the thief of your joy
When Teddy Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” I doubt he was thinking specifically of you, the youth sports parent, but he probably could’ve been. That word of warning applies in many areas of life, but you might find yourself fighting this battle in the bleachers more than you should or maybe even more than you realize. Today I want to encourage you to see clearly how dangerous a life of comparison can be for a sports parent, and to challenge you to focus your attention instead on what really matters.
Helping your son become a champion athlete means helping him reach his full potential – helping him become the very best him he can be. If that’s your purpose here, then who he is compared to someone else becomes much less relevant and much less important. You’ve got plenty to worry about without bringing anyone else into the equation. In reality, helping him become his best is a long, challenging process of teaching and cultivating the talents and qualities of a champion. Some of those talents and qualities he may not possess at this point; others he may have but needs more time and experience to fully develop. This is not a quick, easy, or painless process. It takes time for him to try, to fail, to struggle, to learn, and to improve. But if you want him to reach his full potential, that’s the only way it can happen.
The problem with comparison is that when we focus on comparing our son to others (less important), it takes our focus off helping him get better (more important). Roosevelt said comparison is the thief of joy, but comparison can also be the thief of growth and development and improvement, too. And without those things in the center of your focus as a sports parent, you can kiss your son’s full potential goodbye.
Roosevelt said comparison is the thief of joy, but comparison can also be the thief of growth and development and improvement, too.
There are two ways you can spend time comparing your son – when he’s better than others and when he’s worse than others. Let’s look for a minute at how each can be detrimental to raising a champion:
If your son is a skilled, talented athlete – if he’s better than those around him, you might enjoy the opportunity to compare him. Why? Because it's fun to be better than everyone else! But if you look around and see that he’s superior to others, then you face a unique challenge. Most sports parents probably think they’d love to face your challenge, but you’ve got a challenge nonetheless.
We’ve defined a champion athlete as one who’s reached his full potential. As his parent, that’s your objective – to help him become the best he can be. The challenge, when your son is better than others, is simply this: the objective can easily get distorted. It’s not hard for either of you to focus less on being the best he can be and focus more on just being better than everyone else.
If the goal is for him to do his best, it will require him to give 100%. But if the goal is just to be better than everyone else, then he’ll probably only give what’s necessary. That’s just human nature. If it only takes 70% for him to be better than everyone else, for example, then that’s likely what he’ll give. Mission accomplished, goal achieved, objective met.
But when you and your son train yourselves to think this way, you’re headed for trouble. As the Navy Seals say, in the big moments your son won’t rise to the occasion; he’ll sink to the level of his training. Someday soon real success will require his very best, but train long enough at 70%, get comfortable and used to settling for that standard, and 70% may well become his new best. Instead of preparing for success in the bigger challenges to come, he's preparing for failure. Comparing may feel good today, but you’re setting yourselves up for disappointment tomorrow.
In the big moments, your son won’t rise to the occasion; he’ll sink to the level of his training.
If your son isn’t the most skilled or talented athlete, then you might struggle with comparing him to others who are better. You might occasionally feel some tiny, secret envy over another player’s talent or ability level, or make some judgment about what your son is or isn’t, compared to someone else. If you find yourself fighting this fight, then you’ve got to re-connect with the truth about raising a champion: it’s a long process. No matter how old or how talented he is, he can still get better. And as we said earlier, the more time you spend comparing or envying or judging, the less time you spend focused on helping him improve.
Sure, there may be other athletes better than him today. And who knows, maybe they always will be. But if you are a champion sports parent, committed to the process of growth and development in your son, you might be surprised by how much better your son can get, and how much fun that improvement can be – regardless of anyone else around him.
Don’t let comparison steal your joy, your perspective, or your purpose today. No matter how talented your son is or how talented those around him are, make who he’s becomingthe most important thing. If you feel the need to compare, try comparing who he is today to who he was yesterday. If there's a change for the better in who he’s becoming, then you deserve to be excited. And if you’ve been intentional about helping him grow and develop, then you probably deserve the credit for making it happen.