Golf's Mental Game - Fear of failure part 1

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Fear of Failure 

Is your motivation to succeed in golf (or life!) embedded in a fear of not succeeding or not performing to the best of your ability?Or in other words, do you want to do well to avoid failing?

If this feels familiar, you might be experiencing what is known as “fear of failure”. Fear of failure refers to the process of perceiving the consequences of failure as threats to personally meaningful goals in achievement and/or performance contexts. Crucially, failure, when understood as the non-attainment of a goal, is not aversive by itself and does not produce a fearful reaction, but the consequences of non-attainment are something that can be feared. It is the individual’s perception of the negative consequences of failure that leads to viewing them as threats and fearing them as a result.

Fear of failure is a global measure that is comprised of five specific consequences of failure that have been identified as being predominantly salient and thus feared in achievement contexts: the fear of experiencing shame and embarrassment; fear of upsetting important others; loss of self-esteem upon failure; fear of having an uncertain future; and fear of losing social value.

Not every individual will experience fear of failure, nor will they experience it to the same extent. This is primarily due to the fact that fear of failure is socialised early in life, this means that a child’s family and coaching experiences will contribute towards their development of fear of failure One can picture a young golf player with parents (and/or coach) who have set very high expectations for them in their upcoming competition – they may go out to the course with the aim to win in order to not disappoint their parents/coach, or they may be motivated to not miss putts just to avoid feeling embarrassed upon sub-optimal performance, rather than to achieve better scores than the last time they trained/competed.

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Is Fear of Failure Common? 

Sport represents a significant achievement domain, and thus, experiencing fear of failure is not an uncommon amongst both junior and senior athletes. So why does fear of failure matter? Some researchers have indicated that experiencing fear of failure has been associated to increased effort and work during training sessions and competition/tournament preparation, which often results in successful performances. However, they noted that when the “journey to success” is embedded in fear of failure and thus, motivated by failure avoidance, that it is far from enjoyable and can actually lead to negative outcomes.


Youth athletes have reported that fear of failure impacts upon their wellbeing as it can promote negative thinking and anxiety before competitions, which consequently has a detrimental influence on their emotions and thoughts about themselves, subsequently impacting upon their motivation to train and/or perform successfully on the day. It is easy to see how a pessimistic and fearful thoughts may affect a golfer’s general wellbeing, but the consequences of fearing failure go beyond that. In fact, fear of failure has been reported to negatively affect sports performance. Specifically, when a golf player’s focus is overridden by fear of underperforming and negative thought patterns, it diverts their attention from the game to the aversiveoutcomes they perceive as potentially occurring as a result of their poor performance. Therefore, paradoxically, fearing failure is what could in fact lead to failure through placement of one’s attention on stimulus that will not benefit and/or impair performance.

Although fear of failure can appear to be somewhat unavoidable - especially in high-pressure achievement contexts – it is not optimal for performance or wellbeing. Notably, it is parents’ and coaches’ behaviours and attitudes towards failure that can “make or break” a player’s perception of the consequences of underperforming.

If a player is taught to believe that poor performance will lead to undesirable personal outcomes, they will fear the consequences of failure, and thus experience greater fear of failure. However, if parents and coaches are able to support players in developing a healthier relationship towards failure – which is crucial in sport, as failure is often pervasive – golf players will be able to develop a more sustainable positive motivation towards their sport that will encourage them to work towards success for the pleasure of mastering their game of golf, rather than aiming to succeed to avoid failure.

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If you would like to find out what you as a PARENT or COACH of a golf player can do to help reduce the negative impact of experiencing fear of failure, or to halt its development in players, look out for Part2 of the Fear of Failure blog where I will provide specific practical tips and steps you can implement and follow to achieve this.