Most of us will never be professional athletes, we participate in athletics for recreational purposes. The professional athlete has an obligation  to continually improve over their career but for the rest of us we can “arrive” when the purpose of our sports is recreational.

Children start out as Zen (Honor) athletes and quickly, fear and expectations destroy that ability and they turn into “Outcome (Fear) athletes.”

I want to contrast the difference between what I call a “Zen (Honor) Athlete” and what I call an “Outcome (Fear) Athlete.”


Outcome (Fear)

ZEN (Honor)

  1. A constant struggle for external recognition.
  2. Measures self-worth solely based on outcome.
  3. Focus on attaining perfection.
  4. Treat goals or sport as something to conquer.
  5. Unrealistic expectations leading to frustration, anger and disappointment.
  6. Blames other, cheats, makes excuses to calm anxiety from fear of failure.
  7. Competitors are the enemy.


  1. Looks for internal satisfaction.
  2. Measures self on what they gave.  Ethic, honor, effort, etc…
  3. Sees life as a journey in search of excellence.
  4. Tries to achieve “oneness” with activity.
  5. Realistic expectations, sees the process.
  6. Focus on what has been learned and effort given.
  7. Competitors are partners who facilitate improvement.





An Honor athlete eventually “arrives at the level they want to achieve and no longer see themselves as students or feel the need for improvement. This day comes when the maximum amount of enjoyment can be achieved with the current level of ability.

Outcome athletes never have an “arrival” stage because the fear of losing and pursuit of perfection does not allow for this phase. Given that this is a “recreational” pursuit, being a continual student your whole life doesn’t make sense if the maximum amount of recreational enjoyment has been achieved.

If you discuss this with an Outcome athlete they will tell you, “You should always try to get better.” My response is “Why?” If I achieve a level that gives me maximum fun, why should I improve when fun was my goal? I love going to a ski resort, golf course or tennis court and not think about anything but how much fun I am going to have.

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