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A Season of Expectations! How We Manage Them Makes a Difference

Updated: Dec 27, 2021

Mindset Made Simple Tip #75 - Watch or listen to this tip HERE!

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It’s the holiday season, and whether you celebrate Christmas as we do in our family or not, the season comes with expectations.

Our neighbor’s kids had high expectations last month as the Amazon guy delivered “so many” Hanukkah presents. (I did see a lot of delivery trucks around leading up to Nov. 28th 😊). I hear the kids were not disappointed!

Now our kid (isn't' the picture from his first Christmas cute😍) is expecting Hot Wheels Unleashed and a plethora of other toys after his Zoom with Santa the other day. And now he added in a last-minute drone….oh boy! Thank goodness for Amazon Prime!

However, the tradition of Santa coming down the chimney is not what makes the Christmas season one of great expectations. Generations of people had great expectations that were realized on Christmas day in the town of Bethlehem! I am pretty sure the arrival of the Messiah was not what they expected!

We are surrounded by expectations, big and small, and how we handle them makes a difference in our performance and well-being!

The Oxford Dictionary states that expectation is “a strong belief that something will happen or be the case”. What we expect to happen determines our reality. If we expect something to be a certain way, we act in a particular way.

For instance, finding a baby in a manger who was supposedly the King of Kings probably messed with some peoples’ expectations. And I’d bet they reacted a bit differently than they would have had this baby been born in a castle with servants and guards.

Our expectations, the expectations of others and the expectations others have of us, can affect us in two ways.

One way can be helpful to our performance. The Pygmalion effect suggests that high expectations lead to improved performance.

I am sure you have heard of the “brown-eyes, blue-eyes experiment” where the teacher told the blue-eyed students that they were smarter, and they subsequently performed better. She then changed the story to say that the brown-eyed students were actually smarter, and the results flip-flopped. Watch it here.

This experiment was really an exercise of racial biases, but ultimately it is about expectations. Our biases affect our expectations, and they ultimately change our thoughts/beliefs, our actions, our performance and our outcomes!

Athletes live in a world full of expectations. Expectations from coaches, parents, teammates, communities and ourselves!

Athletes often feel as if the weight of the world is on their shoulders – whether they are shooting the game-tying shot or goal or sitting on the bench. Expectations weigh on all our players in different ways and for different reasons.

The other way expectations can affect our performance is not as productive.

Expectations can turn into PRESSURE!

Helping our athletes manage expectations can alleviate some pressure. Having them write out all of the expectations they feel from themselves and others can be very helpful. More on this in a minute!

Sometimes, when we feel the weight of expectations (that turn into pressure), we start to play small!

When we play small, we play conservatively and become overly self-focused… “don’t screw up”… “don’t do anything wrong,” “if I screw up, I’ll never hear the end of it”, etc.

When this happens, we stop focusing on what we need to do to help us win (our process) and we focus solely on the outcome (which we cannot control)! And our performance suffers!

So often, the weight of our pressure comes from the feeling that we MUST deliver results.

BUT it also comes from how we think people will judge us! Can we live up to their expectations (or the ones we think they have of us)?

We often equate expectations with judgment…and this is not helpful!

It’s the old theme that runs through our head almost constantly…what will people think or what will people say??? Or even worse, what ARE people thinking…as we swing, shoot or try to make a play!

Here is where my dad’s age-old advice comes in. When I was a kid, my dad said (and I have gone back to this a million times since) “Jul, people aren’t thinking about you nearly as much as you think they are.

They are too busy thinking about themselves!”

Think about these words of Coach Jones Sr. (my dad was a coach, too). If you are worried about what she is thinking, and she is worried about what you are thinking, you aren’t judging her, and she isn’t judging you. You are both wondering what the other is thinking. You are saying “I wonder what she is

thinking about my performance.” And she is saying, “I wonder what she is thinking about me.” You may be thinking about her, but you aren’t thinking anything about her…you are thinking about yourself!

Phew…that was a lot!

That sounds a lot like “who’s on first?”

Thinking about what others are thinking, how they will react or what they are doing takes up precious space in your “one thought at a time” brain that we need to store and gather crucial information about our opponent or the game plan. It takes up the space we need to allow our brain to react to what is

happening NOW!

Remember this, a lot of the pressure we feel we place on ourselves, and it usually happens when we are thinking about what might happen or what has already happened…or how we will ever live up to all those expectations (that may not exist in reality). We don’t play the game in any of these spaces.

As the Greek philosopher, Epictetus understood centuries ago, “man is not troubled by events but rather how he interprets them.”

I will add that man is not troubled by expectations but rather by how he interprets them…or makes them up in his own head in some cases!

Either way, we normally interpret events AND expectations outside of the present moment! Missing a shot is normal. It’s when we worry about missing the shot for a million reasons that we freak out and then miss the shot!

BUT…knowing that we can change our evaluations or judgment of a situation or expectation allows us to change or control the pressure we feel at any given moment!

Evaluating expectations can help us put them in perspective and manage the pressure we feel comes from them.

It gives us the opportunity to decide if the expectations are valid and realistic.

If we can’t turn an expectation into a goal or if we find that one is something we assume someone expects, we can cross them off our list!

So, whatever pressures we feel, look at them with a perspective of “am I able to manage this situation…am I prepared, etc.” as opposed to “what will others think or say?” Chances are that if you are in the game, you are able to manage the situation and are prepared to do so as well! I don’t know many coaches who put athletes in situations in which they don’t believe they can be successful!

Ask yourself, what is the worst thing that can happen if I don’t come through? Will I die or will I get another chance with hard work? Will people disown me, or will they move on to the next play just like I need to?

It all boils down to following the process and staying in the present. Expectations don’t live in either!

Take a good shot that you are prepared to take. And no matter what anyone expects, you statistically have a 50/50 chance of it going in! As we used to tell our kids, if you swing, you have a 50/50 chance of getting a hit. If you don’t swing, you have no chance! (On a side note, if you are not prepared to take the shot and that is why you feel pressure…prepare harder or smarter😊).

It is very important to have high expectations, but how we react to them is completely within our control! Will they help us play BIG or will they tempt us to play small?

In this season of great expectations, I urge you to evaluate yours and be sure you are using them for good!

Wishing you and your families a wonderful, safe and healthy holiday season and the happiest of Christmases!


P.S. My spring calendar is filling fast. If you would like to schedule a session or two with your team as you prep for the next semester, give me a call or text at 234–206–0946 or send me an email at

Certified Mental Performance & Mindset Coach

SSB Performance • 234-206-0946



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