Changing Team Narratives [Pt. 3]: Perfection & Outcomes

Teams overfocus on the relationship between the perfect situation and the ideal outcome.

Portland Rhino Slam! celebrate at the 2023 US Open. Photo: Sam Hotaling –

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Our triumvirate of ultimate stories is coming to the end. This last one, like the others, is based on discussions and observations, both online and in person. The spinning of narratives can certainly be a part if a healthy team development but these must be intentionally developed and closely watched. It is not just another thing to do. In many ways, it is the thing to do.

There is a time and place for telling and sharing stories about your team. Long car rides, airport delays, and crappy hotel breakfasts all provide great venues for sharing tales of past team adventures.

That’s not what I am talking about here. The stories that damage teams are the ones from the past that are carried into the present and future. The ones that are based on random events that define how your team competes. We have all heard some version of these before:

  • “We never warm up until the second game on Saturday.”
  • “We always struggle coming out of a bye.”
  • “We can never beat this team.”
  • “We will always beat this team.”

On the surface, these statements may seem rather benign. However, how your teammates think about themselves and how they approach every game is often influenced negatively by these stories. In my experience, from coaching, teaching, watching games and talking to players, the three most common destructive narratives are:

  1. We just wanna have fun
  2. We are owed success
  3. We will win if everything is perfect

In the next few weeks, I will take a deep look into how these stories may materialize on your team and how you can change their trajectory.

Narrative #3: Everything Has to be Perfect in Order to Succeed

How it Manifests

The team that seeks perfection is a team that is in big trouble. Players believe that if everything goes right, they will win. “Everything” includes weather, tournament format, opponents, observers, calls, transportation, housing, meals and more. An inordinate amount of pre-tournament time is spent predicting who will win the pool and who will advance into bracket play. If a call goes against the team, the sidelines cannot let it go and carry it into the next game or the next season. Overthinking everything defines this kind of team.

I am always suspicious when I ask players what happened in a game they just lost and they answer with, “A few things just didn’t go our way. We lost the flip. Our main receiver tweaked their ankle in the second half. The cap went on too early. If those things didn’t happen, we would have won.” While there may be some truth to this many days later, it also shows that these players conflate winning with perfection and excuses for losing are ingrained in the fabric of the team.

Closely tied to the strive for perfection is the game of blame. After a loss or the end of the season, teams often engage in figuring out what went wrong and who is responsible. As if an entire season comes down to a single event or person. This team is clearly missing the big picture, or as my dad used to say, they know “the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

Recently I heard of high school parents expecting the coach to make sure the student body respects ultimate as a sport. If they had more fans at the games, the players would feel supported and play better. Perfectionism knows no bounds.

How it is Damaging

The leaders who minimize a loss by focusing on “a few things” are choosing to skate on the surface and not look deeper at the team. You can’t fix what you can’t see. If you are using these excuses in a crucial game, then most likely you will do so at practice. When you show up at a sparsely attended practice, what is your mental approach to having low numbers? Often teams will default to a “pick-up” mentality, where everyone does what they want. Or the team opts to wrap up practice early. This gives way too much power to the players who are absent. It is a myth that you can’t do anything valuable if most of your team is not there. It may take a bit of creativity and extra buy-in, but team time should never be wasted.

The perfectionist team at tournaments becomes gobsmacked when mistakes happen. And mistakes will happen. They become fixated on their outcome goals and ignore the task at hand: “We are up by three at half. That means we can win the pool, have a bye in the morning and have a walk to the semis. OH NO. We just got broken twice!!” Up by three means nothing1 and to use it as an excuse to lose focus makes it even harder to compete.

Individual players who have perfectionist tendencies may be rigid about their roles on the team. They may push back when asked to switch lines or play on a hybrid line or otherwise become uncomfortable with stepping outside of their comfort zone. These athletes will have difficulty experiencing any real growth as their career continues. Don’t get stuck.

How to Fix It

Being part of a team can be messy, frustrating and chaotic. And those are on the good days. To expect perfection from any group of individuals is simply silly. Instead, it is much more helpful to pursue excellence by focusing on the process. Let’s say that a goal for a team is maximizing fast breaks, particularly from 30 yards out. This skill can be broken down into parts at practice: clearing, cutting, and throwing. When it feels like this team skill is about 90% effective, move onto something else. In this way, teams can accumulate skills that form a strong foundation as the season progresses.

Individuals should also focus on their own process goals. The player who doesn’t have a satisfactory 30-yard flick at the beginning of the season, but is throwing fast break strikes by the end, symbolizes what a team can accomplish with the right focus. The player who consistently tests their abilities is one whose flexibility will help them as they grow.

The more difficult part of moving a team away from perfectionism has to do with how teammates and coaches treat each other and talk about each other. If you expect perfection from yourself, then you expect it from others and you are missing the concept of what a team actually is. A functional and healthy team expects challenges, works through them with intention and moves on.

Final Thoughts

Perfectionism is solely concerned with the final outcome. While most competitors want to win, the best way to get there is to put that final outcome on the back burner. It may seem counter-intuitive, but everyone still knows it is there and leaving it alone makes it easier to reach.

  1. For me, the magic number to make substantial changes to subbing/strategy is the number five. If you are up by less than that, a dropped pull or an errant swing can tie it up before you know it. 

  1. Tiina Booth
    Tiina Booth

    Tiina Booth is the founder and director of the National Ultimate Training Camp, as well as an assistant coach for the University of Massachusetts women. She founded the Amherst Invitational in 1992 and co-founded Junior Nationals in 1998. In 2006, she published a book about ultimate with Michael Baccarini, entitled Essential Ultimate. She has coached teams to numerous national and international titles. Her ongoing passion is running sports psychology seminars for coaches and players, mainly through the Global Ultimate Training School, which she founded in 2020. More info can be found at was inducted into the Ultimate Hall of Fame in October 2018.


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