Fear of Failure and how it affects Athletes

Fear of failure and how it affects athletes is a complete conversation. We require to have primarily for all kinds of athletes and at all ages and levels of play.

If you are an athlete or someone who competes at the professional level, chances are you always want to win, right?

Who doesn’t? Often this want to win all the time is what brings an athlete down. Just like ups and downs are a part of life, so are wins and losses in an athlete’s career. The fear of failure and losing can impact an athlete’s game. And can interfere with their mind not only during practices but also during important matches and tournaments.

Fear of Failure and Losing

Athletes often get in their own heads by having this unrealistic fear of failure and losing and messing up. This fear often comes from both external and internal sources. Internal sources could be thoughts that an athlete has in their head about the game. Such as “I am going to mess up”, or “I am not ready for this game”. These are internal negative comments that can deter the progress of an athlete. External sources could include, comments from coaches, parents or peers that could bring the fear of failure into the athletes’ mind.

There are certain signs of fear of failure and how it affects an athlete that can perceive such as-

Internal :

  1. Fear of losing a match or a game- this is often an internal source of fear where an athlete is afraid that they won’t succeed.
  2. Fear of putting in maximum effort and not getting the results they intended- this is an internal fear where athletes believe that how much ever hard work they are putting in, it is all going to waste as they are not winning medals/certificates/fame, etc.  

External :

  1. Fear of negative social evaluation- Athletes think that the people around them will view them in a negative light.
  2. Fear of embarrassment- Athletes are scared that they will not perform well. Or, it could occur during a match when they are performing and they drop a catch or miss a goal. This could lead to the fear of embarrassment.
  3. Fear of letting others down- The athlete is worried about letting their parents, coach, or peers down by their performance. They believe that they will not be able to match up to the expectations set by their coach or parents. And that they will let them down.
  4. Fear of being rejected, losing respect or not gaining approval from the ones around you. This is an external fear of the athlete regarding their performance.
Effects of the fear:

A study published by Taylor et. al in 2021, suggests that individuals fearing of failure suffer from a heightened risk of psychological stress. They have a greater potential for burnout and that fear of failure is associated with more hostile interpersonal and antisocial behaviors. Results of the study also suggest that fear of failure is associated with increased levels of worry, cognitive disruption, somatic anxiety, and perceived tension. While some data also suggest that fear of failure indirectly affects athletes’ performance negatively.

The majority of the studies examined perfectionism as a predictor of the fear of failure and vice versa. This means that athletes who fear failure, tend to become overly perfectionists. Or, there comes a point where they aim to reach high levels of perfectionism that they in turn fear failure.

So how can an athlete overcome this fear of failure?

Overcoming a fear of failure will not happen overnight. It takes time, patience, and a constant want to overcome the fear.

It is important to first and foremost, acknowledge this fear of failure. And the fact that it is affecting your performance in a detrimental way. Once you are aware of this fear, the next step is to essentially break out from this fear and build confidence in yourself.

Building confidence in oneself requires the use of optimism, self-talk, and imagery. These interventions can help the athlete achieve better results in performance.

Acceptance of the failure and a changed mindset

Another possible intervention could be the acceptance of failure and realising the benefits of it.

While this might sound bizarre to a few because why will an athlete that is training to compete, look at the positives of losing? At such a time it is important to remember that failing from time to time can be used as an opportunity to learn and grow. Viewing one’s performance from a worst-case scenario perspective and then a best-case scenario perspective could also be useful.

For example, player X could view his failure as a worst-case scenario by saying that “I lose the final and come second, or I win the final and win the tournament.” So from the two, the worst-case scenario does not sound too bad either, since X is coming second in a very reputed tournament.

Another example could also be a player asking herself, what could be the worst that comes from this situation? Even if I lose this one game, I would still be in the competition as this is still the first round. This worst-case-best-case-scenario game could help an athlete look at both sides of the situation. And also allow themselves to go out of their comfort zone and try and reach their maximum potential.

An athlete could also tap into what the fear is about by rationalizing and realizing how the fear can help you. How can the athlete take a better approach to their game? For example, a fear of failure is closely linked to the need for social approval. Thus, your self-esteem is in jeopardy when you believe, “My success in sports equals my success as a person.” What’s the irrational belief here? It’s obviously thinking that your self-worth comes from your achievement in sports. A new perspective is: “I’m much more than how well I perform. I’m a valuable person no matter if I succeed or fail in sports.”


The reality is no matter how well you perform in sports, you’re still the same person. And, that people in your life continue to appreciate you. The people close to you won’t change their opinions of who you are as a person! The fear of failure can be quite dominating in an athlete’s life. Realizing the signs and working towards conquering fear can be worthwhile for an athlete’s all-round development and success.


Simon Taylor;Robert Eklund;Calum Arthur; (2021). Fear of failure in sport, exercise, and physical activity: a scoping review . International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology.

You May also read:
watch this interview on mental health with Monty Panesar and Sonali Gupta.

Shopping Cart