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Perspectives on Perfectionism and Performance

Lauren Pierre


Throughout their athletic careers, athletes continually feel the immense pressure to perfect each skill in order to perform optimally. Ironically, in seeking this level of perfection, they often experience intense stress and worry that hinder them from achieving their goals. In his article The dual nature of Perfectionism in sports: relationships with emotion, motivation, and performance, Joachim Stoeber discusses the positive and negative effects of perfectionism on the mindset and performance of athletes (Stoeber, 2011). While many argue that perfectionism is detrimental to performance, there are several studies that show that perfectionism can actually be healthy and beneficial to the individual under certain conditions. According to this article, there are two main types of perfectionism, perfectionistic strivings and perfectionistic concerns, which each play a distinct role in emotion, motivation, and performance (Stoeber, 2011).

Perfectionism is essentially the desire and effort put in to achieve a goal or complete a task perfectly, refusing to be satisfied unless performance is flawless. A common characteristic in the general population and especially in athletes, perfectionism often begins when individuals set unrealistically high standards for themselves to achieve. The first aspect of perfectionism, perfectionistic strivings, occurs when individuals seek to perform to the best of their ability and achieve mastery in what they do. On the other hand, perfectionistic concerns occur when individuals are worried about messing up, failing to achieve their goals, or receiving judgement and criticism from others (Stoeber, 2011). In most of the studies discussed in the article, perfectionistic strivings were positively correlated with positive emotions, high motivation, hope of success, self-confidence, and increased performance. Conversely, perfectionistic concerns were positively correlated with negative emotions, lack of motivation, anxiety, and fear of failure (Stoeber, 2011). It is interesting to note, however, that perfectionistic strivings only had a positive effect on athletes when perfectionistic concerns were controlled for. This suggests that perfectionistic concerns will overpower perfectionistic strivings even when the individual has high levels of both. Unfortunately, the two aspects of perfectionism are highly correlated and those with high levels of perfectionistic strivings also tend to have high levels of perfectionistic concerns (Stoeber, 2011).

This article on perfectionism in sports is important because it challenges the common belief that perfectionism always results in negative outcomes. It presents significant evidence from multiple studies that show that one aspect of perfectionism can help athletes with their performance, both mentally and physically. It emphasizes the importance of making the distinction between the different categories of perfectionism, while explaining why one is healthy and the other is harmful. It is interesting to study these effects because they show how, like many other aspects of psychology, perfectionism is multidimensional and must be examined from different perspectives. It is no longer acceptable to simply accept or discard a concept based only on one perspective. The study of perfectionism is ambivalent, with both an adaptive, functional side and a maladaptive, dysfunctional side (Stoeber, 2011). This article gives important insight into an aspect of sports psychology that has not been widely considered. After reviewing the studies on perfectionism in sports, sports psychologists can apply these concepts with their clients to increase their performance by helping them decrease perfectionistic concerns rather than increase perfectionistic strivings (Stoeber, 2011). By working with athletes to improve self-confidence and motivation, set attainable goals, and focus on positive emotions, they can assist athletes in minimizing the power of perfectionistic concerns.

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