fear of failure

Have you ever had a team completely implode on the competition floor? You know the feeling. They had it at practice, the routine looks amazing, and then they hit the floor, fear takes over, and you watch one mistake after another as they completely fall apart.

Fear of failure

It’s the worst feeling as a coach. You do all this work, months of preparation, and then when it matters, they are overcome with fears and the routine completely collapses.

I always want to tell the judges, “Wait, that’s not it. They have so much more, let’s try that again!”

Of course, that’s not how our sport works. We get roughly 2 minutes to prove our skills and connect through our artistry. If we fall apart, it’s over.

If you’re like me, you would do just about anything to prevent that from happening. And while there are a lot of reasons behind making a mistake during a performance, there is one big reason dancers fall apart at competition: Their own negative beliefs, and dancing from FEAR.

Dancing from Fear

Fear of failure is the intense worry you experience when you imagine every negative thing that could happen if you fail. 

Here’s the truth: Negative beliefs like “I am so scared” or” “I don’t think I can hit my headspring” can completely TAKE OVER and change how you dance. There is a lot of psychological science out there that teaches us how our negative beliefs and thoughts influence our behaviors. If you prepare for a turn section and a negative thought comes rushing in, you’re sunk. Those negative thoughts dictate our actions and can completely derail a performance. 

Especially with adolescents and young adults, they are prone to negative thoughts that run on a loop in their head. And once it starts it’s hard to stop, which is why you see the ripple effect of terror flow through your routine after one mistake.

The Belief Structure:

Whenever your dancer has a negative thought (or you for that matter) the problem is the meaning we attach to that thought. The power of that negative thought is rooted in what we make it mean.

For example, as a coach you might believe: 

  • If we don’t make finals, then they will be devastated which means I’m not good enough
  • If the routine doesn’t look flawless, then I didn’t do my job, which means I’m a bad coach
  • If there is drama on the team then I didn’t create a good culture and I’m a bad coach

Do you see how mean we can be to ourselves? Just because your team didn’t make finals, are you REALLY not good enough? NO! 

Your dancers are likely struggling with the same negative belief pattern. They attach a meaning to a belief that just isn’t true.

If a dancer makes a mistake on the competition floor, they often think: “if I make a mistake, then I will let my whole team down and that means I’m a failure.” They take one small stumble on stage and catastrophize it to be an attack on their character.

So if you’ve ever had a dancer who made a big mistake on the competition floor and can’t get over it, or they are dancing from fear and holding back – they have a negative belief structure that needs your help.

Preventing the Fear of Failure

One strategy is to have that dancer create a fear list. If a dancer is afraid of messing up in competition (which means they likely WILL mess up) you can help them confront that fear. Ask them to create a list of fears to help them realize that while it’s scary, walking away and not trying feels worse.

Dealing with negative thoughts is something you work on all the time, every day. One of my biggest challenges as a mental performance coach is that dance coaches ask me for help after a team has imploded at a competition. And they want to fix it before they compete again next week. While some strategies will help immediately, you have to address negative thoughts early in the season before things get stressful. Then, keep at it continuously throughout the year so that those negative thoughts never have a chance to interfere.

Don’t be afraid to talk to your dancers about what they are thinking about. Many of them are just beginning to reflect on their own thoughts, or even realize they have control. You can make a huge impact on their lives if you are able to help them recognize negative beliefs. Then, teach them to take control of their dancing. Only focus on positive beliefs around the things we can control.

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