Back to Blog

Self-Preservation of Practitioners

authenticity low self-esteem Dec 04, 2023

The series continues with the most potent and widespread issue that is a clear standout from my research: Low Self-Esteem.

To me, this appears to be one of the most insidious and destructive issues we face in our elite sports culture.

The reason it's so destructive is because it contributes to what Callum Walsh calls in his doctorate "the self-preservation of practitioners" leading to dysfunctional and inefficient high-performance environments.

And we are all susceptible to it!

A lead strength & conditioning coach told me:

"Most of it has been my own self-pressure and low self-worth, I've felt that the place can't function without me but the reality is they'd get rid of me in a heartbeat and I've felt everything I've been doing is unbelievable and everyone else is wrong."

The Dark Side to the Pursuit of Excellence

The constant pursuit of excellence can have its positive side, which we see in most individuals who have professional sports careers.

We see the advancements in performance preparation in the physical, mental, and skill prowess of the world's top athletes.

What that means to me is witnessing what the incredible human body is capable of within 3-dimensional time and space.

But whether you know it or not, whether you like it or not - I can tell you right now, there is a dark side to this pursuit of excellence.

I am grateful to have heard the deeper layers of the very personal and emotional struggles of 160 men behind sport.

And this is from those whom in the past I would have been intimidated by because of their outwardly vast knowledge, experience, and success.

In a public blog post, Darren Roberts writes (Read "Beware The Lone Wolf" Career Blueprint):

“My self-esteem and sense of worth were completely baked into my job. If you’re as anchored to your job as I was from a self-esteem perspective, the only reward for all your hard work and capabilities is to not ‘not’ work, the only feedback you’re likely to get is when something has gone wrong – all of that will wear you down mentally eventually.”

Further to this, a performance director told me:

"I perceived not achieving as a failure which falls all on me because I have the prerequisite tools to achieve those things. I've felt pressure to achieve the markers of what people perceive as me being really good at... so I was inevitably going to fail which drove me into a hole.”

I have multiple spreadsheets of quotes that support this one.

They show what's truly going on for the men behind sport related to self-esteem, validation, over-striving, being held back by identity, and pleasing others at the expense of themselves.

The Achievement Feedback Loop

Are you crystal clear about what success is FOR YOU?

Not what coaches, peers, or culture says is a success... but your unique inner gauge of success?

If you don't, there is a high possibility you're in the achievement feedback loop of performance sport culture.

“Where perfectionism exists, shame is always lurking.”

― Brené Brown

Head of Performance:

“I was working 6.7 days a week across a 12-month period. I wasn't seeing my kids or my wife and I hit this brick wall that made me realise you know what this isn't right. But before that wall, I couldn't see it and just thought I was leading the way to something important in sport.”

Having a high drive to self-improve that is fueled by rock-bottom self-esteem can take you very far in your career because you’re coupling a sense of inferiority with a relentless pursuit of achievement.

This happens due to the feedback loop that's been rewarding you for playing the game and burying your head to this fact.

The badge on your chest, the achievements of "your" athletes, the recognition from your peers, the LinkedIn title, the boost to ego when you say what you do to people you meet.

Simply put you aren’t incentivised to do otherwise, despite the hours you do, the sacrifices you make, and the typically low salary.

This has served many of the coaches I have spoken with very well, as well as myself - but at what cost?

It’s one thing to be self-aware of this, it's another thing completely to care about it enough to make changes.

Working With Self-Esteem

Low self-esteem had a huge effect on my life years ago.

I can tell you what has worked for me to get to a place of acceptance of who I am and the confidence to speak authentically without fear in the work I do now.

Without a doubt leaning into and contemplating a variety of spiritual and esoteric philosophies has been transformational.

If this is something you're thinking about if you haven't already, I recommend starting with these books:

  1. The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer
  2. The Surrender Experiment by Michael Singer
  3. How To Change Your Mind by Michael Pollen
  4. Breaking The Habit of Being Yourself by Dr Joe Dispenza
  5. Warrior, Magician, Lover, King by Rod Boothroyd


Sometimes the things you end up struggling with the most can turn out to be helpful in ways you would never expect. Setting goals and wanting to achieve success through the impact you provide in your career is admirable.

Take care, though, that you don’t use it as a measure of your self-esteem. To live a happy and content life, you must learn how to recognize and embrace your worthiness regardless of what you accomplish.

As long as you "need" things outside of you to make you feel better inside of you, you will never know lasting fulfilment and peace - leaving you trapped in this cycle.

In my experience, this is simply a skill to practice - no different to the skills and interventions you teach the athletes you work with.

Learning new skills to overcome longstanding ways of thinking and behaving takes time and practice, and slip-ups are to be expected.

If you find it hard to shift your perspective, seek support from a mentor or coach to help keep you on track with your progress.

Believing you create your reality means you acknowledge that nothing can change in your life until you change.

Being accountable means being willing to examine what you need to change about yourself to draw closer to the new future – the new personal reality – you envision.

Download Workbook now!

Discover where you currently are in the 7-step process of change, the problems that keep you trapped in frustration, the path of moving from "I can't" to "I am", and the powerful guided reflection to support you in taking the next steps in your life.