Harrison Alley


If you think you’re so bad at sports, know that, statistically, you’re not alone.

Of course, it depends on what you mean by “so bad,” but by definition, 49% of people must be below-average sports players, which is a lot of people.

And even if you’re, say, in the bottom 10% of sports players globally, 10% of the world’s population of 8 billion is still 800 million, which is about 2.7 times the size of the United States!

That means there are almost three United States’ worth of people in the world who are worse than you at sports if you’re in the bottom 10% of sports players!

I recognize this may not be very comforting.

But, for what it’s worth, I can relate as a fellow below-average sports player.

And, I think it may help to understand why you may be frustrated at your below-average sports performance.

You’re succumbing to the better-than-average effect.

What may be behind your frustration with your poor sports performance is the expectation that you should be better at sports.

And some reasons are better than others to believe this.

For instance, if you spend a lot of time practicing a sport and you’re still bad at it, you may feel like your frustration is justified.

Unfortunately, a meta-analysis of many studies on sports performance has indicated that deliberate practice determines only 18% of sports performance.

In other words, if you lack natural aptitude in a sport, practice can only make you ~18% better which very well may leave you below average (still).

Again, if you’re in the bottom 10% of sports performers and improve by 18%, you would still be in the bottom 28% of athletes.

But even those who don’t practice sports a lot may feel like they should be better than average.

Why is this?

Unfortunately, humans often seem biased to believe they are better than average in almost any dimension.

Here’s a quote from Inc about this phenomenon:

A meta-analysis of a number of studies shows that people rate themselves as above average in creativity, intelligence, dependability, athleticism, honesty, friendliness, and on and on. Provide people with a survey about almost any trait and the vast majority will rate themselves above average.


And, of course, this is impossible.

More than half of people can’t be better than average!

I don’t know why this phenomenon exists, but know that this bias may affect your expectations.

If you feel like you are or should be better than average at sports but your performance is consistently below average, this cognitive dissonance can be frustrating.

You have lower than average interest in sports.

If you’re like me and have lower than average interest in sports, it may be challenging to fully understand and then motivate yourself to do well in sports.

According to a thorough survey, 24% of US adults don’t watch live sporting events, which I think is a decent proxy for interest in sports.

So although it is somewhat rare to lack interest in sports, you are not alone.

In fact, even higher percentages of younger people don’t watch sports.

So this lack of interest in sports seems to be growing.

Regardless, there are many psychological reasons that may explain poor sports performance with lack of interest being just one of them.

(I discuss more of them in my article about being bad at games in general.)

You’re overweight.

It’s hard to be good at most sports if you’re overweight.

Of course, there are some exceptions, like sumo wrestling.

But I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that you aren’t disappointed with your sumo wrestling performance.

Since about 2/3 of adult Americans are overweight or obese, the odds are good you may be dealing with this.

The only consolation I have for you is that this affects so many people that the odds are also good that your competition is overweight.

So your and your competitions’ weight handicap may cancel each other out.

How to Deal with Being Bad at Sports

I think dealing with being bad at sports starts with better understanding your situation.

That’s partly why I wrote this article and have written about being bad at games in general.

Poor sports performance can be challenging to deal with, but when you have a better understanding of why you lack athleticism and why you think you should be better, this perspective can help.

One thing I try to remember when playing games of any sort is that people who are better at them tend to play them more, and those who are worse often play them less.

So the odds are good that if you are playing a sport and you feel like most are better than you, there are plenty of people not playing who are worse than you.

And if you imagine playing your sport with all those who aren’t playing, you very well may be better than average.

Apart from having a better understanding of your athletic performance, the real key to dealing with being bad at sports is to find your identity in something other than sports.

I know this is easier said than done.

But if you find your identity in your sports performance and you perform poorly you will likely think poorly of yourself.

Instead, I recommend finding your identity in something stable, like the God of the universe.

That’s what I believe.

And although I don’t always live in light of this belief and sometimes become frustrated with my sports performance, I take great comfort in my identity being in something outside of myself and certainly not in my sports performance.

How to Get Over a Bad Sports Performance

If you performed poorly in a sporting event, particularly if it was public, you may feel embarrassed, disappointed in yourself, or angry about it.

If that’s you, I get it.

I played tennis in high school and had many instances of being mad at myself for my poor performance because I knew I could play better.

There were also times when I played poorly and felt like I let down my doubles partner.

And, there were instances when I felt embarrased because I played poorly in front of others.

One thing that has helped me with these feelings is the knowledge that most people almost certainly don’t care or think about my sports performance as much as I do.

People have a tendency to overestimate how much others are thinking about them and underestimate how much those other people are actually thinking about themselves.

Financial author, Morgan Housel writes about a similar phenomenon called the Rich Man in the Car Paradox.

Here’s how he describes it:

When you see someone driving a nice car, you rarely think, “Wow, the guy driving that car is cool.” Instead, you think, “Wow, if I had that car people would think I’m cool.” Subconscious or not, this is how people think.

The paradox of wealth is that people tend to want it to signal to others that they should be liked and admired. But in reality those other people bypass admiring you, not because they don’t think wealth is admirable, but because they use your wealth solely as a benchmark for their own desire to be liked and admired.

The Psychology of Money

In the same way, I think this phenomenon operates in embarrassing contexts.

If you perform poorly in a sporting event and feel embarrassed, others may think your performance was embarrassing.

But they will likely only think about this briefly before returning to thinking about themselves.

And, they are also likely to think about your performance in terms of themselves.

So instead of thinking, “Wow, that’s embarrassing,” many are likely thinking, “Wow, I’m glad that embarrassing thing didn’t happen to me.”


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