Does perfectionism enhance or hurt athletic performance?

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Perfectionism helps athletes:

Objectives

In the psychology of sport and exercise, the question of how perfectionism affects performance is highly debated. While some researchers have identified perfectionism as a hallmark quality of elite athletes, others see perfectionism as a maladaptive characteristic that undermines, rather than helps, athletic performance. Against this background, the purpose of the present study was to investigate how different aspects of perfectionism predict performance and performance increments.

Method

A study was conducted with 122 undergraduate athletes to investigate how perfectionism during training affects performance and performance increments in a series of trials with a new basketball training task. Two aspects of perfectionism were examined: striving for perfection and negative reactions to imperfection.

Design

The design was a correlational prospective design.

Results

Results showed that striving for perfection during training predicted higher performance in the new task. In contrast, negative reactions to imperfection predicted lower performance when athletes attempted the task for the first time, once the positive influence of striving for perfection on task performance was partialled out. However, negative reactions to imperfection did not undermine performance in the consecutive trials. On the contrary, athletes with both high levels of striving for perfection and high levels of negative reactions to imperfection showed the greatest performance increments over the series of trials.

Conclusion

The findings suggest that perfectionism is not necessarily a maladaptive characteristic that generally undermines sport performance. Instead, when learning a new training task, perfectionism may enhance performance and lead to performance increments over repeated trials.

Source: “Perfectionism and performance in a new basketball training task: Does striving for perfection enhance or undermine performance?” from Psychology of Sport and Exercise, Volume 9, Issue 5, September 2008, Pages 620-629

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