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Learning from sport burnout and overtraining
Learning from sport burnout and overtraining

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5 Two types of perfectionism: which is a hindrance?

Many researchers suggest there are two types of perfectionism – perfectionistic striving and concerns over mistakes – that often coexist. You will now look at the difference between these two types using a study by sport psychologist Andrew Hill.

Activity 5 Identifying helpful and hindering perfectionism

Timing: Allow about 15 minutes

Andrew Hill, a sport psychologist partly responsible for the ideas in Figure 5, set out to investigate the way perfectionists like Jono Kitto think, but on a far larger scale. He and a colleague looked at perfectionism’s relationship to burnout in research results for 9800 people in work, sport and education settings.

From the link below, read the summary of their research from 2015, as reported in the Huffington Post, then answer the following questions:

  1. Explain the difference between perfectionistic strivings and concerns over mistakes.
  2. Do the results add anything new to your understanding of perfectionism?

Open the summary in a new tab or window by holding down Ctrl (or Cmd on a Mac) when you click on the link. entry/ perfectionism-leads-to-burnout_us_55bfa2f8e4b0d4f33a0378e1 [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

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  1. Perfectionistic striving is the use of high personal goals; actively working towards high standards may, it is argued, ward off burnout by contributing to a sense of personal accomplishment.

    However, perfectionistic concerns over mistakes – the constant fear of failing, making even minor errors – and the need for constant self-approval were strongly linked with burnout. ‘Concerns’ indicates that this perfectionism creates high levels of stress and/or low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy. To help alleviate these, an athlete often trains harder and the vicious perfectionist cycle continues (see items C, D, E, F in Figure 5). An example of perfectionistic concerns is ‘if I don’t achieve a time of below 20 minutes in the 5km I will have failed and everyone will judge me’ (Anthony, 2017).

  2. The study claimed that the workplace may see higher levels of burnout than sport due to there being less social support at work. The idea of perfectionists overcoming perfectionism by thinking about ‘flexible goals and degrees of success and failure’ is very useful. A degree of success or failure means being kind to yourself and recognising, for instance, that scoring yourself 6 or 7 out of 10 is entirely acceptable if you know how to improve to 8 out of 10.

In summary, perfectionistic concerns can be a hindrance unless they are managed in a similar way to that which Kitto described. You now have a sound introductory overview of perfectionism and how it might contribute to burnout.