Do you find yourself always comparing yourself to other gymnasts?
Comparison is a natural response that helps us, as human beings, know where we stand. In pre-historic times, we used comparison to quickly assess our survival rate.
Is that lion or other cave human stronger than me? If so, how can I survive without fighting? Do I need to run? Hide?
This innate comparison and assessment was necessary for survival.
However, in modern day times and especially in the gymnastics world, comparison often gets taken to an extreme.
Gymnasts may compare themselves to their teammates and other competitors to see where they stand. They might use indicators such as different body types, level of flexibility, amount of strength, age, skill level, and likability by coaches and teammates.
And while comparison is not necessarily a bad thing, it becomes an issue when that comparison makes you, as a gymnast, feel less than worthy.
On one hand, comparison can motivate you. You might see your teammate learning a skill quickly and decide to work harder so you can learn the same skill too. This is when comparison can let you know where you stand and give you a baseline of what's possible for you in gymnastics.
But comparison can also be negative. If you constantly look to teammates who are younger than you and better than you, or who have skills you don't yet have, you can let it get to your head.
And eventually this comparison can end up lowering your confidence and self-worth. It can also take your focus away from what you need to be thinking about in gymnastics. Not to mention it's mentally exhausting to always be in this comparison mode!
So how do you stop comparing yourself to your teammates in gymnastics?
Here are a few tips.
1. Put on your blinders
Do you know those blinders that horses wear when they are racing to keep them focused on their race? I want you to imagine you are wearing your own blinders every time you go into the gym.
In your mind think about these leather blinders preventing you from getting distracted by not allowing you to scan the room and see what everyone else is doing.
This is only a visual image but it serves as a reminder for how you want to approach practice and competition. You shouldn't be scanning the room and watching everyone else. If you find yourself doing that, say "blinders" to yourself and imagine yourself like a horse wearing blinders that block your peripheral vision.
2. Focus on your own strengths
When you compare yourself to other gymnasts you tend to lose focus of your own strengths. On the other hand, when you deliberately choose to focus on the things that make you unique, you stop worrying about what every other gymnast has that you don't.
Instead you learn to trust your own strengths and work harder on making those stand out.
So ask yourself what makes you unique. Find qualities that you have that you are really good at or that make you a good gymnast.
If you can't figure out your strengths or unique qualities, ask your parent or close teammate. Often you don't recognize strengths in yourself because you just come to accept those things as part of who you are. But when you can ask someone else you might be surprised at what strengths they notice about you.
3. Recognize your inner critic talking
We all have an inner critic that bombards us with negative thoughts. And if you listen to your negative inner critic all the time, you will constantly feel like you're not good enough.
Our negative inner critic was something that served us well when we needed to keep ourselves safe from harm back in the cave people era. It told us what we needed to fix about ourselves; what we needed to do to make ourselves stronger and more well-adapted for survival. It truly was "survival of the fittest" and our inner critic was there to help us improve upon our weaknesses.
But nowadays we don't need our inner critic anymore because our survival doesn't depend on it. In fact, the opposite is true. Our survival depends on us silencing our inner critic.
The first step, then, is to recognize when your inner critic is talking. After that, you can learn how to shut it down and tell it to be quiet.
4. Learn to compete with yourself instead of others
When you focus inward and learn to compete with yourself, you'll be much more satisfied than when you are constantly comparing yourself to other gymnasts.
In fact, you'll naturally start comparing yourself less to others when you compete with yourself because you're too busy trying to achieve your own goals.
In order to do this, you can start with setting small process goals each week. These goals will keep you focused on the improvements you need to make and will pave the way for a journey of self-discovery.
It's often said to aim to be 1% better every day. I think this is a great goal to have. Always strive to do better than you did the practice or competition before. It doesn't always pan out but your goal should always stay the same - challenge yourself to learn new skills or perfect the ones you currently do.
If you carry this into a meet, you'll often do better than you could have expected because you're not so focused on your competition. Just remember to set process goals like improving your form, your power, or your mindset. If you focus on score or place then you'll be back to competing with others.
