Baseball Magazine

Are You Afraid of Success?

By Meachrm @BaseballBTYard

As a teacher of mostly high school seniors, I will occasionally run into a bright student who really has no interest in graduating.  It can be very frustrating for me and infuriating for the kid’s parents because the student seems to

Are you afraid of success?

It might seem strange but some are afraid of this kind of success.

sabotage their own progress at every turn.  I’m sure psychologists can have a field day with this behavior but clearly it is something that needs addressing.  One cause of this is fear, and more specifically, fear of success. 

The baseball world deals with failure every day.  The fact that the best hitters only hit .300 is evidence of that.  Most often, sports psychologists work with players who struggle with fear of failure.  But fear of success?  Is there really such a thing?  Doesn’t everyone want to be successful?  Fear of success is, in fact, a real phenomena that some people experience.  Just like some people fear of consequences of failure, some people fear the consequences of success.

I first heard this term when I was the pitching coach under Ed Ott, the former Pittsburg Pirate catcher.  We were discussing a former MLB pitcher he caught and he said this pitcher had a fear of success.  I asked him what that meant and he explained.  He said the pitcher was content with winning 12-15 games in the majors a year because that would keep him employed and well paid for a long time.  The pitcher felt if he worked much harder and reached his potential, he could easily win 20 games and maybe a few Cy Young Awards.   But in his mind, people would then start to expect that performance each year.  He would then have to work that hard all the time in order to keep the fans and front office happy.  Basically, winning 12-15 games was comfortable for him. 

The students I mentioned above think along those same lines.  Their life is comfortable in high school. It’s what they know and it is not that difficult.   Graduating high school and moving off to college means having to take care of themself and handle an increasingly difficult work load.  Failing high school and having to repeat might be a nightmare for the parents but it is perfectly understandable for someone who is afraid of success.

As coaches, we often think a player is not reaching their potential because they want it so bad.   They fear failure and put too much pressure on themselves to succeed as a result.  However, sometimes it actually may be a fear of success. 

Coaches are not immune to this either.  Creating a powerhouse program takes a lot of time and effort on and off the field.  Sometimes a coach is content with just competing and really might not be interested in getting a program to the top.  It may be rare but it does happens.

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