Overcoming Fear of Embarrassment in Sports

Are you afraid of embarrassing yourself if you make a mistake? Learn a simple strategy you can use to let go of this fear and play with confidence!

Do you ever feel embarrassed after making a mistake? This is a very natural and common feeling. And one that’s honestly feared more than it’s realized.

But what happens when this fear is felt before and during competition? Could this actually increase your chances of making a mistake and feeling the embarrassment you’re so terrified of experiencing?

In this article, we’re going to explore how the fear of embarrassment holds you back, and a strategy you can use to reduce this fear and compete with full confidence.

How the Fear of Embarrassment Holds You Back

When we think about how the fear of embarrassment hurts you the most as an athlete, it’s not the actual embarrassment you feel. In fact, it usually turns out not to be as bad as you thought it would be.

The real problem occurs before and during games (sometimes even during practice).

Fear of embarrassment, a subset of a mental game challenge known as fear of failure, involves being afraid of messing up due to the feelings of embarrassment you believe you’ll experience.

There are a few reasons why you may think you’ll feel embarrassed, with some of the main ones including…

  • Feeling not good enough.
  • Embarrassing yourself in front of your teammates.
  • Having your coaches think less of you.
  • Playing poorly in front of the fans.
  • Embarrassing your family if they’re watching you play.
  • Thinking people won’t think you’re a good player.

You see how all of these have to do with other people? That’s a key factor to this fear of embarrassment: you are afraid of what other people will think of you.

And as this fear of embarrassment grows, it can actually change the way you play.

Fear of Embarrassment & Timid Play

Imagine that you’re in the middle of practice or the middle of a game and all you can think about is how much you don’t want to embarrass yourself. How do you think you’ll play?

Do you think you will play with full confidence and aggressively? Or, do you think you will hold yourself back?

For the most part, the second choice is what happens.

When you’re afraid of embarrassing yourself, your goal becomes to not embarrass yourself. And while not embarrassing yourself may include succeeding within the game, that’s not what your mind focuses on.

Your goal is to not embarrass yourself, so you play to achieve that goal. Which often means hiding and holding yourself back.

When you play to avoid a negative, success isn’t the true goal. It’s to not mess up. And you can not mess up and still feel like you didn’t play a great game.

This is a common theme among athletes I work with who are experiencing the fear of embarrassment. They get mad at themselves because they aren’t playing up to their potential.

For some, this involves not applying the skills they show off in individual training during practice. And for others it means not playing up to the skill level they show in practice during games.

Either way, this fear leads you to focus on not messing up, causing you to hold yourself back and play with your foot on the brake.

Overcoming the Fear of Embarrassment

The most frustrating thing about the fear of embarrassment is that your natural reaction to this fear – playing it safe – only increases your chances of messing up.

What we need to do to overcome this fear is work on changing your focus and increasing the belief you have in your skills.

Learning to Stop Focusing on Your Fear

I want you to imagine a big TV screen in front of you. Now, this TV isn’t in your living room, it’s on the field or court. Don’t ask me how, but it’s hanging down in front. Now, what scene do you want to see on that screen?

Do you want to see a scene of you making a mistake and embarrassing yourself, or do you want to see a scene of you playing well and succeeding?

I’m going to guess you chose the second option. Now, instead of the TV screen, think about what scene is playing out within your mind before plays…is it one of you making a mistake or of you playing well?

If you are afraid of embarrassing yourself, the pictures in your mind will be of you making mistakes. I know you’re thinking about how you don’t want to make mistakes, but that still means you are thinking about making mistakes.

What we want to work on is getting you to stop focusing on this fear and instead focus on what you want to have happen.

A great example of this is a short stop I worked with. He was afraid of making an error. As a result, he tended to think about not making a bad throw or missing the ball when it was hit to him.

This put him back on his heels, afraid of messing up. And when you’re afraid of messing up, you will not play with as much confidence or as aggressively.

His fear of making mistakes caused him to make more mistakes.

What I had him do was visualize making a good play before every pitch. He didn’t close his eyes or anything (since it was the middle of the game), but what he did do was simply think about making a nice play.

This put him in a more confident mindset and made him expect the next ball hit to him. And what do you think happened? He began making more good plays.

For yourself, begin imagining making a good play instead of thinking about not wanting to make a mistake.

They may seem like the same thing, but one leads to fear and the other leads to confidence.

Always remember, when you play you want to focus on what you want to have happen, not what you don’t want to have happen.

Building Your Self-Belief

The second part of overcoming your fear of embarrassment is building confidence in yourself.

When you are afraid to fail and this fear is driven by the embarrassment you think you’ll feel, there’s a good chance you don’t trust in yourself as much as you could.

Now there are two different types of confidence we want to focus on: confidence in understanding and confidence in execution.

Confidence in understanding means you understand you have skills. You probably have this type of confidence if you feel like you’ve been doing well in practice.

You know you are skilled…but something changes come game time.

Confidence in execution means you trust yourself to execute your skills well during games. Now this is where you may be struggling right now. Especially if you have been fearing embarrassment.

To build more self-belief, mainly confidence in execution, there are two different exercises you can use.

One is a self-talk exercise. Your thoughts are very important in determining how confident you feel. If you have thoughts like, “I’m not good enough,” “I can’t do it,” and “I stink,” they will lower your confidence.

However, if you have thoughts like, “I know I’m a great player,” “I’ve got this,” “I believe in myself,” then your confidence will increase.

For this self-talk exercise, make a list of 5-10 confidence building statements. Then make sure you read them to yourself each day, and also try to repeat them to yourself during games

The second exercise is one where you remember times you’ve played well. It’s called remembering past successes.

Think about it like this, if we want to build trust that we can play well, wouldn’t it be a good idea to remind ourselves of times when we have played well in the past? Absolutely!

For this exercise, make a list of 3-5 really good games you’ve had in the past. They don’t even have to be full games, either. They can simply be good plays you’ve made or good at bats you’ve had and so on.

Once you have your list created, read them to yourself daily, and especially before a game.

These two exercises will help increase the trust and belief you have in yourself. And the more confidence you have that you can play well, the less you will be afraid of embarrassment.

Final Thoughts

The fear of embarrassment will hold you back and cause you to underperform. The worst part about it is, your fear of making mistakes can be the very thing causing you to make more mistakes.

So, if you notice that you’ve been playing with this fear recently, you want to make sure you work on changing your focus and building your self-belief.

Take that attention off the idea of messing up and place it on wanting to play well. Then, use the two exercises I outlined to begin building confidence in yourself and your skills.

Now, if you’re interested in a more personalized approach to managing your fear of embarrassment, then you need one-on-one mental coaching.

With the mental coaching program, I will work with you to identify why you’re afraid of embarrassment, and then create a custom plan that we will follow to overcome this fear and get you playing with full confidence.

To learn more about one-on-one coaching, please fill out the form below.

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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