I once heard a coach say in an interview that she had higher expectations from her athletes. They had done well, but she had expects more. I cringed when I heard the words come out of her mouth.

Her team dominated the competition. They hit every routine on every event. They walked in with amazing attitudes, performed with confidence, and walked away five state titles. What expectations weren’t met? Where was the disappointment? Of course I asked.

Expectations are demands that when are not reached can cause disappointment. I wondered what her athlete’s thought when they had given their all, did their best, won, and they still weren’t able to satisfy their coach’s expectations. Not living up to a coaches expectations can be frustrating and embarrassing for an athlete. Especially when these girls not only performed successfully, they were kind, supportive, and wonderful role models. What should they have done? What more could they have done to please their coach?

The coach said she had more goals for her athletes: there were a couple girls that had to upgrade their difficulty, one girl was to compete a new floor routine, and another girl was injured and was going to be ready for the the next competition. That statement was very different than her first. Wanting her girls to continue to grow and strive for higher goals was much different than not meeting expectations.

Goals are targets that athletes strive to reach. By saying that she had higher expectations for her athletes inferred that they had disappointed her in some way. What she really meant to say was that her athletes performed with confidence and she was proud of them. She then could have added that she was excited for the next competition, because her team was going to add new skills, new routines, and all of her team would be healthy to compete.

One of the challenges that hold athletes back from peak performance are expectations. These negative demands can come from coaches, parents, and the athlete. When an athlete is worried that they will not live up to expectations, they may be afraid to be aggressive. Expectations can make the athlete hold back and perform careful and cautiously. Athletes train to have consistent and solid performances. They focus on being aggressive and strong.  Expectations can cause extra pressure and worry. When the athlete is concerned about living up to expectations, they can become more anxious and nervous about their performance.

Expectations are beliefs such as,

  • I should not fall on an easy skill
  • She should be hitting her routines by now
  • They should not be scared of that skill

When an athlete believes these expectations, they can feel weak or inferior. If they believe they shouldn’t fall on an easy skill, but they do fall, they can feel like embarrassed. If they believe they should be hitting their routines by now, and they aren’t yet, they can feel behind and panic. If they believe they should not be scared of a skill, and they have fear, they can feel like a weak athlete.

A simple way to free athletes this pressure is to get rid of expectations. Turn expectations into goals.

  1. Instead of the expectation, I should not fall on an easy skill, change it to a goal. I want to hit my skill.
  2. Then take it one step further. The athlete will think about HOW to hit the skill: focus.
  3. Then take it one step even further. The athlete can think about HOW to be focused. If the skill is a back tuck, the athlete can focus on jumping strong, pulling hard, and landing tight.

Goals are targets with no negative beliefs attached to them. Goals help guide the athlete to a destination. They help the athlete work hard and stay motivated. Expectations can set the athlete up for disappointment, but goals can set the athlete up to practice and compete freely. They are free to be aggressive, because they know that their parents and their coaches will not de disappointed with their performance.