Understanding the psychological components that help with optimal athletic performance is a key priority for applied sport psychology. A controversial issue within the field is perfectionism. Perfectionism is described as a broad multidimensional personality trait characterised by the pursuit of extremely high standards; striving for flawlessness, and over critical performance evaluation (Frost et al. 1990; Flett & Hewitt, 2005). Some may debate that being a perfectionist athlete is admirable because of the desire to achieve, and high motivation levels (Stoeber, Uphill, & Hotham, 2009). Nevertheless, perfectionism in sport is a controversial issue to which perfectionistic tendencies are seen as both adaptive and maladaptive (Frost et al, 1993; Terry-Short et al., 1995).
The multidimensional perfectionism scale devised by Hewitt & Flett (1991) evaluates perfectionism from three perspectives; self-orientated; other orientated and socially prescribed perfectionism. Self-orientated is the
excessive desire for perfectionism from one’s self, other orientated is demanding perfection from those around you and socially prescribed is the perception that significant others demand perfection from you (Flett &
Hewitt, 2005). There has been much controversy within the literature regarding which dimensions are adaptive and maladaptive, but the general consensus is that socially prescribed is associated with the unhealthy maladaptive perfectionism and self-orientated is linked to healthy adaptive (Hill et al. 1997; Flett &
Adaptive perfectionism can be explained as a positive pursuit towards achievement, whereas maladaptive perfectionism is associated with being concerned with evaluation; having a fear of failure and reacting negatively to defeat (Stoeber et al., 2008). Adaptive perfectionists typically set realistic goals prior to performance which ensures self confidence and motivation is maintained due to the belief that goals are obtainable (Slade & Owens, 1998). Therefore, adaptive perfectionism positively correlates with self-efficacy, motivation and high achievement amongst other desirable characteristics (Bieling et al. 2004).
Flett and Hewitt reported that although certain components of perfectionism may be positive, perfectionism is primarily maladaptive among athletes and exercisers (2005). Maladaptive perfectionism is positively associated with psychological difficulties such as distress (Stoeber & Eismann, 2007), injury (Krasnow et al. 1999), depression (Minarik & Ahrens, 1996); self destruction; anxiety (Antony et al, 1998; Egan et al, 2006); neuroticism; personality disorders and eating disorders (Haase et al 2001; Anshel, 2004); decreased physical health and well-being due to over training, disordered eating, and low self esteem (Hill et al, 2010; Hewitt & Flett 1991; Hewitt et al. 1992). Hall (2006) also detailed that perfectionism is also associated with shame (Tangney, 2002); performance anxiety (Hall, Kerr & Mathew, 1998); and suicide ideation (Hewitt, Flett, & Turnbull-Donavon, 1992). Evidence suggests that perfectionism may also act as a predisposing factor to athletes developing burnout during their performance career (Hill et al, 2008). When goals are not reached, maladaptive perfectionists engage in harsh self criticism and irrational beliefs resulting in feelings of inadequacy; reduced motivation and decreased self-confidence (Flett & Hewitt 2005).
The cognitive processes underpinning perfectionism were first examined by Horney (1950 In, Hall, 2013) and Ellis (1962, In. Hall, Hill & Appleton, 2013) who argued the core qualities of perfectionism are having a set of
irrational beliefs and a dysfunctional attitude. Flett et al. (1998) found that perfectionists may induce a pattern of intrusive self-focused thoughts about achieving perfectionism. Hill and Appleton (2011) showed that this cognitive process has corrosive influence on the quality of motivation in elite junior athletes. Nevertheless, there has been little research conducted on how perfectionism has been defined in sport, as the core qualities have emerged from other achievement disciplines.
Blatt (1995) offered that perfectionists may be resistant to direct attempts to alter ways of thinking and therefore, it may be effective to structure the learning and performance environment to change the perfectionist cognitions. Being able to create an optimal motivational climate in athletes is also likely
to lead to increased participation and enjoyment (Keegan, Harwood, Spray & Lavallee, 2009). Environments which are seen to be extremely critical, rigid and promote social comparison will foster numerous debilitating cognitive and affective outcomes (Mainwaring, 2009 In. Hall & Hill, 2012). Providing a learning environment to promote adaptive perfectionism may be an effective way to challenge perfectionist mindset.
Are coaches able to identify which athletes have perfectionist traits? And how can we help coaches create an environment to promote adaptive perfectionism and healthy motivation? Ideally, for coaches, it would be beneficial to not only know the signs of a perfectionist athlete, but also how to create the best environment to dissolve maladaptive perfectionism. In line with Stirling and Kerrs’ suggestions for future research, “the development of guidelines for coaches and parents to assist them in assessing, monitoring, and motivating
perfectionistic athletes may also be helpful.” (2001, p. 22), I believe that it would be beneficial for coachecs to have a better understanding on getting the best out of their perfectionist players.
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Learning of childhood
Being around kids at the end of my trip made me think a lot about childhood.
At the beginning of my trip, I learned a lot of things by staying in the favela. It was the first time in a very long time, that I felt a true sense of community like we had as children. Heading back to hostel at 10pm, I saw kids still out playing and running around whilst the adults sat in groups drinking and chatting. You could hear music playing and people laughing. And actually even standing out, I still felt pretty safe.
Maybe this was also due to the pacification. In 2008, the Unidade de Policia Pacificadora (UPP), a law enforcement and social services program began. I stayed in the Cantagalo Favela and the UPP was in full force there. It was actually located right next to my hostel and there were always police officers around with their big guns. Is that off putting or does that help with a sense of safety?
Obviously I was only there for a couple of days but was able to observe. Sunday was their party day and looking out across the hill, I could see lots of celebrations. Also, in walking down the hill, I could see people partying for birthdays; different groups; fireworks going off; people drinking beer but mainly the children playing with smiles on their faces.
I believe that society has changed the way kids are brought up to extremes. In the developed countries, kids as young as 2 can play on iPads, watch shows on big TVs and are more technologically advanced than some granny's. When we were younger, we didn't have that luxury. We had books, we played on the street, we interacted a lot more because we couldn't hit behind our mobile phones. We had to use our brains to memorize phone numbers, we had to stick to plans because we made a call before left house and arranged plans, and we were able to carry out simply sums. Nowadays, life is easy. We have technology to do so many things that we don't need to use our brains to think, or our legs to walk to the library, or our creative part of brain to make up playground games.
Of course, technology is amazing. You can learn so many things like your alphabet for when you are a kid to a language when you are a teenager. The easy life. For research projects, you can just google for information, whereas before you had to go to library, put in key words, search the shelves and sometimes even wait til someone else returns the book. How much time do we save now? Maybe now we can use that saved time to be kids? To revert back to our youth and be a kid? The days of being free and playing using our creative minds, our body for activity and our social skills for interaction.
For 2014, maybe as adults we can try to be kids more. Use the list below and try to be a kid maybe once a day? Once a week?
Visit a toy store and purchase a game/toy
Play Mini golf
Finger paint old bed sheet
Watch 3 stooges
Make daisy chains
Read with torch under cover
Go on swing
Play on a roundabout
Play in rain
Play in a Forrest
Play trophy (handstand games)
Run through sprinklers
Climb a tree
Play on farm
Jump on a bed
Fly a kite
Play with Lego
Mix different colours of ice cream
Make a sand castle
Bury someone in the sand
Make snow angels
Paint by numbers
Play card games
Build a tree house
Ride a bike with stabilisers
Go home when street lights go on
What are the other things that you can do to feel like a kid?
Tracy Donachie, MSc in Performance Psychology.