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How to Manage High Expectations From Your Parents

Sep 23, 2022

I have yet to come across an athlete I’ve worked with whose parents have wished them ill.

Now…I’m not going to say all parents want their children to succeed, as it’s dangerous to make such a blanket statement. However, I’d say the vast majority of the time it’s true. 

But if that’s the case, why is it that so many athletes struggle with managing the high expectations and pressures placed on them by none other than their own parents?

Well, it goes back to the idea that your parents want you to do well. While they may not be going about it the best way (as we’ll discuss throughout the article), their interests lie in helping you become the best you can be. 

Recognizing this does not make it any easier to handle. Which is why you must learn how to manage the high expectations your parents place on you. But first, let’s take a look at what happens when these expectations are felt, yet go unmanaged.

 

Negative Effects of High Expectations

High expectations, no matter where they come from, can have a negative impact on your game. Not only your game, but your entire mental health as well. When you continually fall short of the expectations you and others have for yourself, how do you think you’ll feel?

Pretty lousy at best!

It’s this idea of not being enough.

Thinking that way will destroy you.

When these high expectations originate with your parents, this can be even worse. As it’s natural to want to please the people who’ve raised you. The ones who’ve spent their money and time on you and your goals.

Of course you want them to think you’re enough. And so when you fall short of the demands they place on you, it can be devastating. 

But in terms of athletic performance, it’s not only when you fall short of their expectations that causes trouble. Simply feeling them from the beginning can lead to lower output on the field or court.

Here are a few of the main challenges you will face as an athlete due to high expectations from your parents:

 

Fear of Failure

If you're worried about living up to your parents expectations, what do mistakes signify?

To put it simply, they mean you failed.

And I’m not even talking about you getting to the end of your senior year in high school, for example, and having failed to make it onto a college team. 

I mean the mistake you made in the fourth game of the season junior year. Yeah, that’s the one your mind told you meant you were a failure.

You see, when you feel such high expectations, every play within every game is magnified. Therefore, it’s easy to adopt a mental game challenge known as fear of failure.

Fear of failure is quite straightforward: it means you are afraid of making mistakes.

What it does to your ability to perform your best is monstrous. As your mind is consumed with worries and doubts, you will be unable to play freely. Instead, you will timidly move about the game (and even practice).

Judgment is one of the leading reasons this fear is present. You do not want to be negatively judged in the eyes of your parents. You want to live up to the standard they’ve set for you.

Of course you do. I mean, who doesn’t want to do their best? It just so happens that fearing not doing your best typically results in you sadly not performing your best.

Such fear becomes very common the more expectations you feel. 

 

Performance Anxiety

Due to the high expectations you feel from your parents, you will live in a constant state of anxiety. 

Mainly this is due to you worrying about what they’re thinking, how they feel you played, and making sure you don’t mess up during a game. 

But do you think worrying so much about all of those things is actually the best path towards success?

No.

But that doesn’t matter. You can understand on a logical level that worrying about what your parents think of you has very little impact on their actual perceptions. Yet, in reality, you will still worry.

This is because there is a fear that you won’t live up to their expectations. 

Performance anxiety leaves you in a state of worry, which keeps you from being free to perform naturally and with full confidence. 

 

Need for Social Approval

There is a natural desire among all of us to be thought highly of by our peers. There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting people to think you’re good at what you do.

Trouble arises when it turns into a need.

What does it mean to need social approval? Well, it means you need other people to think highly of you before you can think highly of yourself. This puts you at the mercy of other people’s opinions (a very dangerous place to be).

High expectations from your parents, when not managed in a healthy way, open the door to not only needing their approval, but the approval of coaches, teammates, and others as well.

You’re being trained to look to other people for validation rather than yourself.

The greater this need grows, the more fear and anxiety you will develop as a result since you are dependent upon performing well in order for other people to give you praise. 

 

"High expectations from your parents, when not managed in a healthy way, open the door to not only needing their approval, but the approval of coaches, teammates, and others as well."

 

Loss of Joy

Without expectations and the need to be the best…what’s left within your sport? 

Simply the love you have for the game.

I would imagine that’s what drew you to it in the first place. As a young kid, you may have dreamed of making it to the top, but on a daily basis, it was the fun you had which pushed you to keep playing.

Now I don’t think any parent is meaning to have this happen, but when expectations go unmanaged, what was once something you enjoyed can quickly turn into something you dread.

Just think about the three previous sections. How much fun is it to show up to the field or court full of fear and anxiety? How much fun do you think you’ll have when you’re constantly wondering if your parents are happy with how you played?

Very little fun I’d guess.

The game turns into a chore. Something you have to do to live up to the pressure you feel is placed on you. Without that pressure, who knows, maybe you might enjoy the game again for what it is…a game. 

 

How to Manage High Expectations from Parents

As I’ve said many times already in this article, I doubt any parent wants anything for their child other than success. Knowing this, we must recognize that the expectations you feel they’ve placed on you are well intended.

It is their way of helping you become the best you can be.

