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How to Help Your Athletes Fight the Culture of Comparison

By TrueSport, 08/20/19, 8:30AM CDT


With the influence of social media, there has been a lot of pressure on young athletes to do better and be better than their peers.

Here are five ways you can encourage your athlete to avoid comparing themselves to others. 

Athletes today struggle with a culture of comparison that spans far beyond comparing times or results with teammates or rival schools’ athletes. Now, thanks to social media, young athletes are constantly inundated with a newsfeed packed with top results, new PRs, high scores, and podium shots.

Comparison comes from a lack of self-esteem, but as a coach, you can help create an environment that builds self-esteem. Here, Frank L. Smoll, author of Self-esteem and Children’s Reactions to Youth Sport Coaching Behaviors: A field study of self-enhancement processes, breaks down how to create that culture within your team.


Be aware of different pressures on athletes

Yelling criticisms during a game is an example of putting direct pressure on student-athletes, but remember, they face more subtle pressures coming from all angles, from parental pressure to pressure on social media.

“Even finances indirectly put pressure on kids, because many times the parents are communicating that they have an investment and the kids better produce,” Smoll says. It can be hard for an athlete to maintain a healthy level of self-esteem, but as a coach, your behaviors can influence how an athlete feels about himself. Start by understanding that you’re not the only influence in their life, but you can be the most positive influence.


Set the right tone

“Competition itself is neutral, neither good or bad. It’s what we make of it. You need to help athletes define success in competition, which may not be winning,” says Smoll.

He regularly reminds coaches of basketball great John Wooden’s definition of success: “Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you are capable.” Winning matters, but make sure your athletes know that personal accomplishment and growthteamwork, and sportsmanship are just as important.


Coach for mastery, not ego

In a mastery-oriented motivational climate, Smoll explains that the goal is fostering positive growth, with an emphasis on effort and personal improvement. If you’re a mastery-driven coach, you’re equally invested in all team members.

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About TrueSport

TrueSport® is a grassroots movement born and powered by the experience and values of USADA–the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. The TrueSport® mission is simple and bold: to change the culture of youth sport by providing powerful educational tools to equip young athletes with the resources to build the life skills and core values for lasting success on and off the field.