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Comparison Is Killing Your Game (What To Do Instead)



I am writing this letter to hockey players, but hockey parents will gain a lot from this lesson too.

I realize this also will apply to many athletes beyond hockey as well.

I know the struggle of self-comparison firsthand as a hockey player.

I played about 20 years of hockey and for probably 18 of them, I was comparing myself daily to other players.

I did not realize the impact it had on my game until I was in my 20s and did some mental training.

Someone asked me:

What if I told you that self-comparison actually starts during childhood for hockey players?

What if I told you that it has deep roots in our early years in hockey where we develop our psychological software?

What if I told you that in order to stop the self-torture that comes with self-comparison, you must first understand your childhood relationship with your parents?

I suddenly realize the deep impact that it had on me.

I realized that comparison was an infinite spiral into negativity.

Comparison impacted:- my relationships with coaches and teammates- it impacted the way I performed- most importantly it impacted my love of the game!

Comparison made me want to quit dozens of times because I was not as good as other people.

I know this mental disease of comparison impacts our society as a whole in so many terrible ways.

From wanting to have a bigger home, to a nicer car, to putting on a confident demeanour in order to hide the fact that you are unhappy and don't want anyone to know.

Comparison and pride rip the joy away from our whole lives.



"Comparison is the thief of joy"

I am a firm believer that hockey and all sports can be both very difficult and fun. But, I realize that we as athletes are not often given the proper mental tools to make the game fun.

I realize now where it all started...

Let's Rewind

You're a young minor hockey player.

You just scored the winning goal in the final minute of a big game.

You hear the cheers from the crowd.

Your teammates scream and celebrate with you.

You are filled with pride... but not for the reason you expected.

You see, when we are young, the one thing that makes you happier than all of that is the love from your parents.

It's not so much what other people say, it's what your parents say that really matters to you.

I know this because I've been there.

I carried this all the way through junior hockey (up to age 21) without even knowing it.

As a young athlete, my greatest source of joy was seeing my parents' faces light up with pride after each win or great performance.

Their excitement and happiness were the real trophy - more meaningful to me than any medal.

But the question is, why did I care so much?

Well for one, we are wired to be attached to our parents as children.

The second reason was that I was smart enough to know what they had done for me to get to that moment.

All of the sacrifices they made were always in the back of my mind.

All of the early mornings, hours of travel, hundreds (and thousands) of dollars spent on gear, hotels, food, etc.

That was not something I could just ignore, even as a young child.

Now how does this connect to comparison? Don't worry, we are getting there.

So knowing how much my parents did for me, it created a certain level of pressure to perform.

I felt like if I played poorly, I had let them down.

If I had a bad shift, I feel like I had wasted their time.

If they were disappointed in my effort, I felt like a failure.

I loved my parents and I cared so much about what they thought.

I think that most hockey players have this relationship with their parents too.

I don't think parents always realize how much their kids care about them and pay attention to them.

I always wanted to be the best to make them proud. Because of this, I spent pretty much my whole hockey career wanting to beat everyone around me to make them proud.

My dad was competitive, and so I wanted to be competitive just like him.

I would always compare myself to others and think "I need to be better than this guy to make my parents proud!"

(See how this is tying together now?)

I compared myself because I wanted to be the best so I could make my parents proud.

But as a kid, you didn't understand the impacts of this way of thinking.

I wanted to be the best to show all of their sacrifice was worth it.

It was a heavy burden to carry.

I put a lot of pressure on myself to be perfect as an athlete and person, and still in many cases do today.

Most people are like this too whether they know it or not.

The habits we develop through our younger years often become deep personality traits later in life.

And for anyone who thinks this is way off-base, go read a few child psychology textbooks.

Then come back and reread this article.

Psychological Software

Psychological software is like the software we run on a computer. It's like running IOS, or Windows.

For a human being, our software is our personality and our automatic habits.

It's how we think, feel, and act when we are not trying to change our efforts.

When you are a kid, you develop most of your psychological software through your parental relationship. That's because most kids spend the bulk of their time around their parents (I know this doesn't apply to everyone).

Parental behaviour can significantly impact a child's psychological software and development.

If a parent consistently shows love and attention only when a child succeeds in a sporting event, the child might develop some maladaptive behaviours and emotional issues. Now, the reason I am sharing these things is not because I am trying to make this a nerf world where no kid faces any adversity.

