What Is Fear of Failure for Athletes?

In our sport whether it is eventing, dressage or showjumping, most of the fear riders have is based on their perception of the importance of a performance and what they assume others think about their performance.

Most of the time, an athlete’s fear is about avoiding poor results – whether prior to or during a performance. Imagine yourself in the show ring when all the attention is on you. You feel the pressure right? Well most of us do so don't ever feel ashamed of that pressure. Whether you are a professional or a beginner, audience can make us nervous. But the important part is to keep the moment between you and your horse. It is just two of you in the arena and noone else.

Athletes often fear the negative consequences of a poor or less than perfect performance. Athletes worry about letting their team or a coach down. They worry about disappointing a parent or not performing up to a parent’s expectations.

They worry about many things that are often not under their direct or immediate control and a lot of this worry is unnecessary. But at the end of the day as long as you do your best, sport is about enjoying the moment, competition or the ride. We all have bad days and ofcourse we all have good days so it is very natural to make mistakes. The point is working on the failure, not giving up and trying the best the next time.

It’s not enough to know that you have fear of failure when competing.  What’s more important is to know what type of fear holds you back.

Fear of failure is often related to what you assume others think about you and how you think they might change their opinion of you if you fail, which we call social approval.

Here’s a list of the most common fears that hold athletes back from performing at their peak:

  • Fear of losing – you badly want to win and are afraid you will not win.

  • Fear of embarrassment – you are afraid to embarrass yourself in front of others if you don’t perform well.

  • Fears of letting others down – you do not want to let others down such as a coach, parent, or teammate.

  • Fear of putting in the effort and not ever getting the “pay off” or not playing to your potential. You don’t want your hard work, talent and long practices to be for not.

  • Fear of not performing up to others’ expectations – you worry about not meeting others’ expectations for you.

  • Fear of making mistakes and not performing perfectly after having worked so hard at it.

All of these fears will surely destroy your confidence. If you are afraid to make a mistake, worried about embarrassing yourself, or thinking about what will happen if you lose…  then you’re not thinking of all the reasons you have to be successful! Human nature mostly focuses on the negative more than the positive. But we have both, instead of imagining the worst, first of all start visualizing yourself as your best. Tell me about your fears at