By Dr. Alan Goldberg
If you, as an athlete, have problems with your self-confidence, if you're easily intimidated by other athletes or teams, then chances are pretty good that you are a regular user of the "C" word. What's the "C" word? Comparison! Comparing yourself with others is probably the most effective strategy I know to deflate your self-confidence.
I was recently talking to a talented, hard working tennis player who had only recently taken the game up as a 16 year-old. Despite her late start, she had made tremendous inroads into the sport and had impressed her coaches with her talent, work ethic and potential. Her problem was that both in practice and at tournaments she would continually compare herself with other players, athletes who had been at the sport 10 plus years longer than her. Naturally, every time she would do this, she was left feeling like she just couldn't compete against these kids. Her self-confidence was at an all time low.
The problem, as I explained it to her was that she was trying to measure her own success and progress based on what she imagined others had done and were doing. When you do this, you will always come up with an inaccurate measure of yourself. Why? Because your situation, your history, your strengths and weaknesses, your handicaps and special circumstances are YOURS and have absolutely nothing to do with your teammates or opponents. When you insist on comparing yourself, you end up discounting your own experiences and minimizing your own successes.
For example, This tennis player had only been playing tournament tennis for just one year! Despite this, she was comparing herself with players who had been playing competitively for 10 plus years! Her comparisons totally minimized all that she had accomplished in such a short time. The only accurate way she could really measure her progress in relation to others was if she compared herself to only those players who had been at the tournaments for just one year! However, even this kind of comparison is fraught with problems.
If you want to start feeling better about yourself, if you want to begin to build your self-confidence, then you need to get into the habit of focusing on YOU, your game, your work, your own goals. You need to stay away from measuring yourself against others. It's not that I'm against competition. I'm not. It's just that comparing yourself with others rarely gives you an accurate read of your accomplishments.
A pole vaulter I worked with this past summer demonstrated this perfectly. All summer long her goal had been to clear 12'. The day that she finally did it, she felt thrilled, (for 10 seconds) until her teammate and arch-rival easily cleared that height. Then, instead of allowing herself to celebrate her great accomplishment, she "threw it in the trash" because her rival, Diane had done it too. Instead of having a wonderful opportunity to feel good about herself and boost her confidence, she used comparison as a way to totally erase her success, leaving herself feeling badly about herself!
There is rarely any constructive benefit that comes from comparing yourself with others. Despite the fact that everyone does it, it's bad for the health of your self-confidence. Every time that you find your mind drifting to what others are doing and comparing yourself with them, let an alarm go off inside your head that warns you to bring your focus back to YOU! Keep in mind, it's what you do that really matters, not what others are doing.
Dr. Alan Goldberg is a nationally-known expert in the field of applied sport psychology, Dr. Goldberg works with athletes and teams across all sports at every level, from professional and Olympic caliber right down to junior competitors. He is the author of 25 mental toughness training programs and Director of Competitive Advantage. His website is www.competitivedge.com.