Easing up on Expectations

By Amy Gross, Peak Performance & Mental Coach

Setting expectations places unnecessary demands on an athlete’s performance. Going into a match thinking, “I should win” or “I’ll probably lose” or “I’m not going to play well” can be damaging to an individual’s mindset. First, you don’t actually know how you’re going to do in a tournament, so why waste time and energy thinking about how an event will play out? Yes, the higher seed may be favored to win on paper, but if you buy into negative expectations, it will be difficult to achieve positive outcomes. While it’s natural for expectations to creep in, trying to ease up on expectations can give you a mental edge during competition.

Establish outcomes instead of emphasizing expectations
Outcomes aren’t the enemy. There’s not an issue with wanting to win a tournament. But, expecting to win a tournament can be a dangerous way of thinking. Willing your way to win speaks to an athlete’s belief in his or her ability (like “I trust that I’ll be able to do the things necessary to achieve an outcome”). On the flip side, expecting to win primes the mind to be more future-oriented and takes away from the match itself. Notice when you’re hung up on the uncontrollable (like who is going to win a match, the progress your opponent has made, or how people are going to respond if you don’t live up to their expectations) and shift your focus to executing on the tasks that will get you closer to achieving your outcomes.

Preparation over predicting
Do your homework on an opponent. Develop a game plan. Finding a pre-match routine that works for you is a more effective way to spend your time than using a player’s history or rating to guess whether or not you’ll be successful. Often, an athlete spends more time predicting than preparing for a match. Energy is spent favoring results (“I’ve beaten Player A the past five times” or “I never do well against Player B”) instead of asking, “what’s going to help me play well today?” Spend a moment checking in with how you’re feeling and give yourself permission to allow positive thoughts to sink in to help strengthen the mind-body connection.

Cultivate curiosity
Going into a match with a clear mind helps reduce expectations, whereas relying on beliefs of how a match ought to go limits your thinking. When you’re preoccupied, you miss opportunities to observe what’s happening around you, which is the key to identifying solutions to a problem or figuring out the adjustments you need to make during a game. Try the following to help you build an open mind and stay alert:

  1. Simplify your approach to competition. Sticking to the basics can help relax your mind during a match. Overthinking and getting bogged down by expectations makes squash way more complicated than it needs to be.
  2. Practice the power of flexibility. If you approach a match with a curious mind, then a change in a game plan or a curveball will seem like an exciting challenge.
  3. Reframe your rules. Striving for excellence or valuing self-mastery is different than expecting perfection or having unrelenting standards. Remember the mind learns best when it’s in a calm state. If you let your expectations cloud your judgment, it will prevent you from focusing on what’s most important to you.