Why You Need to Stop Trying to Play Perfectly
Is your goal to play perfectly?
If it is, that's natural. But ask yourself this question: is trying to play perfectly the best way to play my best?
While you may want to play perfectly and make no mistakes, the goal of doing so may be the very thing keeping you from playing up to your potential during games.
The Downside of Trying to Be Perfect
As a mental performance coach, I work with athletes on strengthening their mindset to improve their performance. You would think that a major goal would be to get the athlete as close to perfect as possible.
But truth be told, we spend more time working on letting go of this need to play perfectly than anything else.
When you try too hard to be perfect, a lot of the time this will cause you to play tight and timidly. And tight and timid is the opposite of what's needed for peak performance: playing with trust and full confidence.
The reason trying to play perfectly causes you to play tight is because of the negative association of mistakes.
If your goal is to be perfect, what does a mistake mean? It means you weren't perfect. And shouldn't you try to avoid the thing that keeps you from reaching your goal?
But mistakes, while not wanted, should not be avoided. What I mean is, when you go into a game trying to avoid mistakes, you are not going to be playing as aggressively and confidently as you should be.
Since your mind is focused on not wanting to make mistakes, the best way to avoid mistakes is to play it safe.
An example of this comes from a college pitcher I've been working with. He notices this avoidance creep in after walking one or two batters in a row.
After the walks, he grows fearful of walking another batter and further worsening the situation. So, what he did in the past was take some off his fastball to try and locate it better.
However, by taking some off his fastball, he actually lost more control. What would result were more balls and more walks.
His goal of avoiding the mistake increased his chances of making a mistake.
Another way of thinking about the relationship between trying to play perfectly and mistakes is the idea of holding yourself back. I see this one a lot in basketball and soccer players.
Both of these sports involve passing the ball and dribbling in hopes of scoring. What I see from athletes who are trying too hard to play perfectly is a pattern of getting rid of the ball quickly.
It's like playing hot potato with the ball. As soon as they get it they try to get rid of it, since that's a safe way of avoiding getting it stolen or missing a shot - both of which are mistakes that mean they weren't perfect.
Have you ever felt yourself playing it safe during games? If you have, then there's a good chance the goal of playing perfectly may have been to blame.
Learning to Play Your Best, Not Perfectly
So what should your goal be, then? Instead of trying to play perfectly, you want to set yourself the goal of playing your best.
Now, I know those two goals may seem very similar. However, there's a huge difference in the way they lead you to play.
Trying to be perfect, as we just went over, leads to you playing it safe and holding yourself back.
The goal of playing your best, on the other hand, allows for mistakes. This frees you to focus on the process of your game instead of trying to avoid messing up.
The truth is, mistakes are going to happen. And what's worse than making mistakes is the fear of making mistakes.
If you learn from mistakes and can move on from them quickly during games, all of a sudden they aren't such a horrible thing to have happen. Of course, it'd be great if they didn't happen, but there's no use fearing them.
To help keep your attention on playing your best, instead of playing perfectly, a great exercise you can do is to reverse engineer a good game.
Reverse engineering involves starting with the end result and back tracking - figuring out what all it takes to get to that result.
The end result you'll start with is a good game. Then backtrack and think:
- What do I need to do well in order to play a good game?
- What do I need to focus on?
- What is within my control that will help me play my best?
Once you've reverse engineered a good game, the steps you outlined are what you want to focus on. And remember: your goal is to execute the steps to the best of your abilities, not perfectly!
By giving your attention to the steps (also known as the process of your performance), you are putting yourself in the best position to succeed, without having to focus on trying to play perfectly.
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