Sports Psychology:
“I don’t want to fail and disappoint the coach.”

"On Fire" Steve Mahre by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

“On Fire” Steve Mahre by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

Fear of failure

Most coaches are more disappointed by people’s embarrassment and fear of failure than by their inability to perform well right away. Feelings of self-defeat and self-pity can be infectious. If you feel mortified, your body language will cause those around you to feel uncomfortable on your behalf. Feeling apologetic for your lack of prowess won’t help you improve and won’t make others feel comfortable with you.

By letting your fear of failure get the best of you, you also cheat yourself of the opportunity to try new things, improve, and have fun. If fear of appearing inept prevents you from trying new sports, getting the coaching you need, and being able to focus on improvement rather than on how you appear to others, you end up missing out on one of the great joys of life—enjoying sports.

Without accepting failure as part of the process, there can be no learning!

Objective analysis

The first step to being a coachable athlete is to discard self-defeating thoughts. Negative thoughts and emotions simply disrupt the clear thinking and body awareness you need to improve in any sport or activity. The best way to learn a sport is to objectively analyze both what you are doing well and what you need to do to improve. Think clearly about what needs to be done rather than judge how terrible you are.


You need to tenaciously practice those small changes to improve your performance. Don’t dwell on how long it takes to improve or on the fact that you may backslide from time to time. Remember Malcolm Gladwell’s findings that the key to excelling is to practice a specific task for 10,000 hours.


It is best to replace your embarrassment and shame with focus and determination. When you are truly focused, there is no room for feelings of self-consciousness or humiliation.

Some people are natural athletes. However, those who are not as athletic can also enjoy significant improvement if they persist in repeated and focused practice, particularly with the guidance of an observant, constructive coach.

I don’t care how challenging it is for some people to excel at a sport. If they persevere with focus and a good attitude, keeping a sense of perspective and humor, they will be able to enjoy great improvement and joy in some of life’s many opportunities.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “Peak Performance—in business, relationships or sports:
‘There have been highlights, but a lot of inconsistency in my relationships and at work.’”

Read “Sports Psychology: ‘I’m terrible at this sport. I can never get it right.’”

Watch “Quieting a Harsh Inner Critic.”

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