The Fear of Success

Apart from the fear of getting injured, looking bad or losing, there is also the fear of winning, which can be more complex because almost no one recognizes it.

In sports, there is a whole series of fears, to lose, to be injured, to look bad, etc., that persecute and can even torment the athlete, to those already known fears is added another, the fear of triumph. Yes, although many may not believe it, there is fear of success.


Why the fear of winning? Because it brings with it a whole series of changes that many times the athlete may not be willing to endure. These changes include new burdens, pressures, and responsibilities. Success also brings social changes, in the environment, with friends, in relationships with women, even with family and coaches. Success implies a new status, therefore greater responsibility and seriousness at work, which causes increased stress for the athlete. The responsibility of proving again that he is good or the best, having the demos trying to beat him. Many times it is easier to stay on the same level to maintain homeostasis (balance) and to stay where you are to feel comfortable considering that it is your rightful place, out of habit. This has its explanation in unconscious roots, although it can also be due to more conscious aspects.

The fear of winning is a complex situation that occurs over and over again in sport and in life. Freud already spoke of this many years ago in an article called “Those who fail to succeed.” This idea is discussed when it is raised, it is resisted by the general public, coaches and athletes. They say: do you see someone can be afraid of winning? You will be afraid to lose, but to win! “

Definition: Nikephobia succes phobia ) literally means fear of victory, a phenomenon whereby the athlete performs more in training than in competition, systematically fails the most important sporting events and fails when he is on the verge of achieving an almost certain victory ( Tamorri , 2004)

This definition tells us that the athlete or teams fail in the important moments of definition, in the situations that they have to demonstrate and give their best, they fall, make mistakes, lose, do not perform adequately or do not measure up to the situation.

People in general, with some exceptions, find it difficult to accept this reality, so we will try to delve a little into this topic that we find fascinating. The existence of fear of success has been observed in world sport, but specifically in the reality that we have had to work with, that is, the Peruvian. This happens from the formative stages to the highest competitive levels. When it is time to show everything that you have, the moment of truth, when it should be your moment, the athlete collapses. From our point of view, this no longer has to do only with personal issues, but by the very idiosyncrasy of the Peruvian who in general, beyond the sports field, is afraid of success or has a hard time accepting it. Always observe what is outside with admiration, thinking that this is unattainable, overvalue what is outside and undervalue what is inside, what is from your country. There are problems of self-esteem and identity that are deeper and more ingrained in society in general, which go beyond the sports field. The Peruvian eat ‘, in general, considers that others can do it but not, and this inevitably carries over to sport. This thought is deeply ingrained in the culture, society, and collective unconscious of the country. There is actually a very rich potential in diversity, races and cultures, but this is seen as a weakness when it should be seen as a wealth and empowered as a Strength. Until Peruvians change that way of thinking and become convinced of their capabilities, they will not be able to develop their full potential, and this includes sport.

Interest in this topic and its research arises precisely from situations observed over and over again in athletes and teams. Here are some examples:

  • A youth soccer team in a series of group dynamics, where fears are worked on, repeatedly refer to having the shadow of defeats in previous championships, saying that they are “afraid of losing.” That fear of losing that they report is the manifest fear, that manifest fear hides a latent fear that is just the opposite, the fear of winning (it was discovered during work). They do not want to move from the place where they are ”, they feel“ comfortable ”losing, at least it is more comfortable than fighting for victory. It’s what they expect, it’s what we give them hope … so it seems to change.
  • A professional individual athlete reports that he is afraid of losing, in fact his fear of losing, is the opposite, the fear he has of winning because it would bring a whole series of changes that he does not want to assume, such as putting the relationship with the girlfriend at risk, getting away from family, leaving university, among others. Then, he himself sabotages the victory to stay where he is.
  • In a soccer team that cannot sustain a victory of 3 goals difference, the ghosts return: “Why win, what will come with it, things will change. NO … better not … what we are doing, better we stay where we are, than uncertainty not knowing what may come or happen. Much responsibility ”. That would be an internal dialogue from unconscious to unconscious between the members of a team that are a collective, in soccer there are many contagions in the team and fear is also contagious. It is not easy to break a losing streak, as in the case of Peruvian soccer, because this implies challenging the history of almost 25 years and deeply ingrained mental beliefs. It implies more professionalism, responsibility, effort and sacrifice. “No, we better stay where we are … calm down.” Many times the cost of winning and the consequences of victory can be so great for a team or person that they simply prefer to stay where they are, it is a cost-benefit balance. It must be emphasized that this is not necessarily conscious.
  • Athletes who frequently fail before succeeding fall over the finish line. “Not being” willing to be the best. They do well being good, but being the best brings many changes, for this reason many talents are great promises but they never become realities. Situations of this type have been observed in sports such as tennis, athletics, surfboard, soccer, volleyball, basketball, golf, swimming, athletics, rowing, judo, boxing, Brazilian jiu jitsu, and mixed martial arts.

