Athlete adversity: fear of injury, failure, and success

Kylie Tanimura, Sports

Athletes face constant hardships throughout their careers. The ability to be successful in competition is closely related to their physical and mental capacity. Coaches, parents, and friends all want to see their athletes perform to their highest potential. However, in time, athletes will most likely find themselves in a slump and the question is coined: what is preventing them from succeeding? This reveals the three principal fears that may be the root of athlete’s block. 

Injury is a regular occurrence in both contact and non-contact sports. According to John Hopkins Medicine, in the U.S., about 30 million children and teens participate in some form of organized sports, and more than 3.5 million injuries each year. Which leads to the fear of injury or also known as traumatophobia. Someone suffering from this may find that they have extreme amounts of anxiety at the mere thought of having an injury. 

“I have a fear of injury because I’ve seen a lot of my teammates and other student-athletes get injured unexpectedly and I worry that it will happen to me too,” Jonah Barnhill (11), Kalani Varsity football player, says. “It doesn’t affect my performance on the field because I’m not thinking about it too much, but it does cause me to be more aware of my surroundings so I don’t get laid out by anyone.” 

Fear of injury can diminish sports participation and delay return to sports. In addition, it can result in attentional distractions and affect an athlete’s postinjury performance.

“Even off the field, it’s in the back of my mind and I think about it occasionally and have recurring nightmares of getting injured in my first game of the season,” he says. 

Fear of failure is common amongst student-athletes, with 64% being the cause of stress within their sport, reported by the National Library of Medicine. Athletes develop a fear of failure when they worry about not getting what they want and have worked hard to obtain. Athletes often fear the negative consequences of a poor or less-than-perfect performance

“I have a fear of failure because I want to live up to the expectations I have of myself and I am scared of the disappointment that follows failure,” Samantha Morinaga (10), varsity cross country and track runner, says. 

They worry about letting their team or coach down. They worry about disappointing a parent or not performing up to a parent’s expectations. They worry about many things that are often not under their direct or immediate control, and a lot of this worry is unnecessary.

“Sometimes I limit my expectations because I know if I lower them, then I have a less chance of being disappointed,” Morinaga adds. 

Not usually identified as a “fear”  but what should be discussed more is the fear of success. Fear of success is the concern that once we achieve something new, we’ll be incapable of sustaining it or may suffer because of it. An athlete doesn’t want to deal with fans’ unrealistic expectations, having the competition constantly gunning for them, having the responsibility of being a role model because of their high visibility, or experiencing teammates who become jealous or envious of their success. This type of athlete has a narrow comfort zone. They may even “let up” during a game for fear of achieving success.

“I have a fear of success because I’m afraid of the pressure of keeping that high level and not wanting to get beaten by anyone other than me,” Kokona Watanabe, varsity swimming, cross country, and track athlete (11) expresses. 

It’s not unusual for people like Watanabe to give up on a challenge that they are more than capable of completing because they fear the consequences. According to The Elite Competitor, many times, athletes avoid success because they feel it adds another layer of pressure on them to perform perfectly. They feel like if they don’t live up to the expectation, they are letting themselves and others down. So this spirals into the mindset of trying to be perfect. Athletes need to realize that being perfect isn’t obtainable, nor is it wanted.

As  Dr. Pippa Grange says: “Success comes from trying, extending yourself, and taking risks, which means that, inevitably, you will fail along the way. And you will fail often.


John Hopkins Medicine. “Sports Injury Statistics.” Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2020,

Smedley, Breanne . “#44: Overcoming the Fear of Success in Athletes.”, 18 Feb. 2022,

Ward, Tavish, et al. “Prevalence of Stress amongst High School Athletes (V2).” Health Psychology Research, vol. 11, 21 Feb. 2023,,