I talk about these things from the perspective of how these physiological traits impact a player's long-term performance.

I am a performance coach at heart. With my clients, I focus a lot of energy on how mental blocks form and how they impact performance. I then teach players how to unwire these mental blocks (like I will teach you today).

***Mental blocks are habitual unhelpful ways of thinking, feeling, and acting that lead to negative outcomes.

The world is what we think it is.

If we have negative blocks that cause us to think the world sucks, then we are kind of screwed when it comes to success and happiness in life.

I don't want you to live a life limited by your mental game.

It starts with understanding how our interactions with our parents shape the way we see the world.

Let's keep it simple for time's sake, but we will dig into this topic deeper in a future lesson.

The Mistake Parents Make

Often times parents reward their children when they play well with praise, food, objects, etc. We all know a time when we take our kids out to Mcdonald's after a big game.

Sometimes parents do the opposite and punish players with lack of attention, criticism, harsh words, etc after a rough game.

The mistake parents often don't realize they are making is that they are training their child to think:

LOVE = SUCCESS

This is a dangerous game to play.

On one hand, it can make for a very driven athlete.

On the other hand, most driven athletes are very broken inside.

You see, when parental love and attention are conditioned upon success in sports it's dangerous. This can exacerbate a child's natural tendency to compare themselves to others and much more.

I have found that there are 5 very dangerous mental software programs players can develop when love and attention are conditioned upon success by their parents.

See if you can identify yourself with any of these in your mental software.

The Big 5 Mental Blocks

Think about these for yourself...

1. Increased ComparisonIn sports, children often directly compare their performance to that of their peers. If love and attention are tied to success, the child might overemphasize these comparisons and place too much importance on being better than others. This can create an unhealthy focus on being "the best," rather than on personal growth and enjoyment of the activity.

Outcome: You look at others and feel threatened by them. You feel a need to beat them at all costs. You develop very poor relationships with teammates and even coaches because they are all a threat to low performance. You constantly feel the need to prove you are better than people and this can lead to a strange obsession with certain players who are better than you or who have beaten you in the past. You don't really care about yourself, you just want to prove your worth to the world.

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1. Conditional Self-WorthYou learned to equate success in sports with your self-worth, believing you are only deserving of love and attention when you win. This could lead to a fragile sense of self-esteem that is dependent on external validation and achievement, rather than intrinsic qualities and self-acceptance.

Outcome: You only feel good when you play well and have success. If you don't have a 'good game' you feel less of a person. You play carefully to make sure you do not risk failure. You develop a fear of failure because parental love and attention are contingent upon success, you may have developed a profound fear of failure. You may view any mistake or loss as disastrous, causing excessive stress, and anxiety, and potentially leading to risk-avoidance or perfectionistic behaviours.

_______________________________________________

2. Unhealthy Competitive AttitudeYou became overly competitive, viewing every aspect of life as a win-or-lose situation. This might impact your relationships and your ability to work cooperatively with others.

Outcome: You feel unable to handle losses. You get extremely angry at the slightest mistake or loss. You feel like less of a person and oftentimes get discouraged after losing. You become a win-at-all-costs person who develops poor relationships with the people around you because you only see others as a means to succeed. You hate yourself when you lose. You also tend to hate others when you lose and look to blame others in order to make yourself feel better (by taking some of the responsibility off of you).

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3. BurnoutThe high pressure to succeed can lead to physical and mental exhaustion, a phenomenon known as burnout. This could result in you often losing enjoyment in the sport or other activities.

Outcome: You train so hard that you often question what you are doing it for. You often get to the point many times per year where you just want to quit hockey even though you might be playing well. You become someone who loses love for the game of hockey. You don't play for yourself anymore and find yourself playing for external reasons like your parent's attention, admiration from friends, making your teammates like you, etc.

_______________________________________________

4. High Anxiety Comparing oneself to others can also increase anxiety. You constantly worry about their performance relative to your peers, leading to heightened stress and potentially affecting your ability to perform.

Outcome: You get very nervous before all competition and do not want to mess up. You play tense often times and it it hard to enter the flow state and play your best hockey. You live in a perpetual state of nervousness which leads you never to play to your potential. This often carries over into all aspects of life like school tests, friendships, etc.

