Sitting the bench.
Being smaller or bigger than their teammates.
Losing playing time to a teammate.
Being injured and no longer contributing to their team.
All of these situations can lead an athlete to feeling down on themself and jealous of their teammates.
Jealousy can be a common issue in competitive team sports. Younger athletes can struggle with seeing a Coach’s bigger picture and internalize it as they are never going to be good enough. Since sports can help a young person develop confidence, dealing with jealousy is a priority to enable them to really benefit from their experience.
At the root of this jealousy issue is an unhealthy comparison of athletic skills between athletes, often based in irrational thoughts and feelings. It can intensify when a young athlete perceives there is unequal treatment on the part of a coach. Accepting that the treatment is not based on subjective favoritism, but different skill levels is challenging.
Or perhaps your child has not hit a growth spurt yet like his or her teammates, giving them a disadvantage. You might observe their confidence dwindling as their performance cannot match their peers.
Walking alongside your teen athlete during one of these situations is not easy. It’s hard to see your child struggle! It can also be hard to find the right words to speak life into them and help them know their value as a person no matter their circumstances.
Here are suggested conversation starters you can use to help your young athlete build maturity and confidence despite what they perceive. You might try all of these or just one to begin to open the door of what’s going on deeper in their mind and heart.
How good or talented a teammate is does not mean that your athlete is not valuable. Talk to your teen about not allowing someone else’s performance to dictate how they feel about themself. That’s handing over a lot of power to another person that they do not deserve.
Ask open ended questions to your teen about why they think they are not playing as much, how important is it to them to improve a needed skill, how much control do they have over improving in an area, and how you as a parent can help them reach their goal. You don’t have to give them these answers as discovering them on their own tends to be more powerful. If you’re itching to give your teen advice, simply say “If you would like to talk more about that, I am happy to do that.” If the opportunity does come up to talk more, give them your full attention.
Dig into your teen’s feelings about the situation by asking simple, open questions like “How did it make you feel when you didn’t get to play today.” Simply responding with, “I can understand those feelings,” may help your teen feel heard and understood. You don’t necessarily need to fix anything as a parent. This could lead to an opportunity to validate them as a person and the many strengths and talents they do possess.
This situation presents an opportunity to help your teen translate lessons from sports into other areas of life. Help them make these connections by comparing their circumstances to another time in their life (either factual or hypothetical). For instance, “Do you think there might be other times in your life where you will have to put in more work than someone else to achieve a goal?” Or, “You’ve invested a lot in this team and it seems like it means a lot to you. Have you gained or learned anything from the experience so far?” Certainly share an experience from your own life if you have one.
Bring It Home
A coach or family member is the perfect person to help a teen athlete identify the trap of basing their self-worth in athletic performance by comparing them self with another athlete of differing skills.