However, that doesn’t mean you simultaneously won’t experience the negative and challenging byproducts that these high expectations lead to. 

And so, learning how to manage the pressure from your parents in a healthy way is crucial for your long term success, along with your mental health. 

By doing so, we can turn what was once hurting you, into something that can actually improve your game.

 

Practice Reframing

Right now, you see your parents expectations as negative. The comments they make to you after a practice or game, those are taken as brutal criticisms. 

But do they have to be?

No. One of the toughest things about working through high expectations from your parents is the truth that it is your own reaction that is causing the problem.

Of course, it’d be nice to not have them say things that can been construed as negative. However, it is your interpretation of what they say that ultimately leads to the challenges outlined in the previous section. 

Instead, you need to take on a practice of reframing. This will come in two different ways.

First, you must reframe your overall belief towards your parents expectations. To do so, you must accept the fact that the pressure they put on you is coming from a place of love.

They want you to be the best you can be. Their expectations are their driving force to push you towards your goals (or possibly even the goals they have for you). But either way, it is coming from a good place.

Next, you want to reframe what they say on a day to day basis.

I was working with a young athlete who was struggling with high expectations from her parents. I had her practice reframing what they said to her each day in a more positive way.

This wasn’t easy, but she tried. 

As a result, she grew more comfortable with their feedback because she was beginning to learn how to locate the positives in their words.

Reframing involves changing the way you interpret their expectations and the criticism and feedback they give you.

 

"One of the toughest things about working through high expectations from your parents is the truth that it is your own reaction that is causing the problem."

 

Improve Your Self-Talk

Your self-talk involves the thoughts you have and the way you speak to yourself and about yourself. 

With high expectations, a lot of times your self-talk will look something like this:

  • I’ve got to…
  • I hope they didn’t see that.
  • I wonder what they’re thinking.
  • God I played awful. Mom and Dad are going to be pissed.
  • I’m such a disappointment.
  • They were right, I’m not practicing enough.

Do you see anything familiar?

Self-talk impacts how you feel. If you are speaking this way to yourself, it is only adding to the negative impact your parents high expectations have on you. 

Instead, you must work to alter how you are speaking to yourself and what kind of thoughts fill your head.

Here is what more positive and productive self-talk should look like to help you manage this external pressure:

  • I’ve got this.
  • I know they just want me to succeed.
  • I’m grateful they care so much.
  • I know I can do this.
  • I trust in my training.
  • It’s okay, it was one mistake. Learn from it, let it go, and move on.
  • Focus on myself.
  • I can only control how I feel.

Do you see how much different these are?

To better manage the expectations you feel placed upon you by your parents, you must turn to the thoughts filling your head.

 

Define Your Own Success

When you feel these heavy expectations placed on you, you are operating off of someone else’s definition of success.

That’s not a power you should ever give away to anyone!

You and only you must determine, each day, whether or not you were successful. This doesn’t even have anything to do with your stats either…I know, it’s confusing but let me explain.

Allowing stats, your parents, coaches, or anyone else to deem you successful is dangerous when you are already struggling with managing external expectations.

Having a good game statistically and having other people think highly of you is a byproduct. A byproduct of what? Well, a byproduct of you doing all the things that lead to you being successful by such standards.

But it doesn’t happen by you worrying constantly about it.

To manage such expectations you need to consistently see yourself succeed. And so, you must set targets that define what that means. The best way to do so is through the use of performance objectives.

These are key aspects you want to focus on that day. But be careful…they must be completely, and I mean completely, within your control.

That way, if you stick to your targets, the day was a success. It takes discipline, but that must now become your key indicator for determining your own success. Rather than looking to outside sources (such as the approval of your parents).

 

"You and only you must determine, each day, whether or not you were successful."

 

Remember Why You Play

The last way for you to manage high expectations from your parents is to remember why you play in the first place.

Is this something you’ve thought about in a while? 

It’s easy to let this true driving motivation slip from your mind when you're so bogged down in expectations and pressure. 

Right now, it may even feel like you play to please your parents.

Sorry, but that’s not going to get you too far. In fact, it’s a one way ticket to burnout and growing resentful towards them and a game I’d imagine you used to love.

That love is what you must return to. 

If you were to strip away all the expectations and pressures, why would you want to keep playing? What is it that makes you want to go to the field or court and train?

Once you find your answer, you must ground yourself in that. Let it become your true north, leading you on within your game rather than the need to please your parents and meet their high expectations.

 

Final Thoughts 

Many parents have very high expectations for their children. 

For the most part, this comes from a good place in their heart: the desire for their child to become the best version of themselves.

However, this can also be detrimental when it leads to fear of failure, anxiety, or perfectionism.

As an athlete, when you’re constantly faced with such expectations, the game can quickly turn from a point of joy to one of misery and stress.

Therefore, it is your responsibility to learn how to properly manage the expectations you feel have been placed upon you by your parents. 

Using the four ways outlined above, you can strengthen your mind against the negative impact high expectations have on your game and your mental health.

I hope you found this article helpful and can begin putting some of the tips into practice. Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.

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