Fear of losing: Although there is fear of losing, since it brings the consequent situation of sadness, psychic discomfort and demos, it is something with which you learn to live, there are even gains (secondary gain). It is not so easy to deal with success, this brings many responsibilities and consequences that not all of us are willing to assume. The fear of losing also exists, but many times it is confused with the opposite: the fear of winning. Clear that there may be a real conscious situation of not wanting to lose or make a mistake, but many times in reality these manifest fears hide latent fears of not wanting to win. In these situations it is necessary to inquire and investigate to discover what is actually happening with the athlete.

Why the fear of winning?

  • At the campeen all you want to win: ” They all want him knock down” against everyone will give their maximum effort, give a little more, which means more pressure will know the . The popular phrase “Easy is to get there, the difficult thing is to stay” indicates that when success is achieved, responsibilities grow in order to maintain the place achieved and this implies a greater effort than when achieving success for the first time.
  • Greater expectation: Being campeen brings with it a greater expectation and greater demand for good results from other people in more complicated and complex events. There may be situations in which the pressure increases and you do not know how to handle the new status. You don’t have adequate time to prepare for new commitments.
  • It is more comfortable to stay in the same place: It is more comfortable to stay where you are, in mediocrity, in the middle, since that immobility provides tranquility. It is the known. There is another pertinent popular saying here: “Better known bad than good to know.” The athlete already knows what it is to lose, he knows his feelings, what happens, and badly enough he knows how to react and handle it. On the contrary, a positive result will be different: “What to do? How will I react? What will I feel? … What stress! I’d better stay calm where I am, that’s how things go well for me ”. In this popular saying (well known in Peru) there is a direct reference from different angles to the fear of winning, and this is in the collective unconscious of the people who make up that society.
  • More money: Money brings with it a series of consequences, being people more sought after by friends, strangers, women, people interested in what they have and not in what they are. In general terms, being the target of aggressions (robberies, assaults, kidnappings, scams, deceptions, etc.).
  • Greater economic responsibilities: Assuming greater expenses at home, by increasing income, generally, people begin to consume more and this inevitably changes the lifestyle. In considerable cases, athletes who come from economic situations with few resources, such as in sports such as soccer or boxing, have to take financial care not only of the nuclear family, but also of the extended family and even have to give financial support to the friends and the neighborhood. It is known that it is difficult to say no to friends, you never want to look bad with them and less with your family, who can take advantage of this.
  • Interested people: It implies that people will approach as a friend, but in reality there will be interests involved. The successful athlete will find it difficult to distinguish who is his friend and who is not, who really appreciates him and has good intentions. Less fortunate people will approach them to ask and demand things, such as money, loans or gifts.
  • New status: The new status is given at all levels: friend, social, family, partner, etc. It is placed in an asymmetric and vertical situation in relation to the others. For example: the soccer player who becomes the head of the family, because he comes from a situation of few resources, suddenly becomes the provider and everyone in the household begins to treat him differently, he becomes the voice of command. Then the economic demands begin and the consequent pressures that this brings with it.
  • Success is aphrodisiac: This implies that they will have greater temptations with the opposite sex, destabilizing their homeostasis and emotional balance. It can make your relationship stagger (whether you are married or not), causing you to “get the fumes” in your head, that you can not handle the various situations that arise, especially with so many trips, women who love them for what they represent or have and not for what they are, or who want to secure an economic future or an unwanted child. All this will unbalance the athlete, and it is known that what the athlete needs to perform well is precisely tranquility. Restlessness in personal life will bring poor performance in sports life. A footballer told me: “I know that I am ugly, I look at myself in the mirror and I see myself ugly, but all the girls tell me that I am cute.”
  • Inflated ego: It is very easy to fall into the tendency to get carried away by flattery. The chest swells, along with the ego. To avoid this, the person needs to share them with great confidence and that they are interested in him as a person and not as a product of making money. All athletes have ups and downs, the higher the ego is, the more painful and difficult to handle the fall. The athlete must know that there were good and bad moments, so it would be recommended that humility be a constant aspect in his life, to combat this, the support and balance provided by the family is important. 
  • Less time with loved ones: Success can lead to estrangement from loved ones. Live in another country or constantly travel to train and / or compete. For example, in soccer you can live abroad, in tennis you have to travel constantly, go to play in another country, with another culture, another reality and even another language.
  • Different lifestyle habits: Getting away from friends, having a different rhythm of life, a different job, different sleeping and eating habits, working on weekends, etc. In other words, leaving aside a “normal” or conventional lifestyle (socially speaking).
  • Marketing and sponsorship: Greater commitments to the media, advertisements, statements, interviews, photos, etc. This will result in not being able to train in the same way or not being able to focus properly. Greater demands from the press and the public, as well as greater censorship and less understanding when mistakes are made both inside and outside the sporting arena.
  • Fame: Being besieged by the media, having to always be smiling, attentive to the demands of others, being the constant news, having the media on top of it looking for the scoop, at best, and at worst, the scandal.
  • Loneliness: The loneliness of the one above, success can bring a lot of loneliness, since
    there are no other people with whom to share that experience since it is something rare and particular.
  • Envy: Success inevitably generates envy in others, which results in bad desires towards the person and, obviously, nobody likes to feel hated, envied or to be wished ill.
  • Emptiness: Many times when achieving a great goal for which you have been fighting for a long time, the feeling is not necessarily one of happiness but of emptiness. It can produce a feeling of sadness, disorientation because you no longer have the objective or the goal for which you fought hard every day, which stimulated you every day to try harder and harder , which in itself was already satisfactory.

