Being around the rink, I hear the word “perfect” a lot. And, that is always cause for some concern.

Too often, hockey players try to be "perfect" when they perform. These players set high expectations (their own or the standards of others), then become upset and frustrated when they fail to match these standards. They can also frustrate teammates and coaches with this mindset.

I hear from parents and coaches who worry about young players who become easily frustrated and take disappointment home with them… too often.

You're likely familiar with players who show perfectionist behaviors.

There are Pros and Cons of the Perfectionist Player

coaching the players

Perfectionist athletes tend to criticize themselves for making mistakes, often hold high and unrealistic expectations for themselves and tend to get frustrated easily after making a mistake. These athletes are often perfectionists in other aspects of their lives--in school, at work and even at home.

On a positive note, you will find some advantages to perfectionism in players. Perfectionist athletes tend to work hard, are highly committed to their targets and are willing to learn and improve.

The problem is these positive traits often hide the problems that are associated with perfectionism in the sport of hockey. The players are so motivated that you often don't think of them as having mental/ emotional struggles.

Perfectionists Undermine Their Own Play

women's hockey

Athletes who try to be perfect can undermine their performance in many ways. Here are a few:

  1. Focusing too much on results leading to a vicious cycle of working hard, setting higher expectations and then thinking they are failing to reach their expectations.
  2. Unknowingly embrace very high expectations. They do this unconsciously. When they don't achieve their expectations, they feel frustrated feeling like they have failed – and this can result in destructive behaviour.
  3. They don’t enjoy the game like they should. There is so much pressure to be perfect that they forget the real purpose of playing – to have fun, enjoy the experience and achieve challenging goals.

Here's a classic example from a Hockey Dad: "He is obsessive with the perfect shift or perfect shot. If he makes a mistake, it’s all we hear about instead of the great moments he had in the game. He’s never happy with his efforts in the game.”

Excellence is Always the Goal

hockey training

There is a big difference between perfection and excellence and I’d like to encourage you to think about making excellence your goal. Why?

By creating realistic and challenging expectations and helping players focus on manageable targets, they are put in the best position to succeed and enjoy the sport they love.

Some characteristics of excellence players...

  • A player who focuses on their personal best, not impossible goals
  • A player who has reasonable expectations and takes into consideration that mistakes are a normal, frequent part of sport
  • A player who focuses more on what they did well vs. the mistakes they made
  • A player who learns from failure instead of being devastated by it – moving forward to better performances
  • A player who keeps going when things get difficult - not giving up

Remember that perfection is an unachievable pursuit. Nothing in life is perfect and nothing in hockey is either – the player, competitors, coaches and all surroundings have flaws, so to continually anticipate and expect a flawless, mistake-free performance is not only harmful to performance, but illogical!

What Parents and Coaches Can Do

coaching players

Begin by identifying the very high or perfectionist expectations that pressure your young player. These are the expectations that motivate them to have a "perfect" shift or game and not make any mistakes.

Once you identify these expectations - “I can’t make any mistakes”, or “I have to win” - your job is to replace them with simple, process-oriented targets.

Smaller, more manageable targets such as “the best I can do on each shift” or “I want to get a good shot off on goal each period” helps players focus on the process. It also contributes to better results.

Manageable goals focus the hockey player on the execution of one moment or one shift at a time.

The Right Goal

winning

As hockey parent or coach, you want to be mindful about placing unreasonably high expectations on your players. You may do this without even realizing you're doing it. Some parents and coaches ask young athletes for results--and place expectations on them--in an attempt to boost their confidence. They might say, "let’s get a win tonight" or “let’s score a couple of goals in the game”. Unfortunately, such well-meaning input can cause players--especially perfectionists--to try to meet these expectations. They then feel frustrated and disappointed when they don't.

By creating realistic and challenging expectations and helping young athletes focus on manageable targets, you put them in the best position to succeed and help them maximize the enjoyment in the game.

Excellence should always be the goal with players.