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Why to Drop Expectations

Having certain expectations can get the best of us.

If curiosity killed the cat, expectations stressed the athlete...and I mean REALLY stressed the athlete.

There is a big difference between goals and expectations. 

Goals are aspirational.

Expectations are what we internalize and believe we should achieve.  When we don't achieve our expectations we may be brutal on ourselves for falling short.

Athletes often have ambitious goals and unrealistic expectations.  It's important to have goals. It's counter productive to have unrealistic expectations. Unrealistic expectations often lead to disappointment, anger and frustration that can derail performance.

How do you know if you have unrealistic expectations?

List your expectations.  Be honest and really list them. Then do a google search to see who has actually accomplished your expectations on a consistent basis.

There are examples of some of the expectations athletes have shared with me.

  • Baseball - Hit a double at every at bat.
  • Golf - Score a birdie on every hole.
  • Lacrosse - Score on 100% of shots I take
  • Basketball- Make 100% of the field goals I attemp.
  • Swimming/running - get a personal record every time I compete

You get the idea.  

Let’s check how realistic these expectations are.

  • Earl Webb, former professional baseball player hit for 67 doubles in one season in 1931 and still holds the single season records. He did not hit a double every time he was up at bat.
  • Hideki Matsuyama, one of the top golfers in the world averages birdies 4.53 birdies per round on the PGA. Only 11 PGA players average 4.0 birdies or more per round. No golfer in the world birdies every hole every round.
  • In the game of lacrosse, Austin French had the highest scoring percentage in Division 1 men’s lacrosse in 2017 @ 0.519. No lacrosse player has scored on 100% of their shot attempts.
  • Wilt Chamberlain holds the highest field goal percentage for a single season @ 72.3% (That means he missed 27.7% of the time.)
  • Even the best swimmers/runners in the world can not perform a personal record every single time they compete. (They can give their best every competition which may or may not results in a personal record.)

None of these athletes expectations are realistic. Imagine the internal stress associated with these expectations for these athletes.

So what’s the answer?

Play with no expectations, high confidence and focus on the process not the outcome.

No expectations None. Drop them.

This is hard to do.  Really hard to do. You have years of thinking and EXPECTING lots of yourself.  To make the change, you have to first acknowledge what are your expectations.

List them. Really list them.  Most of them will be outcome based. Once you drop your expectations, replace your expectations with process goals.

For example

  • The batter who expects a double at bat should drop his or her expectations and focus on a quality at bat, swinging at quality pitches, making good contact.
  • The golfer who expects a birdie on every hole should drop his or expectations and focus on one ball, one stroke at a time, good swing, good contract.
  • The lacrosse player who expects to score on every shot should drop his or her expectations and focus on the target - where to do you want the ball to go.
  • The basketball player who expects to score 100% of his or her field goals should drop the expectation and focus on quality shot selection, form and follow through.
  • The swimmer or runner who expects a personal record during each of his or her competitions should drop the expectations and focus on a strong starts, good form, and a strong finish. Etc.

When we focus on the process, on execution, on doing the small things correctly, the outcome will follow.

Parents Role

Parents can fuel and athletes “expectation cycle.”  Think about the questions you may ask after an athletic event. Often questions are strictly outcome based:

  • Did you win?
  • Did you score?
  • What was your time?
  • Did you start? How much playing time did you get?

A Better Conversation

Imagine how your son or daughter would feel if they heard you ask

  • Did you play your hardest?
  • Where you a good sport?
  • Did you have fun?

We don’t want the stress of personal expectations to spoil the journey of the sport. Understanding and managing personal expectations in sports is an important skill for sport and life.   

How many situations do you know that went ary because the expectations for the moment were unrealistic.

Apply the same exercises we just walked through for sport to a personal situation.  Expectations often lead to disappointment, anger and frustrations.   Drop your expectations. No one in the game of sport nor in life is PERFECT.  Focus on one play, one race, one moment at a time. 

Wishing all our athletes playing sports this season, an enjoyable, safe and healthy season.

Ann Zaprazny, Certified Mental Game Coach

CEO, Great Sports Minds, LLC

Ann Zaprazny was a division one athlete and former Fortune 500 executive who knows the highs and lows of competing. Ann works with Athletes, Teams, Coaches and Professionals to help others proactively build their confidence and think like a champion.  She is a motivational speaker effective with large audiences, teams and 1:1 coaching. She is passionate about helping others achieve their best.  Leave a comment. She would love to hear your thoughts on this topic.


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