When young athletes first start playing sport, they fall in love with the joys of playing catch with dad, shooting hoops with the boys or riding a bike and experiencing the rush of wind in your face. Sport has the power to give us an immense amount of satisfaction. But as we start playing competitively, the pressure to perform can increase and the expectations from ourselves and others can often rob us of joy because we quickly realize that we’ll never be good enough for our coach, dad, or team. We never win 100% of the time, and even if we did, there’s still the pressure of winning the next game, and that pressure is heavy.
Often times the first question a kid is asked after a game is “did you win or lose?” “Why’d you lose?” “What can you do better next time?” These questions are detrimental and they distract from the transcendent nature that sport can became. Sport isn’t about winning or losing, it’s about becoming the people we want to become through the process of pursuing something meaningful. If it’s only about winning or losing, we may suffer from performance-based identity. Performance-based identity is when an athletes sense of self worth is tied to how they perform in their sport.
So what happens when winning becomes all there is?
Performance-based athletes are so focused on winning that nothing else matters. They tend to push everything out of their lives including their most important relationships, just so they can pursue this ideal of gold/fame/fortune – perfection – whatever they associate as their “reward” for winning. They’ve pushed themselves so far away from the truly good and enduring things in their lives that they’ve lost sight of the process.
Performance-based identity is especially concerning in youth sports. If not curtailed, it could create a myriad of issues and very real, often permanent, psychological scars. Some of the most immediately visible fallout from performance-based identity include:
* Self-description only relates to their identity as an athlete
* Overwhelming pre-competition anxiety
* Expressed desire to quit or pull out of a competition
* Lower self-worth if performance lags
* Jealousy or envy towards those who perform better
* Fear of failure overcomes the excitement of competition
* Obsession over mistakes long after the competition event is over
* Unhealthy focus on working harder to overcome failures
Sport is intended to bring joy to our lives, no matter what level we compete at. If you have a performance-based identity, it’s not uncommon and we have a very good solution that we’ll talk about more in our next post.