Top 10 Costly Mental Game Mistakes Keeping You From Your Potential

Learn the top 10 mental game mistakes you may be making that are holding you back from reaching your ultimate potential as an athlete.

The desire to reach your potential is natural among athletes and performers. All that training is put forth towards the ultimate goal of becoming the best you can be. However, if you fall prey to costly mental game mistakes, your potential will never be reached.

Your mind plays a larger role in your success as an athlete than you could even imagine. While training is mainly fixated on improving your physical skills, if the mental side is left to chance, it will continually hold you back.

What’s even worse is when you’re unaware these mistakes are being made. If you fail to recognize them, no change will occur, and you will never get as much out of your talents as you could otherwise.

That’s why you need to become aware of the main mental game mistakes most athletes make. If any of these ten costly mistakes resonate with you, I encourage action to be taken.

With the knowledge that an area is holding you back, you must then decide on what steps you’ll take to improve. By doing so, a mistake can turn into a growth opportunity, actually propelling you closer to the potential you’re after.

Top 10 Mental Game Mistakes

As you read through this list, pay attention to the details. On the surface, you may not believe you exhibit the behavior. But once it’s described, you may in fact realize it reigns true after all.

Look, I understand none of us want to admit to making mistakes. I’ve resisted, made excuses, and denied most of the mistakes I’m about to outline.

However, only through accepting and recognizing we’ve made a mistake can any progress take place.

If your desire is to truly reach your potential and become the best athlete you can be and the ultimate version of yourself, you should welcome the knowledge of mistakes, as they point you in the direction of where you need to grow.

So, with an open mind, let’s dive right into the first costly mental game mistake that could be holding you back: anxiety.

1. Focusing Too Much On Anxiety

Anxiety in and of itself is going to hold you back from peak performance. Though, struggling with anxiety is by no means a mistake on your part.

While the recovery from anxiety and overcoming the mental game challenge is within your control, I don’t want to deem it a mistake, as that will lead to you feeling like there’s something wrong with you since you’re experiencing anxiety.

The mistake comes into play when you focus too much on your anxiety.

Leading into a game, I used to feel so anxious. I would then fixate solely on not wanting to feel that way. Instead of helping eliminate the anxiety I felt, this worsened the symptoms.

For yourself, when you are feeling anxious, do you focus on that anxiety?

What you need to do instead is focus on how you want to feel. Give attention to techniques that will lead to you feeling relaxed, confident, and ready to perform. It’s only through focusing on the inverse of anxiety that anxiety will be overcome.

If you continue to focus on your anxiety, wondering why it’s there, how to get rid of it, and especially how scared you are of the feeling, your performances will only grow worse as a result.

2. Worrying About What Others Are thinking

Now I’m not saying it’s a mistake to care about other people. Concerning yourself with their thoughts and opinions happens to be a way to cultivate healthy relationships.

But in terms of performances, having your mind consumed with worries about what people are thinking, and their judgments about you only limit your ability to perform optimally.

What this type of thinking leads to is playing tight. While equally as distracting, you’re unlikely worried about what your coaches, teammates, parents, or friends will think when you succeed. Typically it’s the opposite.

You stress and worry over what their opinions will be if you fail.

Focusing on failing, as you’ll learn further along in the article, is a terrible mistake many athletes make. By focusing on and worrying about what everyone is thinking, you distract yourself and destroy your ability to play freely and naturally.

To play your best, focus needs to be completely given to the task at hand. If your mind is preoccupied with the judgments of others, do you think your attention will be free to focus on the present moment?

No, it’s impossible for your focus to be fully in two places at once.

By worrying about the opinions of others, you are hurting your own performance, and drawing closer to the result you are so worried about them judging you over.

3. Speaking Down To Yourself

One of the fastest ways to reduce confidence, increase anxiety, drive self-doubt, and ruin your performance is negative self-talk.

A terrible trick our minds play on us is believing speaking to ourselves negatively is actually going to boost motivation, or somehow help us perform better.

Have you ever fallen into this trap yourself?

You feel as though negative self-talk is driving you to work harder, and continually pinpoint areas where you need to improve.

Look, I get it. I’ve experienced this myself. For so long I believed bullying myself was the best way to pull the most out of me.

While yes, I did work hard and kept striving to become better and better, forces were growing within that completely undermined any hard work I was putting forth.

Those forces included self-doubt, perfectionism, and terribly fragile self-worth.

If you had to choose between following a leader who made you feel empowered and uplifted you or one who you were afraid of, which would you choose?

My choice and the one I imagine you’d go with is the first.

So why then do we believe the second choice is the best way to lead ourselves?

By allowing negative self-talk to thrive within your mind, you are only keeping yourself from reaching your true potential.

4. Hoping To Feel Confident

Ever get to a game and wonder how you’re going to feel?

Do you find yourself desperately hoping today’s the day your confidence is going to shine through?

