How to Stop Caring About What Others Think of Your Game

Do you worry too much about what other people think of your game?

Are you playing afraid and timidly due to this worry?

As an athlete, it’s natural to worry and care about what other people think of you. Afterall, it’s other people who will decide what teams you get on, the amount of playing time you get, and any awards you receive.

But as I’ll discuss in this article, if you worry too much about everyone else’s opinion, this will only hold you back…ultimately causing you to perform in the very way you are trying to avoid.

So, we need a strategy. 

A way to let go of this worry and finally play confidently and freely. 

The beautiful part is, when you play confidently and freely, you play your best. Leading to people thinking of you in the way you want, without having to worry so much about it.

To get yourself to that point, it begins with a better understanding of where this worry is coming from in the first place.

Caring About What Others Think…Good or Bad?

Would you say it’s a good thing or a bad thing to care about what people think of you as a player.

I’d say it’s a good thing.

But hold on a second! Aren’t we working to let go of this care? Isn’t the whole goal to not give a flip about the opinions of others?

Well, kind of. 

But there’s a big difference between care and worry.

You don’t want to worry about what other people think. That’s hurtful to your game.

But you do want to care.

Caring means you have standards about yourself. It means you care about doing well for your team, for your coach, and for your family.

Never once will I recommend to any athlete I work with to stop caring.

I will absolutely recommend them to stop worrying, however.

The reason I find it important to begin the article by clearing up the difference between caring about what people think and worrying about what people think is because I have worked with many athletes who struggle to let go of their worry, because it doesn’t feel right to stop caring.

We need to make a distinction between caring and worrying. And the best way to do so is through two different stories of two different players.

Playing With Constant Worry

The first story is about a player who lives with constant worry. All of his attention is consumed with thoughts about other people and what they think of his game.

He has a game tomorrow. Today is the team’s last practice before the game. All week he’s been worried during practice because of playing time.

Before practice, instead of focusing on getting himself warmed up and focused for the day, with a clear intent as to what he wants to improve, he warms up with his mind half there, and half on his coach and whether or not the coach is happy with his practices so far.

Now it’s the night before the game and he’s lying in bed looking up at the ceiling. 

He’s stressed.

His extended family is coming to town for his sister’s graduation and how embarrassing will it be if he doesn’t start!

What if he does start and he plays badly?? They haven’t seen him play in so long and he’s supposed to be good. God, they’ll think he’s terrible if he plays badly.

He has a rough time falling asleep due to his stress and wakes up the next morning with a headache and churning stomach.

It’s game day. Time for more worries.

Just as with practice, his pregame warm up is interrupted by anxious and worrisome thoughts. Especially when his family gets to the field.

Now he’s looking at them and the anxious thoughts only worsen.

He starts (luckily or unluckily…he’s not quite sure). 

But throughout the game he’s distracted by worries and makes a few mistakes. Only making his worries worse, since now he thinks about the coach and his teammates and what they’re thinking, along with his family.

The game ends and he’s pissed at himself and embarrassed. 

All because of worries.

Caring About the Game

The second story is about a soccer player who, instead of constantly worrying about her game, cares about how she plays and uses that care in a positive way.

She has a game tomorrow. During practice today she was focused on fine tuning her angles on defense. She’d struggled with them the last game and wanted to be sure she felt confident about them going into the game.

After practice was finished, she stayed to practice some extra shots and to also give the goalie some more work.

At home, the soccer player has a nice dinner with her parents and is happy when they tell her her aunt and uncle will be coming to the game tomorrow. 

In her mind, this only adds more motivation to play well!

Before going to bed, she goes through the beginning phase of her pregame routine, then forgets about the game and has a nice night’s sleep.

The following morning she has a nice breakfast, does a few mental exercises to get ready for the game and then goes to school (the game is at 4).

Throughout the school day she is excited, but tries to focus on class and not think too much about the game.

School finishes, she goes to the field, and gets locked in. She completes her pregame routine, warms up, and remains focused on herself and her team.

She doesn’t allow her thoughts to drift onto the other team and worry about them. Or travel into the stands and worry about her friends that are there or her family that’s watching.

