How Expectations Kill Performance [24]

Gain the Mental Edge with Objectives that Build Confidence.

In the final months leading up to the America’s Cup and with coaching the Next Generation USA Youth America’s Cup Team, I think back to what was considered the greatest comebacks in sporting history when Oracle Team USA beat New Zealand in the last America’s Cup in San Francisco from a 8-1 deficit.

A quote that has stuck with me since that time was what skipper Jimmy Spithill had to say when he was in the thick of it.

“It’s very easy, and the same in business, when things are going well, everyone gets happy and gets along in the company. But when you’re losing and you’re having a hard time and you’re facing adversity, is when you see the champion — then you see the champion teams, then you see the people you want standing around you.” – Jimmy Spithill.

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Jimmy Spithill during the 2013 Americas Cup

Expectations are not always your friend when you’re searching for achievement in sports.

Did Jimmy and Team Oracle want to win the America’s cup? Of course they did, but it was sticking to the process that got them there in the end.

Sport psychologists say expectations are a very dangerous mental outlook when searching for success in sport. In fact, they’d say expectations hold athletes back from developing high levels of confidence.  Without confidence there’s no success.

“Expectations usually concern results, or personal statistics such as, expecting to get a hit every time you’re at the plate. Expectations like this only set athletes up for failure because when they don’t meet these demands they feel unsuccessful,” explains Mike Edger from Sports Psychology Today.
49er line up

In the sport of sailing we see this a lot with younger Olympic sailors starting their Olympic campaigns. As it was the case with myself, having a great result in the early months of our campaign was actually detrimental, as expectations were not properly dealt with. After our top 10 result in the 2011 Miami World Cup event in the 49er, we moved forward with expectations of doing the same or better in Europe during our first World Cup event in France. However, I believe we finished 49th and with  no one giving us insight into how to manage our expectations and failures, we struggled to gain traction again for a few months.

OPEX athletes learn right off the bat expectations for their fitness and sailing has to be managed with objectives, that when met, will feed their confidence. For some, sailing schedules can be very busy (every other week an event, on-the-water training, or travel) and in order to create adaptation in their fitness, an individually designed program must be made that helps manage objectives with busy competition schedules. Finding continued improvement with sailing results over the 4 years of an Olympic campaign (or 8, 12, etc… for some of the “Olympic Lifers”) requires a long-term vision with process-orientated goals. Getting a sailing athlete to their highest potential must incorporate a well-designed program that aids in meeting performance objectives in the sport.


A manageable objective for either fitness or sailing is one in which you’re focusing on the process and not fixed scores or outcomes. For example, if you’re new to fitness you might replace the expectation of doing a muscle up on a specific day to seeing how many pull-ups could be achieved in a given workout. It’s a tweak, but an important one – in opening the goal up and winding it back mildly, you’re giving yourself a greater chance of meeting it. This will feed your confidence and inspire you to continue the process of working towards a muscle up.

Relating to sailing, instead of having an expectation of getting top 5 in the regatta, break it down and make it a manageable expectation of finishing in the top 12 every race of the event. In the end, you might still get to that original expectation (great), but you might not of gotten there if you only were worried about the top 5.

Sometimes the most boring results (no big highs and/or big lows) are the ones that lead you to the most success over the long-term. The same goes with fitness; hitting objectives put in place each and every day, week, and month, will lead to success.

Confidence is an unshakeable belief in yourself that’s completely independent of whether you can do a muscle-up, or any other fitness or sailing skill for that matter. Choosing to replace your expectations with manageable objectives that prioritize process will help you create the confident mental edge all great athletes have.

If you need help reframing your expectations into achievable fitness and sailing goals, I can help. Specializing in individual program design, I will meet you where you’re at, ensuring your confidence is rock solid from the start.

Request a free consultation today.


*This blog has been adapted from OPEX How Expectations Kill Performance.

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