Strive for Greatness - Can Youth Athletes Carry the Load?

From shoes of a prospective young player, throughout the carrier full of heavy injuries (torn ACL, broken fingers on a hand, etc...) and into a being a coach of a youth basketball team, a senior basketball team, and all the way to an individual development coach of some major-league players, I've set and I took a moment about what do I really do?
I push limits, however, when and with everybody. I try to put an enormous amount of pressure on my players, I try to make them come out of their comfort zone and do stuff that is going to make better players out of them. This constant pursuit for perfection takes its toll, and it can either push a player up toward the goal or it can drag them down.

In the psychology of sport and training, the question of how perfectionism influences performance is highly debated. While the fraction of the researchers have recognized perfectionism as a symbol quality of elite athletes, others see perfectionism as a maladjusted thing that undermines, rather than helps athletic performance. Upon this background, the purpose of the existing study was to investigate how different aspects of perfectionism predict performance and performance increments.
Method: A research was carried among 122 athletes to investigate how perfectionism during training affects performance and performance increments in a series of tests with a new basketball training task. Two features of perfectionism were observed: striving for perfection and negative reactions to imperfection.
Design: The design was a correlational considered the design.
Results: Results revealed that striving for perfection during training predicted higher performance in the new task. In a variation, adverse reactions to flaw predicted weaker performance when athletes attempted the task for the first time, once the positive influence of striving for perfection on assignment performance was partially out. But, negative reactions to imperfection did not weaken performance in the consecutive tests. On the contrary, both groups of athletes presented the greatest performance increments over the set of trials.
Conclusion: The findings imply that perfectionism is not fundamentally a maladaptive characteristic that generally undermines sports execution. Rather, when learning a new training assignment, perfectionism may intensify performance and lead to performance increments over repeated trials.

According to reference definitions, perfectionism simply is the absence of anything that is not perfect. Scientific data and research, though, has progressed to a more differentiated opinion. Perfectionism is observed as a multidimensional disposition being that is defined by striving for flawlessness and the setting of extremely high standards for in-game play success followed by aims for overly judgmental analysis followed by sensitive reactions if there is a case of underachievement.

In other words, players want to play at the high levels all the time and they react badly if they do not meet their own goals.

How perfectionism influences production is highly debated especially in sports. While one group of researchers have recognized perfectionism as a mental characteristic that delivers Olympic champions, the other group finds perfectionism as a maladaptive characteristic that weakens athletic performance overall. Aggregate evidence indicates that two major areas of perfectionism should be modified.

The first area has been reported as positive striving perfectionism and captures those aspects of perfectionism that link to perfectionistic strivings such as:

  1. having high personal standards,
  2. setting exacting standards for performance
  3. striving for excellence.

This area has given positive associations with indicators of good adjustment such as positive affect, endurance, and higher academic performance.

The second area has been labeled as self-critical perfectionism. These players tend to:

  1. critical self-evaluations of ones performance
  2. concern over mistakes
  3. feelings of a discrepancy between expectations and results.

This area has shown positive relationships with indicators of dysfunctional behavior such as:

  1. depression
  2. stress
  3. anxiety  

In the psychology of sports, knowing the difference between positive striving perfectionism and self-critical perfectionism is essential. The logic for this is that when considering the evidence put forth in support of the picture that perfectionism is associated with maladaptive symptoms and behaviors that have the potential to be harmful to sports performance. It is essentially the aspects of perfectionism correlated with the self-critical area of perfectionism that shows close connections with negative symptoms and consequences, not the aspects associated with the positive striving area. On the contrary, viewpoints connected with the positive striving area have revealed relationships with positive aspects and consequences. One of the best examples is the athlete's burnout.

We all know that Kevin Garnet was a high energy guy and we know him as the good, high performing star that delivered. But, what people do not know, Kevin was unable to sleep before games because of his burning energy inside him. Kevin was just turned on the basketball so much. Doc Rivers was his coach and he knew for this problem that KG had. If you look at the games, Kevin was unable to get a bucket in the first 5 minutes of games because he couldn't control his shot due to high energy and burnout. Because of this, Doc gave him off-ball duties inside the first 5 minutes of the game so he can calm down a bit.

This is what a good coach must do. He must know his players and he must create a good environment for them to be effective and to overcome their problems.  

