Great Expectations: Your Performance Does Not Define Who You Are

Published on October 24th, 2014

In athletics there is a fine line between setting goals for one’s performance versus holding oneself to strict expectations. In the past year, we have seen dozens of athletes struggling to understand this balance. When appropriate goals are set it helps track progress and provides feedback about what areas of one’s game needs to be strengthened. However, setting strict expectations does not allow for areas to be weak. Often times performance is labeled as either “good” or “bad” and this even carries over to labeling oneself as a whole.

Strict expectations are the “have to’s,” “must’s,” and “should’s” in an athlete’s mind. This type of thought process creates an exceptional amount of pressure placed not only on the performance but on the athlete’s self. Far too often we see athletes who base self- worth on their performance outcome. Here lies the danger of strict expectations. You are not defined by how you perform in your sport. Understanding that there are three components, the self, the athletic self, and the performance is the key to success.

Imagine a sophomore basketball player steps up to free throw line during the last 30 seconds of a game. She believes she has to make that shot in order to play in college. Instantly, she is bound to lower her chances of sinking that shot. Her body is going to be tense and her mind is focused on the future consequences of that basket rather than being in the moment and preparing for the shot. Kobe Bryant, NBA star, recently said in an article for The New York Times, “Whether you make the shot or miss it is inconsequential…I love the process. The results come later.” Accepting the process for what it is allows athletes to let go of strict expectations and focus on what needs to be done in the moment.

Athletes should not strive for less but rather be realistic in her/his expectations. Sports are all about the highs and lows. If outcomes were guaranteed, why would we play? Therefore, athletes must understand that struggle is part of the process. Many of our athletes who do not accept this process cringle at the very mention of goal setting. They fear that doing so will mean there is potential to feel like or be labeled as a failure. When one feels like she/he is constantly bad at something it leads to easily giving up, procrastinating, and losing love for the game.

Many times, athletes and even parents and coaches are unaware of the strict expectations they have set. It is important to review one’s expectations and ask yourself, is this pushing me to be a better player or holding me back from being the best I can be?

Here are a few tips to keep your expectations in check:


1. Focus on the PRESENT → If you find yourself getting caught up thinking about the outcome out your performance gently bring yourself back to the present and ask yourself “What can I do right now to help me reach my goal.”

2. Accept that failure is part of the process → When you look at the most influential people they are constantly talking about their failures. Why? Because it was only a small part of their story that helped them get where they wanted to be. Success is an added bonus for athlete’s who enjoy the simple process of getting better everyday.

3. Set small manageable goals → It’s great to have big dreams and aspirations. Keep those in mind but remember to ask yourself how you can go into each practice and grow as a player. Setting daily, weekly or monthly goals allows us to track our progress and shows you are working towards the bigger dreams.


1. Make your expectations clear → When players understand what is expected of them it allows for their intensity to be more focused and deliberate.

2. Promote a healthy learning environment → Remind players that failure is part of growth and can be used to ignite motivation and intensity instead of fear or anxiety.

3. Communicate → Check-in with players and help direct manageable expectations regularly


1. Be conscious of your words→ Often times parents will push their athletes as they see great potential, however, this is often perceived by the athlete as pressure to be at a higher level than they are currently at.

2. Don’t hold your child to your personal expectations → Be aware of the expectations you’re placing on your athlete. Are they what you wish you had accomplished or what your athlete wants to accomplish?

3. Process NOT result-oriented → Recognize and support your athlete for the things they did well, not just for a win.

 Kat Scardino, M.Ed. and Devin Markle, Co-Directors of Athlete Development at Sports Academy, are members of the WSF Digital Contribution Team.

The content provided for this article has been approved by the Women’s Sports Foundation.