Perfectionism is rampant in today’s youth culture, especially among girls and women; research suggests that girls and women tend to show more perfectionistic behaviors and thought patterns than boys and men (Kay & Shipman, 2014).
In my 20 years of experience working with young athletes, it is even more rampant within athletes that fall into the “specialized sport” category, and even more so among young pitchers; a “specialized position” within a “specialized sport.” The perceived (and real) pressures young pitchers can put on themselves beginning at younger and younger ages can result in negative and overly critical responses to mistakes or outcomes.
Overthinking, people-pleasing, and the inability to let go of mistakes are classic perfectionism at it’s best. Most likely, everyone has experienced these behaviors to some degree, and your child probably has too. Perfectionism is essentially untrue, false, thinking patterns that the perfectionist believes to be true. If you TRULY expect a perfect outcome, you are setting yourself up to never feel good enough.
Below are five signs of a perfectionist pitcher, followed by some quick tips for parents to help your pitcher overcome these damaging thinking patterns.
The Perfectionist Pitcher is often an athlete that experienced success early. Pitching came naturally to them, they were throwing harder and more accurately than other players at a young age, which most likely resulted in a lot of strikeouts, a lot of wins, a lot of recognition, and a lot of awards. Somewhere along the way, this athlete started to believe they are capable of striking out everyone, that they can win every game, that they should get every tournament MVP – anything less is unacceptable. This pitcher strives for perfection, which according to Hamidi and Besharat (2010) is not a bad thing, it is when the athlete negatively responds to mistakes and imperfections that can become damaging.
The “easily stressed” parent:
Kids with easily stressed parents do whatever they can to maintain peace.
They recognize changes in your mood, your tone, your attitude more than you realize and when a parent is affected by a child’s performance, the child begins to believe, “When I pitch well, dad is happy. When I pitch bad, dad is not happy.”
The “highly critical parent” can be critical of:
Fill in the blank however you want, the message the athlete internalizes is that "__________________is not good enough,” a mentality that creates rigid or stubborn thinking patterns, where mistakes in any form are absolutely unacceptable.
All or nothing thinking patterns are dangerous. They are inaccurate beliefs that set us up for failure. Here are some examples from the perfectionist pitchers I have worked with over the years:
I see this quite a bit. Young pitchers spending over 30 minutes throwing pitches, working every drill, every spin, every possible thing they might work on in a lesson or a bullpen session. They are hyper-focused on the outcome of each pitch. It needs to feel perfect, look perfect, BE PERFECT before they feel game ready. My response to them is simple:
Every pitcher has experienced both situations before. Why? The pace, the approach, the MENTALITY changed from the bullpen to the mound. Pregame warm-up is about the mental game, NOT being perfect with mechanics.
These three words are classic signs that you are dealing with a perfectionist.
These words create ADDED and UNNECESSARY pressure on the athlete and are flat out toxic. They are the breeding ground for perfectionism, all or nothing thinking, and are essentially the refusal to accept or learn from a mistake.
Thank you for reading, and I hope these tips help you guide your softball player into a healthy, yet competitive environment. Coaches play an important part in maintaining that environment. If you know a coach who might enjoy a few of these tips, keep them on the lookout for Combating Perfectionism: Part two. Next week, I will share three tips for coaching perfectionist pitchers.
Appleton, P.R., Hall, H.K., & Hill, A.P. (2010). Family patterns of perfectionism: an examination of elite junior athletes and their parents. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, pp. 1-9.
Hamidi, S. & Besharat, M.A. (2010). Perfectionism and competitive anxiety in athletes. Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences, volume 5, pp. 813- 817.
Kay, K. & Shimpan, C. (2014). The Confidence Code. Syndey, Austraila. HarperCollins Publishers.
Nicole Denes is a performance coach and licensed professional therapist in the state of Oklahoma where she works with professional, collegiate and amateur athletes to help them reach their highest potential. She is a former pitcher for the University of Oklahoma and has been providing professional pitching and softball instruction for 20 years. She founded Be Complete Athletics in Oklahoma City in 2018, a facility that provides elite-level softball instruction and mental skills training in confidence, leadership, and mental game strategies to young athletes.