Comparison & Confidence
When your son starts playing with a new team or walks onto a field and looks over at the other players he’s competing against, he does something that will either enhance or hurt his confidence.
One thing you can probably count on that he’s doing, is that he’s comparing himself to others.
Shocking, right? Like we didn’t already know that but as simple and as obvious as that may seem, it’s helpful to know the internal battle or dialogue that’s swirling around in his head.
Your son is constantly trying to evaluate himself against his peers to determine his own sense of self, value, skill, and contribution.
Ultimately, he’s trying to determine whether he’ll be accepted or rejected; embraced or ostracized.
What can rock your son’s confidence then, is the belief that whether he measures up, performs well, or does his “job” will determine the fate of his acceptance, rejection, or belonging.
According to psychologist at the University of North Carolina, this tendency to compare seems to increase in the teenage years.
According to Prinstein (1), it has to do with your son’s brain structure development during these years. Particularly, social rewards that come from being liked and accepted by peers activates the release of dopamine in the brain, and therefore, a natural inclination to comparison.
When your teenager makes an out or a mistake on the field, he may be less concerned at this age about your approval and more concerned about getting it from his peers.
Whether he seeks it from you or seeking his sense of self from the valuation he receives from his peers, this can influence his confidence significantly. Mainly, that it will be dependent on results and acceptance he assumes he will get from those results.
Why is this important for you as you consider how you can help your son build or regain his confidence and help him overcome any mental hangups??
Well, it may be helpful to know what could be fostering or contributing to those mental hangups.
While there are some positives to social comparing, namely, an increase in motivation for doing and becoming better, it can also have a detrimental effect in that kids may feel inferior to those they compare themselves to.
When your son compares himself to a peer who is slightly bigger, faster, stronger, or better psychologist would call that an upward comparison.
Research has shown that improvement occurs when these upward comparisons motivate and inspire kids to try harder.
The inverse of this obviously is that kids make downward comparisons too. We get this intuitively. Your son, when needing to protect his ego or boost his esteem, will find peers he believes he’s superior to and make those comparisons.
I would add another danger to comparison. Even if we find someone that inspires us to do or be better, if we go after the same goals, we could be putting a cap to our kid’s potential.
If your son who’s 12 sees a 14-year-old make his freshman team as a starter, is that his goal? Why not see if he can think bigger? How about make the varsity team as a freshman? What if that’s in his potential?!?!
What about this theory and its implications in your life do you see?
Do you think you exude any extra pressure for you to help your son “fix” his swing? Could that pressure be coming from 30 minutes of social media surfing done late last night and seeing what University of Houston psychologist Mai-Ly Nguyen calls everyone’s “highlight reels” on Facebook?
And seeing what everyone else’s kid did that your kid DIDN’T do?
Now you’re comparing another kid’s hitting, technique, and successes against yours. Ever battle thoughts like, “Shoot, how’s my son going to compete against these kids next year?
I gotta figure what’s wrong with his….” You fill in the blank.
It’s important you’re aware of this phenomenon in your own thinking and decision making lest it influence your behavior and conversation with and toward your son, making things worse instead of better.
So, how can you combat this internal dialogue your son deals with constantly to help develop his confidence and play to his potential?
1. Gratitude for his Gifts
One of the most important habits you can infuse into your life and your player’s life is not only knowing what gifts and skills he has but also cultivating an attitude of gratitude for their gifts.
This will help him appreciate what he has and covet less what others have that he lacks.
While it’s good that other people inspire him to get better it shouldn’t diminish the gifts he has. And truth be told, other players probably covet the gifts and skills YOUR son has.
The key here: practice gratitude in multiple contexts and for multiple things you guys have. Whether that’s asking your son what he’s grateful for before he goes to bed, in the car, over dinner, etc.
2. Skills CAN improve; track and monitor his progress and celebrate it
Instead of our kids focused on what other people’s skills are, encourage them to value the development of their skills.
Make improvement, learning, and growing the focus and track, monitor, and celebrate progress.
Let’s say one habit you want your son to establish is investing time in his technique.
Whether the practice translates into success on the field, the establishment of a good behavior performed consistently over time is will eventually lead to success.
Instead of walking onto a field concerned about someone’s skills, he can look back over the week and think about how HE has invested time into his.
3. Celebrate gifts of others and how they enhance or compliment you or the team
Your son is unique, and his mix of personality, character, talent, skill, and gifts are necessary.
Could you imagine a football team with ALL 300 LB lineman? And those linemen with those similar skill sets tried to play the different positions on the team.
What about bigger players on a baseball field, who may be able to hit the ball far and hard but don’t have the same level of quickness to adequately play positions like shortstop or center field?
If you can help your son celebrate the gifts and talents of others on his team so as to not see them as a threat or obstacle to his success, he may value what he brings to the team as well as what others bring.
In organic conversations, ask him what he sees other teammates do well? Encourage him to encourage and compliment his teammates in their gifts!
At the end of the day, your son isn’t competing with another player.
His biggest obstacle is his own thinking and whether he’ll be ready when that ball comes over the plate or when it’s hit at him.
All that will matter in that moment is his preparation for that moment and no other player has anything to do with that.
4. What you see this year won’t be the same next year – started, benched, platoon
It’s helpful for your son to know that his experience this year will be different next year. He may be the fastest player this year but that may not be the case next year. He may be not getting much playing time this year but gets more next year.
Over a 12 month period from my freshman year to my sophomore year, I sat the bench, pinch ran, pinch hit, got a game winning to hit to win the championship as a substitution, platooned, started on a summer team, to come into the following season starting some games and sitting out others.
One year in pro ball I started every game. The following year, I platooned and didn’t play as much.
Because I knew things could change any given moment, the most important perspective I learned was to figure out how to make myself valuable in whatever role I was in and learn as much as I can learn wherever I was.
There’s a vantage point sitting on the bench, if you have the right mindset for that role. If your son is busy comparing himself with others that are starting he may miss the opportunity to learn things about the game and make observations that will ENHANCE his development that players in the game may not have an opportunity to experience.
And of course, when he is in the game, he’ll get the advantages of playing.
But comparing prevents us from seeing the value of the current opportunity.
So to wrap this up:
1. Teach your son to have gratitude for his gifts and talent.
2. Emphasize his skill development and habit formation.
3. Celebrate other people’s gifts, talents, and abilities.
4. Remind him that the only thing that is certain, is nothing will stay the same.
5. Next season will be different than this season… next game may even be different!
And if you haven’t had the thought come to yourself yet, allow these to help YOU.
Yes, you be grateful for what you have and the talent your son brings.
Celebrate the talent of another parent’s kid. And remind yourself constantly, things won’t always be this way.
To You and Your Athlete’s Success,
Steve Your Baseball Mentor
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