Analyzing a group of junior elite tennis players with high levels of burnout with a control group on an area of perfectionism, it was determined that burned-out players described higher levels of concern over mistakes, but weaker personal standards. As concern over mistakes is a focused aspect of the self-critical area of perfectionism and personal standards a focused aspect of the positive striving dimension the results imply that only self-critical perfectionism is linked to athlete burnout, and positive striving perfectionism is not. Other cases involve the findings on perfectionism and goal orientations in players. Two of the orientations can be differentiated:

  1. Task orientation  
  2. Ego orientation

Task orientation expresses an emphasis on finishing a task and improving skill and because of that is a good predictor of athletic.

Ego orientation describes an emphasis on out-performing other players, both on and on the opposing team, and exhibiting skills in comparison to others, and this is the source of their motivation to higher performance on the one hand, but it can develop a fear of losing on the other. Consequently, a powerful and particular ego orientation must be considered as a potential risk to competing, because in combination with high levels of task orientation, ego orientation may improve one player's performance.

Perfectionistic concern over mistakes revealed positive relationships with ego orientation and inverse relationships with task orientation. In contradiction, perfectionistic individual goals revealed positive associations with both task orientation and ego orientation, implying that only self-critical perfectionism is linked with a dysfunctional model of goal orientations, and positive striving perfectionism is linked with a functional model (concentrating on both mastery and performance). Furthermore, a recent study on how perfectionism links to avoidance and path orientations in ability and production goals saw that negative feedback to imperfection was linked to both avoidance and approach orientations (mastery-avoidance, performance-approach, performance-avoidance) so striving for perfection was particularly associated to approach orientations (mastery-approach, performance-approach) which additionally emphasizes the claim that positive striving perfectionism is an adaptive, rather than maladaptive characteristic in players.

Nevertheless, these studies had some flaws.

First, it did not measure players sport-related perfectionism, but general perfectionism. As a modern study examining player's perfectionistic preferences over different areas (sport, school, general life) players show significantly bigger perfectionism with honor to the sport that they play than to school or life or some other activities.

Players just care toom much for the sport that they play so the first thing that they want to see is that you as a coach care more!

Consequently, parts of common perfectionism may not seize the level of player's perfectionism in sport. Second, the research engaged only a small sample so that statistical capability to find differential results of positive striving versus self-critical features of perfectionism on performance was low. Finally, it is not clear whether the studies measure of motor performance has imminent soundness for player's sports performance, as body balance skill may be a crucial/important requirement in some sports, but not in others. So, while the study shows that fake negative result may change the body balancing performance of perfectionistic players under lab conditions, it gives no answer to the question of whence positive striving and self-critical perfectionism influence athletic performance when no distorting feedback is given, but players get veridical feedback about their performance and their performance improvement.

Upon this background, the object of the present study was to examine how perfectionism predicts performance by measuring performance and performance profits over a series of trials with a new basketball training job. Concerning the player's perfectionism, two aspects were differentiated:

1.striving for perfection representing the positive striving aim of perfectionism

2. negative feedback to imperfection representing the self-critical area.


Because we studied performance with a practice task, we measured striving for perfection and negative reactions to imperfection through training. In line with conclusions from outside sports showing that striving for perfection is linked with better grades in students and foretells better results in ability tests, we assumed striving for perfection during training to predict higher practice performance and greater performance gains over the series of tests. Because the area of self-critical perfectionism has not given any systematic relationship with performance we had no particular expectations for negative effects to imperfection and therefore approached the connections with this viewpoint of perfectionism in an exploratory way.

The present study aimed to investigate how perfectionism in players compares to the player's performance by analyzing how two aspects of perfectionism during training (striving for perfection, negative reactions to imperfection) prognosticate performance and performance increase in a new basketball practice assignment. Confirming our expectations and with earlier conclusions from outside basketball, striving for perfection produced better performance in the practice assignment, so it was concluded that players who strive for perfection outperform those who do not.

Negative responses to imperfection during training had a small damaging effect on task performance in the first tries, once the positive influence of striving for perfection was taken out.

Surprisingly, striving for perfection itself did not prognosticate better performance gains over the series of tests. Rather, it only had a positive effect on performance gains in aggregate with high levels of negative feedback to imperfection, proposing that players who strive for perfection and, at the same time, display strong negative reactions towards imperfect outcomes during practice make the biggest progress in a new practice assignment.

While the outcomes prove that it is important to consider positive and negative features of perfectionism in combination to know the effects of perfectionism, the interaction impact of striving for perfection and negative reactions to imperfection foretell performance gains represents a challenging discovery for perfectionism research.

