Everyone has at least one weakness. Whether an elite AFL player (weaker foot), a tennis professional (forehand backhand), or a doctor (limited knowledge of a particular illness), there is no such thing as a perfect person. I think we all know this – how often do we hear the phrases ‘nobody’s perfect’ and ‘the problem is they are a perfectionist’. One characteristic of perfectionists is avoiding or struggling in situations where they believe they will be shown to be imperfect or average.
I want to explain to you how and why a strength can become a weakness. Whilst it’s important to recognise your strengths, some athletes don’t use their strengths to their full potential. I see athletes become frustrated and annoyed when their strengths aren’t working for them, and when that continues it’s natural to feel helpless and lose confidence in their ability. Take Andy Roddick for example, I remember watching him play Roger Federer and few years ago and you could see Andy striving to hit his serve (his strength) harder and harder and when Federer kept returning
them, Andy looked as though he didn’t know what else to do. Obviously Federer is a champion tennis player but I want you to think of this example and see how it relates to you at all.
There are two main reasons for athletes using their strengths too much. The first is enjoying strengths so much that they want to keep using it even if the situation dictates that it would be helpful to use a different skill. The second is using strengths to avoid weaknesses. These two reasons are subtly different and therefore its important to foster two different psychological skills to enhance the effectiveness of strengths.
Firstly, it’s important to learn how to delay gratification (or learn patience). Although athletes want to hit their favourite shots most the time because it feels good, learning how to sit with (and not give into) the urge to ‘feel good’ is important. Remember that overuse of your strength can weaken it’s effect on the opponent. There are some great psychology studies and research that shows how delaying gratification is related to improved performance! Check out ‘delaying gratification zimbardo’ on Youtube.
For athletes that use their strengths to hide their weaknesses, it is important to look at how well that is actually working for their performance. Does it lead to inconsistent performance? Losing to the same opponent? Is it causing anger and anxiety? It’s important for athletes to acknowledge their weaknesses (this makes them stronger mentally, not weaker) and create a plan to strengthen their weakness.
Roger Federer said ‘Thanks to all my opponents over the years who have played a million balls to my backhand, it’s actually gotten pretty good. I can really thank them in a big way for improving my backhand.’ He didn’t shy away from his weakness, and although some argue it is still his weakness, think about what sort of a player he would be if had continually used his strength and didn’t gave into the urge to continually run around his backhand.
Daniel Dymond – Sport Psychologist
03 9005 7731