A qualitative study of perfectionism among self-identified perfectionists in sport and the performing arts

Andrew P. Hill, Chad S. G. Witcher, John K. Gotwals, Anna F. Leyland

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When adopting any measure of perfectionism to examine the characteristic in sport or the performing arts, researchers make assumptions regarding its core features and, sometimes, its effects. So to avoid doing so, in the current study we employed qualitative methods to examine the accounts of self-identified perfectionists. Specifically, the purpose of this study was to explore the opinions and perceptions of high-level, self-identified perfectionists from sport, dance, and music. In particular, we sought to obtain detailed information regarding (a) participants’ perceptions of the main features of being a perfectionist and (b) how they perceived being a perfectionist to influence their lives. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 15 international/professional athletes, dancers, and musicians. Thematic analysis was used to identify patterns and themes within the transcripts. Three overarching themes were identified: drive, accomplishment, and strain. Being a perfectionist was characterized by the participants as having ever-increasing standards, obsessiveness, rigid and dichotomous thinking, and dissatisfaction. The participants also described how being a perfectionist influenced their lives by, on the one hand, providing greater capacity for success in their respective domains but, on the other hand, contributing to varying degrees of personal and interpersonal difficulties. The accounts suggest that, in the main, the content of current models and measures adequately capture the features of being a perfectionist in sport and performing arts. However, a greater focus on obsessiveness, dissatisfaction, and intra- versus interpersonal dimensions of perfectionism would provide further insight into the lives of perfectionists in these domains.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)237-253
Number of pages17
JournalSport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • motivation
  • performance
  • personality


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