She cares about performing well in front of them, but she also knows how that’s done. It isn’t done by worrying about them. It isn’t done by being afraid of making mistakes.

She’s been there before and knows that type of mindset only hurts her.

Instead of worrying, she uses her care to drive her to be more focused, play harder throughout the game, and come out the other end happy and satisfied with her performance.

And naturally, others are happy with how she played as well.

The Difference Between Care and Worry in Games

What are some of the differences that stick out to you between the two stories?

For me, I immediately think about the difference in their focus. The first athlete spent the majority of his time worrying about the future and how he’ll play.

The second athlete spent more time focusing on what she needed to be doing in that moment to help herself play well.

Both cared about what other people thought and wanted to do well in front of those watching. One let this care turn into a mind fixed on the future and based in fear, while the other used this care as motivation and a reason to focus even more in the present moment.

That right there sums up the major difference between care and worry. Care is good. Care means you hold yourself to a high standard. But care does not need to lead to constant worries and fears.

When care turns to worry, you underperform.

When care drives motivation, hard work, and strong focus, you play up to your potential.

So the next question is, how do you care about your game and your performance without letting it turn into worries?

How to Stop Worrying About What Others Think of Your Game

When care turns to worry, the worry is mainly focused on what other people think of you in a fearful way. Just like the baseball player in the first story.

He was constantly worried about making a mistake and what his coaches, teammates, parents, family members, and anyone else would think of him.

The soccer player also cared about what others thought, but she didn’t spend time worrying about what they thought.

This isn’t an easy skill to develop. But it is one that needs to be built and improved.

The strategy outlined below will help you build such a skill and finally stop playing with constant worry about what other people think of you and your game.

Focus on How You Play Well

The baseball player I introduced in the first story worried about playing well. In contrast, the soccer player focused on how she can play well.

Do you see the difference?

One is more about hoping, wishing, and worrying. The other is about action!

That is the first step when it comes to letting go of worrying about what others think of your game: focus on how you actually play well.

Afterall, that’s your goal, right? Playing well so they think you’re a good player.

But so often, when you worry about what others think, you lose sight of what you actually need to focus on and do well in the moment to play well and have them think you’re a good player.

We see this focus come more naturally for players who care and use that care in a positive way (like the soccer player). If you worry a lot, however, this is something that you must work at and something that will honestly be quite difficult.

But it’s worth it!

What you want to do is go through an exercise where you outline everything that goes into you playing well. Get as specific as possible.

Then think about which actions and aspects of your game you listed are 100% in your control.

Those are what you need to be focusing on.

Whether it’s during practice, pre game, during a game, or post game, you should always be focusing on what you can control in that moment to give yourself the best chance of playing well.

Judge Your Own Game

Once you know everything that goes into playing your best, you need to change where you look for validation that you played well.

Of course you want your coach to think you played well. Just as you want your parents, friends, teammates, and everyone else to think so, too. But you can’t look to them first.

That puts you in an extremely vulnerable position.

A position that leads to fear and worry…the very mindset we are working to avoid.

Instead, you need to look to yourself for this approval and validation that you played well.

The best way to do so is by using a post game evaluation process. One that will be the same for every game and follows a set structure.

And preferably you will write this down. That way, you protect yourself from getting lost in negative thoughts in your head.

A super simple evaluation process to follow is one where you outline five good things from your performance and five things you want to work on/learn.

It’s a simple exercise, but if you stay consistent with it, it will have a tremendous impact on reducing your worry. Because you are no longer looking to other people for immediate validation. You are giving that validation to yourself.

Now, if you played poorly you still want to go through this process. In fact, that’s when it’s the most important.And be sure to still list things you did well, even if you have to look hard for them.

Final Thoughts

Worrying about what other people think of your game is a dangerous place to find yourself in as an athlete.

Worry leads to fear, timidness, and underperforming.

But not worrying doesn’t mean you can’t care. 

Care is good…if it’s used in a productive way as the story of the soccer player outlined.

When you use care as motivation to focus on what you need to do to play well, care becomes helpful.

And to build that skill, you want to get clear on what you need to do in order to put yourself in the best position to play well, along with following a structured post game evaluation practice.

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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