Perfection: the good and the bad

‘Perfection’ — and striving for it — has it’s ups and downs…

Credit: skeeze

Quite often, we hear some of the world’s top athletes talking about perfection — embracing it, striving for it, and even describing themselves as ‘perfectionists’. Just recently, I was watching an interview with undefeated boxing champion Floyd Mayweather, where he describes his own ‘striving for perfection’.

And there’s nothing to say that Mayweather is duping us. Indeed, I believe that he embraces that word, and with his year after year of hard work at his craft, he has probably found a definition/understanding of perfection which works for him. So, for Mayweather and other athletes who have reached their peak, they have developed a notion of perfection which appears to work for them.

On the other hand, ‘perfection’ and ‘perfectionism’ can be dangerous words. Perfection connotes obsession. And obsession can be unhealthy… especially when it’s in the pursuit of something which is unattainable — i.e. something like ‘perfect’. The thing is, there is no such thing as perfection. It is an illusion. An illusion which, as we’ve discussed already, has been grasped and utilised by the likes of Floyd Mayweather.

However, for a young athlete — or in fact for any athlete — the word ‘perfection’ can bear heavy. We’re living in a world where excellence is demanded in schools, colleges and universities, where incessant comparison is the norm. This is only amplified through social media, an online world where we see teens with their own YouTube channel, or someone we know who has more followers than us. Or else, someone on Instagram who’s appearance and feed looks better than us/ours.

As far as athete performance goes, one might argue that a degree of competition, hard work and striving to be better are crucial elements that it takes to “succeed”. The truth is, whilst every sport is a competition, one is better of focusing on their own self-improvement.

And this is possible without using a word like ‘perfection’, which could be taking it too far and hinder/stifle a young person’s development. With the pressure that a young person/athlete puts on him/herself, in addition to that piled on by parents and coaches, the toll could be huge.

I’ve recently written about some of the on-court behaviour I witnessed amongst junior and next-gen tennis players whilst I was at various tournaments this Summer — e.g. here and here. There is no doubt in my mind that a key contributing factor to player performance is the internal and eternal pressure they feel, which can come from induced-without-realising notion of perfection.

When you see a 17-year old player berating herself more and more at her errors on court, whulst one can understand the frustration, as a holistic coach I ask myself what’s happening behind the scenes — or even what isn’t happening? Better emotional regulation could help with these on-court situations, and prevent a possible downwards-spiral in play.

A thriving young athlete will be better in their sport, and in their life outside of it.

My feeling is that a culture of this striving for excellence should be built up slowly over time, in an appropriate manner and as and when they are ready. As some might fear, this doesn’t mean that their potential for high performance needs to be compromised. In fact, quite the opposite.

Perhaps most importantly, it should be made clear that perfection does not exist. Instead, an encouragement to b e the best they can be — the best version of themselves — should be encouraged. Adopting this mindset, it is through hard work, self-discipline and dedication that we will build the thriving, promising athletes of the future.

by Jasraj
Wednesday 4th October, 2017

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