Negative Mindset: How Underdeveloped Traits Can Sabotage Athletic Performance

Mindset Matters visual of a woman's mind as a sun

Athletic performance is undeniably a blend of physical prowess and mental fortitude. While much emphasis is placed on the physical components of an athlete’s training regimen, the psychological aspects are often overshadowed. Yet, emerging evidence demonstrates that an athlete’s negative mindset traits can detrimentally affect their performance and overall mental well-being.

1. Fear of Failure: A Perilous Mental Block

A study published in the Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology (Smith et al., 2007) highlights the dire implications of fear of failure. Athletes with this mindset often exhibit debilitating anxiety before and during competitions. This heightened stress response can lead to muscle tension, decreased coordination, and impaired decision-making. In essence, the very fear of underperforming can cause an athlete to underperform.

2. Perfectionism: A Double-Edged Sword

While a degree of perfectionism can drive athletes to excel, an excessive amount can have the opposite effect. Stoeber and Otto (2006) in their study found that athletes exhibiting maladaptive perfectionism often suffer from burnout, fatigue, and are more prone to injuries. This unrelenting self-pressure to constantly surpass one’s previous achievements can lead to both physical and mental exhaustion.

3. Negative Self-talk and Diminished Self-confidence

Lack of self-confidence, often nurtured by internal negative monologues, is a critical determinant of athletic performance. Research by Hatzigeorgiadis et al. (2011) in the Journal of Sports Sciences supports this, noting a significant decrease in performance among athletes prone to negative self-talk. This mental dialogue saps an athlete’s energy, focus, and can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. See our Connecting Culture and Mental Health for more interesting angles on this topic.

4. Fixed Mindset: The Growth Barrier

Carol Dweck’s seminal work on mindset has significant implications for athletes. Those with a fixed mindset, believing that abilities are innate and unchangeable, often avoid challenges and exhibit decreased resilience when faced with setbacks. In contrast, athletes with a growth mindset view challenges as opportunities for improvement, leading to higher motivation, resilience, and adaptability. Read Mindset of a Champion for more.

5. Social Comparison: Losing the Internal Compass

Comparing oneself to others can derail an athlete’s intrinsic motivation. As found in the Psychology of Sport and Exercise journal (Van de Pol & Kavussanu, 2011), athletes overly concerned with outdoing others often experience heightened stress, decreased enjoyment, and lower persistence in their sport. This external orientation can divert focus from personal growth, a crucial aspect of long-term athletic success.

6. Overthinking: Paralysis by Analysis

Overanalyzing each move or strategy can be detrimental. A 2012 study by Beilock et al. in Neuron showcased that overthinking can interrupt the flow state, causing “choking” under pressure. It hampers an athlete’s ability to tap into their trained, automatic responses, leading to suboptimal performance.


The mind’s influence on athletic performance is unequivocal. Addressing these negative mindset traits isn’t just about enhancing performance—it’s about safeguarding the athlete’s mental wellness. Coaches, trainers, and the athletes themselves need to incorporate mental strength training into their routines, ensuring that the mind remains as formidable as the body. Improve mindset for performance with FLW Analytics. FLW is the only software for measuring eight key performance mindset traits and helping you to improve them.

Leave a Reply