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5 Tips if Your Child Struggles With Social Comparison in Sport

Updated: Dec 29, 2023

Human beings are naturally driven to evaluate our ability to do certain things. For athletes of any age, evaluation of their ability to perform well is an unavoidable part of sport. For your child, a common way to do this is by comparing themselves with teammates or other young athletes in their sport. This is called social comparison. Whilst comparison to others can sometimes be positive, it is often harmful when we aren't aware of when to stop. Excessive and unrealistic social comparison can destroy a young athlete's self-esteem, causing them to doubt their ability as they are so focused on what others have that they don't. These comparisons decrease your child's chance of perceiving achievement and progress, as they never feel good enough compared to someone they see as better than them. For you as a parent, this can also be really difficult to see, as you know how great your child is and you wish they could see it too.

Young basketballer protecting the ball from his opponent

So how can your child avoid the negative effects of social comparison? Here are 5 handy tips.


1) Learn to unhook from difficult thoughts

When your child compares themselves to others a lot, it's likely that this will stir up self-judging thoughts or beliefs about their current and future ability. These thoughts can be quite difficult to experience, especially for a young person, and can impact your child's behaviour on and off the pitch in unwanted ways. A skill we love at Challenger Mindset to help athletes detach from difficult thoughts is called 'unhooking'. Unhooking does what it says on the tin. It helps us take unwanted thoughts that have 'hooked' us and that are pulling us in directions we don't want to go in, unhook from them, and create some separation between ourselves and the thought so we can focus on things that will make performance and life better. For your child, unhooking can help them focus on some of the tips below, to create a long-term change to their comparison against others.


2) Use comparison with others as inspiration

One positive use of comparison with others is that your child can learn to use it as inspiration to improve themselves to reach the ability level of someone they see as being better. For this to happen, your child needs to learn how to view this type of comparison as a challenge to strive for, rather than a threat to their ability and future. To achieve this, we work with your child to identify sources of confidence that enhance their belief that they can improve, aspects of that process they can control to achieve it and form a support network around them to assist with different aspects of their development journey.


3) Focus on their process

When your child compares themselves to others, they become overly focused on what that person is, does, and doesn't do. If they see a large difference between what they do and what the 'better' person does, it's easy for their self-confidence to take a hit as it may seem like they're not doing anything right. So, it's important to work on shifting your child's focus to their own process. Your child's own process is their personal development journey, made up of things that they do that they can completely control that contribute to them feeling a sense of progress. Examples of these might be their effort in training and matches, their attitude, or asking questions about how they can improve. Through these small controllable actions, your child should experience improvement and with that, rebuild their confidence.


4) Compare to their past self-instead

If your child has to compare their current ability to something, encourage them to compare their current ability to their past ability. This is a great reference point that focuses on self-improvement. Two positive outcomes can occur from this. Your child can gain confidence from evaluating that their skills have improved in comparison to themselves a month, 6 months, or a year ago. Or, they might become more self-aware of areas they need to improve in if they don't feel they've improved. In this case, they are learning key mental skills of reflection and could do some goal setting to plan how they will progress themselves.


5) Hold their strengths close

When your child is comparing themself to others, it's likely that they are focusing more on the aspects of that comparison that are negative to them. This is a common issue we have as humans called the negativity bias, where we pay more attention to negative information than positive information. Here, it's useful for your child to have a reminder of the strengths they also have, as these are easy to forget when we're confronted by our weaknesses. Your child can note their strengths down somewhere they will see them often, such as on their water bottle or saved as their phone lock screen. These strengths are there to reinforce your child's confidence, giving them a more balanced view of themselves instead of just focusing on what they see as weaknesses.

 

We're all guilty of comparing ourselves to others, and in sport, this is fired up by constant tracking of statistics, measurements, and competitive outcomes. For your child, it's really easy to slip into the trap of excessive comparison to others, and it can feel productive that they're evaluating their ability. However, we know that this can cause athletes to beat their confidence down, which spills over negatively into their performance and well-being. For you as a parent, it becomes heartbreaking to see your child get down on themselves when you can see them doing really well, but they just can't see it because their teammate is doing better. So, I hope that the 5 tips I explained above give you and your child some insight into this issue and how mindset training can be used to help. Small changes like the ones above can go a long way to building a mindset that can deal with the demands of sport and life for your child.


If you want to join a community of like-minded sport parents looking to discover ways your child can handle the challenges and pressure of sport so they can become the best version of themselves, subscribe to the Challenger Zone email newsletter here! With this, you'll receive a FREE mental imagery checklist to help your child discover the transformational effects of mental imagery with just your email address! Alternatively, if you feel your child may benefit from mindset training to help them manage comparison to others, book a FREE 20-minute enquiry call here, or, get in touch via Whatsapp at 07950378048 or by emailing Ross@challenger-mindset.com.

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