Understanding the Mindset of High-Level Athletes [20]

My first true awareness of excellence versus perfection in myself as an athlete was from the sports psychologist on the US Sailing Team back in 2010.  My noticing of it came during a point of time in my training where I got caught demanding perfection of myself and as a result was severally limiting my progress towards my goals.

Perfectionism is the individual’s belief that he or she must be perfect to be acceptable or achieve the goal – a binary response to life with no gray area in-between. Perfectionism is an attitude, not necessarily a behavior. Anything less then perfect is a failure.

The pursuit of excellence is the desire to attain a goal of excellence, to achieve at a high level, to be the best that one can be but without the demand attached to the goal or desire. Excellence focuses on the process of achievement rather than the outcome.

Regardless the goal, the outcome can be dramatically different depending on ones attitude and perception of achievement and progress. As an example, two people could be training to win an Olympic Gold medal but one can be pursuing excellence, while the other is demanding perfection. The difference lies in the thought process about the goal or behavior, not in the goal or behavior itself.

Being an OPEX HQ Remote Coach and working with athletes from many different backgrounds and specific goals, it has been eye opening to walk each of my athletes through a journey of awareness behind this topic. And as a result I have learned a ton about my journey, and my pursuit towards excellence.

A perfectionist athlete’s mindset is focused on the outcome not the process. They judge self-worth based on achievement (looks, strength, results, etc.) and strive for external recognition of that achievement. They have unreasonable demands of themselves and are quick to criticize failures – which ultimately results in them avoiding failure all together. The perfectionist views other competitors, trainers, coaches as potential critics and as a result tend to avoid feedback, viewing others as adversaries.

Many high level athlete goes through some stage of perfectionism mindset (whether consciously or not) that can alter the direction and path of that athlete’s end game and likely inhibit the longevity of the athlete in the sport if it’s not addressed.  However, in my own experience it was only through my journey with a perfectionist mentality that I was able to push-myself towards goals that I might not have tried to reach otherwise.  Many high level athletes likely have a similar story, but the best athletes are the ones that use what they have learned from striving towards perfection to then pursue excellence.

At OPEX Fitness we work together with each athletes to identify where these underlying views come from, gain an understanding and awareness towards how they may be hindering the athlete’s long-term progress, and build trust within our athlete/coach relationship where each athlete can succeed in their own pursuit of excellence regardless of the goal.

An athlete that is pursuing excellence has the following attributes:

1. The pursuer of excellence focuses on the process of the task at hand rather than the outcome.
2. The pursuer of excellence values him or herself separate from the achievement based upon the effort or the willingness to try rather than whether the goal was achieved.
3. The pursuer of excellence sets realistic but challenging goals that are clear and specific.
4. The pursuer of excellence is willing to examine his or her performance and personal vulnerabilities so as to improve.
5. The pursuer of excellence focuses on achieving goals to attain personal satisfaction rather than needing others to recognize their success.
6. The pursuer of excellence desires to risk failure because of the benefits that occur from taking a risk. He or she is able to do this because failure isn’t personalized and dreaded as a result.
7. The pursuer of excellence sees others as partners in achievement of their goals.
8. The pursuer of excellence recognizes that change occurs with consistent effort over time and has the patience to continue pursuing goals even when there is not immediate change.
9. The pursuer of excellence has desires that are not demands but are achievable goals.
10. The pursuer of excellence finds enjoyment and satisfaction in the pursuit of goals.

Athletes who pursue excellence are often more successful than the perfectionists because they do not paralyze themselves with fear of failure but are able to enjoy the process, and therefore, pursue more risks and goals increasing the chances of success.

In my personal journey as an athletes, coach, business owner, and husband, it is the times when I am fully pursuing excellence that I am the most fulfilled and that is all that really matters in this life anyways.

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