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The pitfalls of perfectionism

Perfectionism is a highly common trait in the players I coach and work with. It is wise not to define perfectionism as neither good or bad but purely a character trait that some players have, and other players don’t. I believe we all have some form of perfectionism in us and it is my belief to recognise this and to channel it in positive ways for better outcomes in our matches.

It is important to think of what the word PERFECT actually means. This sentence sums it up beautifully,

“If perfect suggests no more improvements can be made and all things can be improved (even if outstanding already) this renders the concept of perfect impossible and therefore obsolete” – Gareth Mole, sports psychologist, Condor Performance.

We should strive to attain some elements of perfectionism but look to remove the toxic ones. Gareth goes on to state that “Perfectionism is a mix of the Dark Side and Jedi superpowers”.

Squash is a game that does not lend itself to being perfect. It is a what I like to refer to as a ‘wicked’ environment. Activities such as chess, darts and learning a musical instrument can be classed as ‘kind’ environments. Participants, within reason, are able to get close to or attain perfect results in these kinder environments as opposed to squash.

So when should we look to exhibit perfectionist traits in squash?

We need to break down our performance into 3 parts as well as to associate what we can and what we cannot control.

1. Outcome/results (winning, rankings, prize money, team selection) – RED – very little if no control over

2. Performance indicators (SquashLevels score, beating players below you, taking games off players above you) – AMBER – some but not full control over

3. Processes/intentions/effort (trying for every ball, training in the week, stretching after matches, visualisation practise) – GREEN – full and absolute control over

A lot of players tend to be outcome and performance perfectionists. If this is the case, then you are performing mental sabotage on yourself. As you can see, with these 2 areas we have very little control over them. Why spend so much time, energy and effort into worrying and focusing on these?

But, on the other hand, I would encourage you to become a perfectionist in your processes, intentions and efforts.

You have full control over these aspects, and this is the area you will do well to spend time and effort getting right. If you are able to start directing your attention towards your processes, then the other areas of your game (performance and results) will take care of themselves.

Practical tips focussing perfectionism

- Become aware if you are outcome/performance and consider what this is doing to your performances?

- Direct your perfectionism towards your processes, intentions and efforts

- Consider what is within your control and what is not within your control? Are the uncontrollable factors really necessary to worry about?

- Write down your process and intentions and make yourself accountable for achieving them on a weekly basis

- Once you have set your intentions, and are following through with them regularly, let the performances and results take care of themselves

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