Benefits of failure:

  • It offers the athlete to stay where they are, without major outbursts and shocks, it provides stability.
  • Injury is a way to escape success when all expectations are placed on the athlete. This injury occurs for psychological and not physical causes. Injuring himself, he escapes from so much pressure and expectation and thus does not look bad with anyone. It’s the perfect excuse and it’s real. It is the same as when stress increases, the probability of diseases occurring increases (the immune system is weakened.In the same way, injuries have their origin in mental aspects, not a real psychological injury, but originate from the mind, this has already been investigated It is an excellent way to escape when the athlete feels that they do not leave him out, we have already seen it, not a few times.
  • Losing, too, brings with it gains, which is known as secondary gain, giving gene to others, receiving affection, tenderness, protection, care and affection, becoming the “poor thing.”

For all this is that many times the athlete wins more by losing than by winning, it is as if there were two forces within him, one that wants to win and the other that wants to lose. To stay calm, it is easier and more comfortable to stay where you are instead of looking for something new. Seeking success can involve a lot of effort and sacrifice and failing to achieve it and failing in the attempt would result in emotional loss, letting go of a small part of yourself that may never recover, would bring a lot of psychic pain. As a consequence, stop taking the risk, it will be better to avoid it.

The forces of the unconscious can play a trick on the athlete, since consciously they may want to win but the deepest internal forces will sabotage those conscious desires for success, it is precisely where today we consider that sports psychology has a lot to contribute. It is of utmost importance to combat these weaknesses and allow the athlete to give his all, without fears that they will sabotage his performance.

ft It must be taken into consideration that before proposing this hypothesis it is necessary to review and analyze other possible causes of bad results, not everything is fear of winning, such as strategy, tactics, technique, rival level, group unit or other psychological aspects influential, among others. You should never fall into the error of psychological everything and look for answers only in the mental, of this we must be aware of sports psychologists and people close to it.