If so, then you’re falling victim to a terrible mental game challenge that is working against your success as an athlete.

Confidence does not come out of hope. It does not build within us through desiring it to be there. Rather, confidence forms through proactive action.

Finding yourself hoping to feel confident means you currently struggle with having trust in yourself and your skills.

Almost as important as being highly skilled is the belief you are highly skilled. In fact, you can develop talents as much as you want, but if you fail to instill a sense of confidence to accompany them, you will never perform as well as you’re capable.

A major mistake athletes make is believing confidence is a trait you either have or don’t. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Confidence comes through witnessing yourself succeed. If you don’t take control over your own development of confidence, you’ll continue to find yourself hoping it will magically appear on game day.

5. Not Utilizing A Routine

Every athlete wants to be consistent. Coaches and scouts heavily focus on the ability of a player to go out and repeatedly perform well. Such consistency does not come by chance.

You need to be training yourself to be a consistent performer.

Now, how do you think this happens? What aspects of your game do you have control over that will result in you being consistent?

The outcome is way too uncontrollable to be the focal point of your attention. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but you need to focus on what will set you up to be a consistent performer, rather than the consistency itself.

What puts you in such a position is the cultivation of routines. Such routines include a training routine, a nutritional routine, a mental training routine, and a pregame routine.

All of which will place you in a position to perform your best each game. That is what leads to you being viewed as a consistent player.

Fail to utilize routines, and you go into each game with varying mindsets and your training will not be structured enough to deliver optimal results.

6. Using Outcome-Oriented Goals

When it comes to your training and game time performance, goals play a large role in success. Goals provide direction throughout training and focus during a game.

I’m sure as an athlete you are familiar with setting goals for yourself. It’s one of the best ways you can seek to continually improve and elevate your game.

However, goals are not always beneficial to your success. In fact, utilizing them in the wrong way is going to do nothing but distract you and lead to many mental game challenges.

The types of goals I am referring to are outcome-oriented goals.

These are goals that center on the result of your performance. For example, if you’re a baseball player you may set a goal to get three hits. Another example would be a basketball player whose goal is to score twenty points.

Now, at first glance, these may seem like appropriate goals. Of course, it’d be great for any ballplayer to manage three hits in a game or a basketball player to tally twenty points.

Though, the attainment of these outcomes does not happen by focusing on them.

When your attention during a game is centered on the outcome, which is what happens when you go in with these sorts of goals, your focus is taken away from the process in front of you. The process is actually going to result in what you desire.

Also, accompanying outcome-oriented goals are many mental game challenges such as anxiety, fear of failure, perfectionism, and self-doubt.

By giving your attention to the outcome, you are in fact only holding yourself back from performing in a way that will put you in the best position to achieve such results.

7. Hoping NOT To Fail

I will start off this mistake by saying none of us want to fail. That is a given. There isn’t an athlete who would wilfully choose failure over success.

With that being said, while failure may not be a desirable choice, it cannot be avoided.

In sports as in life, failure is inevitable. Even within each game, you’re never going to be perfect. There will always be some small bump or hiccup that keeps you from achieving absolute perfection.

I always push the mindset of being grateful for failure. It’s strange but powerful once you learn how to leverage setbacks and adversities.

But when you continue to fear failing, whether it’s due to fear of embarrassment, shame, losing a starting role, upsetting your coaches/parents, or anything else, it is only going to hold you back.

Going into a game with a mindset of hoping not to fail will in fact bring about failure much more often than focusing on the process towards success.

The fear of failure is powerful. When fear consumes your mind your performances will become altered, playing tight and timid. You tiptoe around hoping not to fail. Only, this fear will never allow you to reach your full potential.

8. Trying To Be Perfect

Accompanying the fear we discussed in the previous section is a need to be (or at least appear) perfect.

A desire to perform perfectly is known as perfectionism. Your mind has become fixated on this idea of performing free of all mistakes. Every action is executed to a tee.

But is that really possible? Sadly, no. And we will get into why a perfectionist never truly feels perfect, no matter how well they perform.

First, let’s examine why such a mindset develops in the first place.

Perfectionism forms as a coping mechanism, or solution. Take the fear of failure as an example. If you feel a deep fear of making a mistake, what would be an appropriate remedy?

Being perfect of course.

If you perform perfectly, that means there will be no mistakes, equating to no failure, and the elimination of fear from your mind.

However, that’s not actually what happens. As I said, a perfectionist never feels perfect. The reason comes from the very nature of perfectionism.

Perfectionists search for perfection. In doing so, their minds look for what went wrong. It’s a strange occurrence, but the cruel reality of such a mindset.

No matter how well you play, you will always find some tiny mistake, along with continually feeling as though you could do better.

When your aim is to be perfect, you never feel satisfied. Instead of motivating yourself, this feeling of never being satisfied and never being perfect eats at your self-confidence.

