highly critical of other teammates and others around them.

SPORTINGKID LIVE: What can coaches do to help young athletes who are dealing with these fears?

YOUNGMAN: Coaches should change goals from result-oriented to process-oriented goals. For example, a tennis player should have smaller and more manageable goals like watching the tennis ball hit his or her racket every time they serve instead of trying to score a service point every time they serve. These goals force the person to not focus on results, but the process that is happening, causing them to focus on the execution or one achievement at a time. Overarching is to help youngsters understand that failure or mistakes are an invaluable tool for getting better, growth and improvement. Coaches should encourage an environment that allows for mistakes. Athletes should focus on learning as opposed to performance. Creating an environment that values effort over performance teaches children that very often in life and in sports we don’t have control over the outcome. What we do have control over is our attitude and effort. This way, a child can always feel good about the process of learning. 

SPORTINGKID LIVE: How can youth athletes regain trust and confidence within themselves?

YOUNGMAN: If someone has a fear of making mistakes, they will gravitate toward skills that they are already good at so there is a lower probability of making mistakes. If young athletes are presented with a challenging objective, that is when anxiety rises, and they might not have faith in themselves. Coaches can present kids with graduated levels of challenge, meaning something that is just beyond their comfort zone but not impossible. This type of a challenge can help them work toward obtaining that goal.

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