Allira Rogers | Psychologist at Mental Notes - Participating in sport can be a rewarding experience no matter what your age. Sport can develop character, resilience, social skills, respect, independence, cooperation, a sense of belonging, and a sense of competency and mastery of skills. Above all, sport can be a major source of self-esteem, which is defined as an individuals feeling of self-worth that determines how valuable and competent they feel. To maintain a relatively positive experience with sport, it is important for individuals to have a healthy perspective of sport in that it can build those aforementioned attributes and characteristics. In particular, it is helpful for sport to be viewed as important yet not an all-encompassing pursuit.
We often see athletes (at all levels) experiencing distress related to their sporting performance. One of the key reasons being is that they largely judge their self-worth based on the outcome of their performance. Although, a sporting outcome is one source of confidence (and a rather powerful source at that), it creates a problem when it is the only way an individual deems themselves of value.
Sport is one part of a person, but it is not the only part.
It is true that as an individual gets higher and higher in the level of their chosen sport more time is dedicated to their sport. However, in my practice I often describe a person as a simple structure that is made up of a number of pillars and a roof. Sport represents one of these pillars and it is probably a lot bigger in width than the other pillars (e.g., friends, family, hobbies, relationships, study etc.) around it. However, if no time or effort is put in to the other pillars and something happens to go wrong with their sport, the roof of the structure will most likely become unstable and the individual’s will experience some heightened level of distress. Of course it is not to say that an individual needs to make each pillar the exact same width but they do need to put some effort and time in those other areas. In doing so, it will help reduce instability and distress because if something was to go wrong in their sport they would be okay.
They would bounce back a lot quicker as they are demonstrating their self-worth through more than one area of their life.
Elite athletes have reported the benefits of 'managing the imbalance', as we like to call it at Mental Notes. For example, Queensland Firebird player Natalie Medhurst stated that,
As much as I love netball, I have developed an important need to find a good balance between life on the court as well as life away from it....Enjoying time away from the court and focusing on other things can certainly do wonders!
Additionally, individuals can maintain a healthy self-worth and self-esteem by being objective about their performance. That is, separating themselves as a person from their performance by reviewing the performance in an objective way. Simply, individuals can identify from their performance in competition and training what they did well, what they learned, and what they could improve and how to improve in the next performance or at training.
People in the support network, such as parents, partners, friends and teammates, can also use this type of review process. I recommend support people to encourage a process-orientated approach to sporting performance by asking how the game/match/round went rather than whether they won. Also through my experiences, athletes have found it useful when parents have asked about other areas of their lives and not let conversations at home be dominated by their sport.
This topic of 'managing the imbalance' is such an influential aspect of a sports person’s life… Consider how you or your athletes or your child measure their self-worth. Is it time to add some pillars?
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