The Psychological Reasoning Behind Fear of Failure

Fear of failure in sport involves being afraid of making a mistake due to the negative consequences that will result from the mistake. In most instances, the fear that athletes have is based on their perception of the importance of a performance or game and what they assume others will think about them.

Fear of failure is closely linked to perfectionism. Many perfectionists hold high expectations that can set them up for failure and they often focus too much on avoiding mistakes. When you think too much about avoiding mistakes, you focus on what not to do and perform more cautiously, thinking this will help overcome the fear. However, it is often the case that over control has the opposite effect.  

Outcome-orientated thinking is a frame of thought where the mind is focussed on the outcome. Before the game, competition or performance, an individual is already thinking about how it will go, what people will think or what the stats will look like afterwards.

Types of Fear:

  • Fear of losing a match / game.
  • Fear of negative social evaluation.
  • Fear of embarrassment or shame.
  • Fear of not performing up to others’ expectations.
  • Fear of being rejected, losing respect, or not gaining approval.
  • Fear of letting others down.

Fear of Failure in Team Sports

In a team setting, when approval and recognition from teammates is important to the dynamic of the team, failing has the potential to elicit shame. It is the added pressure of not letting other members of the team down. This also includes coaches, parents and fans, something experienced by those partaking in an individual sport too. Athletes, especially younger athletes, might also feel greater pressure in a team setting to be accepted by their peers.

Ways to Overcome Fear of Failure

  1. Become process- orientated – as mentioned above being outcome – oriented can cause increased fear of failure and so beginning to set performance goals going into training and games can help to focus on the process rather than the outcome.
  2. See failure as a learning experience – thinking this way will free the mind of seeing failure as something to fear.
  3. Self – Talk – Use the tool of positive self-talk statements. It is likely that your internal dialogue is very negative and so it is beneficial to change this to become positive. Benefits of positive self-talk are increased confidence, less stress, and lower levels of performance anxiety.
  4. Visualisation – Become clear about that it is you want to happen and then visualise it in detail and integrate it into your routine.  

Fear of failure has been related to many consequences for athletes, such as burnout, drop-out and high levels of stress and anxiety, and so this should be addressed when necessary and athletes should be given the tools to cope with overcoming the fear of failure.


Fear of Failure in Sport: 3 steps to overcome fear in sports –

Link to Blog Post Feedback –

Correia, M., Rosado, A., Serpa, S., & Ferreira, V. (2017). Fear of failure in athletes: Gender, age, and type of sport differences. 12. 185-193.