The Fear of Disappointing Others

I’ve recently started coaching a new group of athletes who are prepping for the Manila SEA Games, and one of the more “contentious” discussions we had relates to the Fear of Failure associated with Social Approval.

What’s the Fear of Failure associated with Social Approval?

Simply put, many athletes simply worry too much about what others think about them. I often refer to this as ‘Mind-Reading’.

Although they may not admit it readily, most athletes are driven by the respect and recognition associated with their sporting prowess, and their identity as an athlete. They might believe that they don’t care what others think about themselves or their performance but that’s seldom true.


Social Approval is part of human nature (The world works only when we care how people think! We are all social animals and a communal species that is interdependent) and all athletes are driven by it to a certain extent.

However, when taken to an extreme, it often turns into a source of fear. For example, athletes may be afraid of letting their teammates down or to disappoint their coaches and parents. They often feel tensed and anxious or are afraid to take risks when others are watching.

Does that sound familiar to some of you already?

So how does one learn to cope with undue Mind-Reading?

There is no quick fix. Psychological coaching is probably the best way to go since the process involves introspection, guidance and practice. While there’s a lot that goes into the equation, it starts with a general awareness about some of these related ideas…

1. What is so Important about Others’ Opinions?

Identifying what you “want” or seek from others will help you challenge some of the false assumptions you make, which are often irrational.

For example, you might fear losing respect from others if you do not perform well. You would want to challenge this by asking yourself if it’s really true that people will lose respect for you.

Are they really losing respect for you or are they in fact simply feeling bad for you, and with you? And if these people judge you solely based on your sporting prowess, are they worthy of your concern?


2. You are a Person First, and Athlete Second.

Know your own self (called, self-concept) and unconditionally respect yourself no matter how much success or failure you’ve had. Keep in mind that it should not matter what others think when you perform for yourself. You are more than a win/loss record. Keep in mind that you are a person that happens to be an athlete too, not vice versa. Being an athlete is what you do, not who you are.

3. Have Self-respect, not Other-Respect.

Stop searching for respect or admiration from others such as parents, coaches, or friends. This can cause pressure and undue demands on your performance. You won’t need approval from others if you already have self-respect.
If you are eager to improve your mental game and rid yourself of useless stories about failure, pressure and rejection, email me at

Coach Hansen

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