Negative reactions to imperfection are firmly connected with the self-critical area of perfectionism which has revealed to be linked to a range of negative aspects and outcomes such as depression, stress, and anxiety.

Furthermore, research with players has shown that negative reactions during practice are connected with higher levels of mastery-avoidance and performance-avoidance aims. In the modern practice study, though, negative reactions to imperfection in combination with perfectionistic strivings foretold bigger progress in performing a new practice assignment.

We can only speculate why:

1. First, it may have been that players who were high in both viewpoints of perfectionism (high in strivings for perfection during training, high in negative reactions to imperfection through practice) experienced more anger, frustration, and dissatisfaction when performance was not perfect and so may have added higher importance to the new practice assignment, held bigger personal responsibility for the errors they made and considered more about their errors in between series of tests.

As an outcome, they may have been more motivated to perform a better performance in the next series of tries to evade additional anger, frustration, and dissatisfaction.

In comparison, players, who strive for perfection through practice, but do not exhibit strong negative reactions when performance is not perfect, may have been less concerned about their performance and less motivated to upgrade their performance, as they presented higher task performance across the range of trials.

2. It may have been that these players were especially motivated to evade failure. Individuals who show both high levels of need for success and high levels of fear of failure are identified by a motivational pattern called OVER-STRIVING. As striving for perfection is linked with higher levels of hope of success and negative feedback to imperfection are associated with higher levels of fear of failure, the players who mixed high levels of the two areas of perfectionism may have shown over-striving. Individuals who show over-striving are urged to avoid failure by using high levels of effort or, to put it differently.

Alternatively, it may have been that the players who merged high levels of the two areas of perfectionism during practice had unusually high levels of mastery-performance aims. it is found that striving for perfection during practice and negative reactions to imperfection during practice both revealed positive similarities with performance-approach objects. Because players with high levels of performance-approach goals are focused on the success of normative income - they aim to do better than others, players who mixed high levels of the two aspects of perfectionism may have been especially motivated to show enhanced performance in the new basketball practice assignment.

Future studies will have to examine which of these possible solutions will find empirical support. Furthermore, it should discuss the limitations of the present study. In our opinion, there are three main barriers:

3. The interaction impact was not prognosticated and thus may represent a chance finding. As the modern research is the first to examine perfectionism and training performance in players, future investigations will show if this effect can be replicated in other samples with different practice assignments and alternative models of perfectionism in sport.

Besides, the performance was estimated using a new basketball practice assignment that comprised scoring a basked from a position (behind the basketball board) from where the basketball players would normally pass the ball and not shoot. Whereas this task had the advantage that it was new to all members, later studies will have to show that striving for perfection may also improve performance in tasks that are part of regular training programs.

  1. The existing study only investigated performance results without including any judgments. Consequently, we do not know whether players evaluated the new task as to have or not to have a meaning, as challenging or threatening. Further, we do not know if they valued their production and their production gains as success or failure, nor how they reacted to performance decrements. Because it is essential to know perfectionist cognitions when studying success and failure, later studies on perfectionism and sports performance should involve assessments of performance, performance increments, and performance decrements.
  2. Finally, the existing study focused on perfectionism through training and training performance. Future studies will have to examine if the present conclusions would generalize to perfectionism during games and competitive performance because it is a completely different environment for players. Through training, negative impulsive reactions to mistakes may improve motivation and emotional engagement in perfectionistic players and thus help them to move into their individual zone of optimal functioning which may point to enhanced performance. During games, however, when the stakes are high and players are already driven to give their very best, negative reactions to mistakes may prove harmful to performance. Nevertheless, the existing findings have important suggestions for research on perfectionism in sports and beyond, because they give further empirical support for the claim that striving for perfection is mostly linked to adaptive characteristics and positive outcomes. Furthermore, they point that perfectionistic striving is not only connected with higher academic achievement and better test results in studies but also may predict higher performance in players. Whereas the existing findings do not imply that perfectionism is a psychological characteristic that makes Olympic victors, they do imply that perfectionism in sports has the potential to improve training performance. Consequently, perfectionism is not fundamentally a maladaptive characteristic that undermines performance.

Instead, perfectionistic strivings may create a part of a healthy chase of excellence and may be adaptive in situations where such strivings may give players an extra motivational boost to do their very best, and thus deliver better results and make greater progress.

Jan 10, 2020 Viktor Sadikovic

Recent Posts