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5. Distorted Self-PerceptionWhen comparing themselves with others, you might develop a distorted self-perception. You may undervalue your own skills and strengths, focusing instead on where they fall short compared to others. Over time, this can lead to a negative self-image and a belief that you are not "good enough."

Outcome: You always look in the mirror and see what's wrong. You have trouble saying what you are good at. You do not like yourself and always want to be someone else, somewhere else, doing something else. Nothing is ever good enough. _______________________________________________

As you can see it's not just comparison, it's a web of bad habits.

Some of these bad habits can develop into lifelong personality software that impacts people's whole lives.

As a parent wanting to maximize your child's success, I want you to become aware of how your actions may be impacting these things.

As a player I want you to consider which of these traits you may have developed. You then want to ask yourself "Are any of these traits holding my game back?" Now let's skip right ahead to what you can do to overcome these traits.

Overcoming These Mental Blocks

Overcoming these traits may seem daunting, but it's far from impossible.

It starts with acknowledging that your worth extends far beyond your performance in the sport. This is what people in psychology would call self-esteem. Call it whatever you want. Just start f*cking showing yourself some love beyond when you just succeed. Here are the strategies I have found to help my clients navigate this journey:

1. Strategic Love: Recognize that everyone has off days. Even the best athletes have faced defeat. Treat these instances not as failures, but as opportunities to learn and grow. Actually give yourself some compassion after a tough game and look for the positives that you can be proud of. Let go of the self-hate that many hockey players feel.

2. Redefine Winning: Success isn't just about winning games. It's about reaching your potential. It's about building your skill stack as an individual and as a team. Every game is an opportunity to test your ability against a new challenge. Just like a heavyweight in the gym that builds strength and muscle, look at good opponents as a tool to build your ability.

3. Play the infinite game: Find joy in playing the game, independent of external validation. This intrinsic motivation will sustain you in the long run and lead you to become a much better player. That's why the foundation of the Next Level Accelerator Program is meditation for 30 days so that players develop the ability to focus and be present in the flow state.

4. Build Your Crew: Surround yourself with people who value you for who you are, not just for your performance in the sport. This could include friends, mentors, or a performance coach (like what I do). Keep people around you who simply want the best for you, but don't

5. Get a Performance Coach: If you're feeling overwhelmed, don't hesitate to seek help from a mental performance coach, a mental health professional, a psychologist, etc. Even Mcdavid has a skills coach, so even if you have a great mind, it can always be strengthened.

6. Get Excited By Greatness: When you see a player who is better than you, learn to laugh at the old software that wants to make you feel bad. Instead look at others as a way to learn and challenge you to be better. When someone is better, use that as a reference point so you know where you can improve next. Let greatness inspire you, not depress you.

Why Is This So Important?

Why is overcoming this problem so important?

The answer is simple. It allows you to reclaim the joy of the game, liberate you from the chains of anxiety and self-doubt, and play unlocked because fear is not holding your game back anymore.

It fosters resilience, self-confidence, and a healthier relationship with yourself and those around you.

Moreover, this transformation transcends the hockey rink.

It empowers you to face life's challenges with a smile on your face.

Hockey careers should be fun, but they will not be fun if you have all of these mental blocks in the way.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, remember this: Your worth is not determined by your performance.

It's determined by the rules you set for yourself.

You are playing your own game.

Then I suggest is to become the best player you can be. That doesn't end when you have an off-game or someone outperforms you.

When someone beats you, that should excite you to find a new level in yourself.

It's essential to unravel the damaging ties between success and self-worth to truly excel, not just in sports, but in all aspects of life.

This is how you end the comparison game and make the game fun again.

Embrace the joy of playing, rather than the fear of losing, and the game will reward you in ways you never expected.

Looking For More?

If you like what we said here, we have a whole mental system that we teach driven hockey players who want to get to the next level and play NCAA and Pro hockey.

The mission of the program is to help you play your absolute best hockey by mastering your mental game and skills development system.

OR

Remember, the next level isn't just about skill, it's about having the mental software too.

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Who is Corson Searles?

I am a former player & mental/performance advisor for AAA, junior, college, and pro hockey players. I am obsessed with dissecting atheletic performance potential, lifestyle design, and hockey development.

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