Parents and coaches contact us every day saying that their kids sometimes sabotage their own success. Why would your athletes do this?

You might assume that the problem relates to a “fear of success.” It could be fear of success, but that’s not likely. Fear of success does cause athletes to self-destruct. But fear of success is very rare compared to fear of failure in athletes.

What is the difference between fear of failure and fear of success? They both cause athletes to “get in their own way,” experiencing fear, anxiety, tension, and worries about scoring and achieving results. However, these fears come from different sources.


Athletes develop fear of failure when they worry about not getting what they want and have worked hard to obtain, such as winning a championship. They develop fear of success when they worry too much about what comes with being successful in their sport. Most athletes today experience fear of failure and not fear of success.

By-the-way, you might wonder why athletes fear being more successful in sports…

Think of the most successful athletes in their respective sports, such as Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan and Roger Federer. Think about the precautions Tiger Woods has to make just to go out in public with his amount of recognition. With success come “other” responsibilities and constraints that many under-the-radar athletes never experience.

But that’s not the real problem for most young athletes. Sports kids “get in their own way” because of fear of failure much more often in our work. Fear of failure manifests in many ways in sports. Athletes who are anxious or tense when competing are often afraid to fail or mess up. Fear of failure can also cause your athletes to try too hard, which leads to “getting in their own way” mentally.

What Fears Prevent Athletes From Success?

It’s not enough to know that your athletes experience fear of failure. What’s more important is to know what type of fears hold your athletes back. As you can see from the list below, fear of failure often relates to what athletes assume they think others think about them (or social approval).
Signs of fear of failure:

  • Fear of losing a match, game, or race. Kids badly want to win and are afraid they will not win.
  • Fear of negative social evaluation. Athletes fear others will view them as a failure in sports.
  • Fear of embarrassment. They are afraid to embarrass themselves in front of others if they don’t perform well.
  • Fears of letting others down. They do not want to let others down– coaches, parents, or teammates.
  • Fear of putting in the effort and not ever getting the “pay off” or not playing to their potential. They don’t want their hard work, talent and long practices to result in nothing (e.g. wins, trophies, etc.).
  • Fear of not performing up to others’ expectations, Young athletes worry about not meeting others’ expectations.
  • Fear of being rejected, losing respect, or not gaining approval.
  • Fear of making mistakes and not performing perfectly after having worked so hard at it.

Helping Athletes Overcome Fear of Failure

  1. To help kids with fear of failure, it’s best to understand the specific fear and address it head on. Take fear of embarrassment, for example. If your athletes have this form of fear they worry too much about what others think about them. They need to play for themselves instead of being concerned about what others think.
  2. Helps kids focus on success instead of worrying about failing. Many athletes with fear of failure focus on all the wrong things. They think more about not making mistakes than completing the pitch or gymnastics routine. These athletes need to set small goals that help them focus more on success. One option: Kids should see a good serve in their minds before they execute it.
  3. Athletes with fear of failure need to learn how to perform efficiently instead of perfectly. The idea here is that your athletes DO NOT have to be perfect to perform their best. They often want to over control their performance (due to their worries about making mistakes). They need to understand that mistakes are a natural part of sports. The goal is for your athletes to trust in their skills so they can play more freely and feel less tight or controlling.

Want to help your kids develop confidence and focus in sports? Check out The Confident Sports Kid CD Series at