Many great players have pursued honing a perfect technique in order to improve their consistency and improve results. Players like Tiger Woods and Serena Williams are perfectionists. They have learned how to get away with the “perfectionist mindset.”
Sport Psychologist Patrick Cohen noted perfectionists have an intense work ethic. They are driven. They have desire. They are motivated. Perfectionists have a great practice mentality. They are always on time. They have a love for practice. They are comfortable in their practice routine. They want to get better. And, they are coachable. In fact, coaches love them, because they hang on everything they say. Great things can happen with being a perfectionist.
However, the problems of perfectionism seem to emerge during competition. Suddenly, it begins to influence how an athlete plays and thinks. Why does this happen? “At its core are the setting of unrealistic goals, a self-focus on performance, and self-criticism over flaws and mistakes,” wrote Jeff Elison of Adams State College and Julie Partridge of Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
The athlete tries too hard to be perfect. The perfectionist carries a high, often unrealistic expectation during competition. Outcome focus results rather than process focus. Suddenly, the athlete worries too much about what others think—coach, parents, friends, competition. Over thinking interferes with performance, a “paralysis of analysis” syndrome induces underperformance by over thinking. Confidence becomes fragile, and emotions oscillate. The athlete becomes easily upset. “Shame is one of the many emotions that can result from an athletic performance,” noted Elison and Partridge.
When perfection interferes with competition, the athlete needs to trust in his skills and be free to perform. As Bob Rotella said, “Train it and trust it.”
We need to understand the difference between skill and technique. Technique is an efficient way of performing a task. Skill is the ability to get a task completed, irrespective of style or technique. Skill is a feeling and more freedom focused; technique is rigid and compartmentalized.
Most athletes who strive to be perfectionist have some level of skill, but in their quest to improve their consistency, they over focus on technique and as a result their skill diminishes.
The desire to play perfectly, consistently, and mistake-free (like a machine) is an emotional one. Mistakes become painful.
Athletes, who attach their self-confidence to playing abilities, need to first trust in themselves, second trust in their skills, and third trust their technique.
So do we abandon technique and focus on skill? No way! Just as we want to improve skill, so we want to improve technique by focusing on improving technical competence while avoiding perfection. “Ultimately,” wrote Lynda Mainwaring, “a positive and perfect performance is about doing one’s best, feeling good about the performance, and feeling good about one’s self. This is about adaptive performance perfection, or mastery, not adaptive perfectionism.”