Not only does your confidence plummet the more you aim to be perfect, but anxiety begins to form as well. Beginning a game, your mind will be focused on this need to be perfect, so you grow anxious over-performing every move absolutely flawlessly.

Focusing on perfection inhibits you from performing naturally and unleashing your true talents within.

9. Getting Down After A Mistake

How well do you respond to making a mistake?

One of the main themes I’ve touched on over many of these mistakes is the inevitability of failure within sports.

Mistakes are going to happen, and are absolutely necessary to your future success.

But my question to you is, are you using such mistakes to improve yourself, or are you allowing yourself to get down after each mistake you make?

Now, I’m not advocating the idea that all athletes should be emotionless robots. We are all human, and no matter whether we are an athlete, a student, or a professional, mistakes do hurt.

There is embarrassment, anger, and many other negative emotions that form instinctively after messing up.

But our job is to keep these emotions at bay. By learning how to control our minds, we can eliminate these negative emotions from becoming too uncontrollable and leading to further failings in the future.

That is what happens when you get too down on yourself after a mistake. Whether the mistake occurs during a game or in practice, becoming overly emotional will do you nothing but harm.

For one, getting down on yourself sucks the energy and motivation out of you. Negativity begins to consume your mind and this opens the doorway for self-doubt, anxiety, and fear to enter.

Also, this type of mindset distracts you from moving on. When you get too down on yourself, you become stuck in the past, as that is where your mistake happened.

During a game, this will lead to more mistakes. Since you are not recentering your attention into the present moment, you won’t be as equipped mentally as you need to be to recover from your mistake.

I can’t tell you how many times I made an error in the field and it turned into another error. Or had a bad at-bat, which translated into a mistake in the field and further bad at-bats later in the game.

Dwelling on mistakes and allowing yourself to get too down keeps you from letting go and moving forward. This holds you in the past, and having your mind away from the present moment eliminates your chance of performing up to your potential.

10. Focusing On Opponent & Other Distractions

Do you have a tendency to focus on who you’re facing?

What about distractions during a game, such as your parents in the stands, other fans, your coaches, teammates, or anything else?

Are any of these distractions filling your mind during competition?

If so, you are setting yourself up to continually perform below your potential.

One of the thoughts that arises when talking about not focusing on opponents is, “Don’t I need to focus on my opponent to gain a competitive advantage?”

Yes, this is true. However, it is something that needs to be done before the game begins. During a game, you don’t want to be focused on your opponent, other than gaining cues that are relevant to your own execution.

You don’t want to be focusing on how intimidating they are, how well someone on the other team is performing, or anything of the sort. All this does is keep your mind away from the responsibilities you need to be focused on.

When it comes to other distractions such as fans or coaches, the issue is more emotional. The tendency to give attention to these sorts of individuals has to do with what they are thinking of you.

If you make a mistake, or even if you do something good, you may look to other people for approval or validation.

During a game is not the time for such admiration. Your mind needs to be focused on the process. That way, you are keeping yourself in the moment, setting up more success to come.

Your mind can only be focused on so much. During a game, it’s your job to focus as much as you can on the task at hand. Otherwise, the drifting of your attention will keep you out of the moment and reduce your ability to reach peak performance.

Final Thoughts

Every athlete should have the desire to continually improve themselves. Striving to become the best version of themselves they can be. I hope that is a desire you currently have.

If you’ve made it this far in the article, it’s one I am confident you possess.

When it comes to you not fulfilling your potential as an athlete, the mind is more to blame than anything physical.

The mental game mistakes outlined throughout this article are all going to work against you in your efforts to reach peak performance.

The first step for you is to identify which of these mistakes you are currently making. From there, steps need to be taken to overcome the mental game challenge responsible.

That’s where the help of a coach truly becomes valuable. If you have identified one, two, or more of these challenges, then you would greatly benefit from mental performance coaching.

Use the link below to schedule a free call to go over your challenges and learn more about how you can get started with one-on-one mental performance coaching.

I hope this article was helpful and will serve as guidance to you on your path to unlocking your full potential.

Thank you for reading, and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.

Contact Success Starts Within Today

Please contact us to learn more about mental coaching and to see how it can improve your mental game and increase your performance. Complete the form below, call (252)-371-1602 or schedule an introductory coaching call here.

Eli Straw

Eli is a sport psychology consultant and mental game coach who works 1-1 with athletes to help them improve their mental skills and overcome any mental barriers keeping them from performing their best. He has an M.S. in psychology and his mission is to help athletes and performers reach their goals through the use of sport psychology & mental training.

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The Mentally Tough Kid course will teach your young athlete tools & techniques to increase self-confidence, improve focus, manage mistakes, increase motivation, and build mental toughness.

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Get one-on-one mental performance coaching to help break through mental barriers and become the athlete you’re meant to be!