5. Be aware of any triggers and avoid them
Are you constantly comparing yourself to the other gymnasts you see on social media? If so, then it's time to limit the amount of time you spend on social.
It's easy to watch every other gymnast's highlights reel instead of seeing their REAL day-to-day struggles. No one loves sharing those hard moments. So remember that when you are on TikTok or Instagram and see all the amazing routines and skills other gymnasts are doing. You truly have no idea what it took for that gymnast to get where they are in the videos they're showing to the world.
Do you spend a lot of time at the chalk bucket chatting or gossiping about your coach or teammates? If so, this is something you should avoid doing. Obviously make sure you get chalk, just don't engage in the gossip in the gym.
Or maybe you spend a lot of time watching the Level 9s or 10s at the gym, wanting to be like them someday but feeling really badly that you're not there yet. If this makes you upset or frustrated, then stop doing it!
It's so important to know the things that trigger you the most and to avoid them at all costs.
6. Count your blessings
When you express gratitude for what you have, you don't feel the need to compare yourself to others. Counting your blessings helps you feel like you have it all. Not to mention that gratitude has been shown to increase overall satisfaction and happiness in life.
When you feel good, you don't feel the need to compare yourself.
You might cheer your teammate on or admire a skill that another gymnast can do, but you don't envy them when you are counting your blessings. You know there is plenty of good to go around for everyone and you are content with all the blessings you have in your life.
So the next time you find yourself comparing yourself to your teammate and feeling badly about yourself, find something to be grateful for in that moment. This will immediately take your focus off your teammate and onto all the good that exists for you.
7. Reframe it
If you find yourself comparing yourself to your teammates, learn how to reframe your thoughts. Reframing involves finding a new way to look at something you are feeling negative about.
Let's say your teammate just learned her tkatchev on bars and you've been trying to do it FOREVER and still can't do it. You might immediately feel jealous of your teammate or wish you were her.
When you reframe this situation, you instead decide to look at your teammate's success as a reason for why you can do it too. You reframe your negativity into something more motivating and positive.
Reframing can also help when you see another gymnast doing harder skills than you. You might be able to say things like "She must have worked really hard for those skills" or "My time will come."
The more you can change your perspective from negative to hopeful, the less you'll dwell on needing to compare yourself to other gymnasts.
8. Be your own best friend
When we get into the comparison game we often start saying really negative things to ourselves. You might get mad at yourself when you make a mistake or fail at something. Or you might tell yourself that you're not good enough or that you'll never get that skill. You do this because you have this need to be as good as those around you and it causes you to get extra critical of yourself.
Instead, when you can learn how to treat yourself like you would your best friend, you can stop worrying so much about how you compare to your teammates. And instead, you can focus on the compassion and kindness you would give to your teammates if she was in a situation like that.
Always remember to treat yourself with kindness, especially during those really tough moments. That's when you would encourage your best friend or give her a boost of confidence. When you can do that for yourself, you'll find it easier to bounce back from any kind of negative comparisons you might be making.
Comparing yourself is a natural consequence of being human. But just remember that as a gymnast you might be more likely to compare yourself to other gymnasts because of the nature of this sport. Some ways to stop comparing yourself are to put on your blinders, focus on your own strengths, recognize when your inner critic is talking, and learn to compete with yourself instead of others.
You should also be aware of any triggers and avoid them, count your current blessings, reframe your comparison feelings, and learn how to be your own best friend.
If you or your gymnast needs support, in addition to the resources below I also offer one-on-one coaching sessions via Zoom.
- Stick It Girl Academy: For competitive gymnasts who want to live into their potential and need that extra push in mental training
- Mental Health Training for Gymnasts: Help your gymnast learn about her brain and the fight-flight-or-freeze response.
- Free Facebook Group for Moms of Gymnasts: Join this group to chat with other gymnastics moms and get tips for how to help your gymnast navigate through the mental ups and downs of gymnastics