Overcoming Social Approval for Teen Athletes

Social approval is one of the most common challenges for teen athletes and concerning issue for their parents.

Athlete’s who struggle with social approval issues may:

  • Experience anxiety when others are watching them perform. Their performance changes depending on who is watching.
  • Obsess about what others are thinking of their performance
  • Fear making mistakes or taking risks that may result in negative feelings from others
  • Make judgments and comparisons to other athletes based on their abilities compared to yours
  • Want so badly to be recognized with a public win or trophy so others will notice their achievement

Social Approval is tied to fear of failure for a lot of athletes in many different ways depending on the athlete. Some of the most common reasons athletes obsess about the opinions of others are to gain: acceptance, admiration, respect, or friendships. It may also be to avoid making others disappointed or let down.

At the end of the day, athletes who care about what others think about their performance so much that they allow it to disrupt their focus and hurt their confidence will have trouble accomplishing their goals and performing as they desire on gameday.

Here are the top 3 mental game tips I give to parents and athletes to help them through social approval issues so they can get back to focusing on their game:

  1. Do a Reality Check! A common thing for athletes and teens is mindreading. Mindreading is when athletes make unrealistic assumptions about what others may be thinking about them. This usually reflects internal insecurity or has to do with an area of the athlete’s game that they do not feel particularly good about. A comment from a teammate as simple as “hey man, why did you miss that ball?”, can be interpreted by the athlete as something far more hurtful such as “I can’t believe you missed an easy play like that, you are the worst baseball player do not belong on this team.” Another example is where an athlete is terrified of making a mistake because they think, “If I make a mistake or do not play perfectly in today’s game my parents will be mad at me”. This thought could come from something as simple as a facial expression the athlete interprets after a poor play. When you notice you feel other’s judgments about your performance ask yourself, “did they really say that?” “Why do I think they feel that way?”
  2. Turn the table! After you determine someone really did say something that was meant to be hurtful towards you, ask yourself “what is it about the other person’s situation that could make them say what they did?” Were they trying to be encouraging and you maybe were not in an emotional state to receive the feedback? A person’s feedback about our performance has more to do with their situation than ours. When a person says something to be intentionally hurtful, they are most likely coming from a place of insecurity about their own situation. When people do not feel positive about their own situation, they tend to look outside of themselves for validation and to feel better. This sometimes results in bullying or hurtful behavior toward others. YOU CANNOT CONTROL THE ACTION OF OTHERS. By trying to understand the motivation behind the other person and empathizing with their situation, you are taking control of the only thing you can, your response. You will notice a shift from anger and hurt to compassion and empathy. These are powerful tools to possess!
  3. Know who you are! Social approval is closely tied to a person’s self-esteem. When an athlete has low self-esteem, they generally do not see themselves as capable, strong, smart, or worthy of success. They have trouble motivating themselves and therefore look outside of themselves for validation. This means they act out to receive reactions and feedback from others. This also means they need consistent praise to continue to perform well or else they will lose confidence and struggle. Taking time and space to identify who you are at your core and why you deserve to be confident will help improve self-esteem and allow you to let go of others’ comments.

Learning to move past the reactions of others is a difficult thing to do but like everything else, it just takes practice and small steps forward at a time.


If you want to accelerate your progress and need accountability, message me! We will schedule a no-cost performance check session to discuss your situation and develop a game plan for taking you to the next level.

One-on-one Mental Performance Coaching is the fastest way to achieve the results you desire.

Mandy Patterson Coaching helps athletes push past mental blocks and fears so they can rediscover their passion, pursue their goals, and ultimately experience authentic joy in their sport and life!

Stay Tough,

Mandy Patterson

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