When athletes are looking for things that other teammates or competitors are doing, it can have both positive and negative impacts on their performance.
Let´s start with what this might be good for.
It can be inspiring to observe what`s actually possible. We all know that it is possible to learn techniques, for example, through visual impact. Seeing other athletes, or if it is even only one other teammate or competitor, how a specific movement can be done differently can open up unexpected possibilities. It can make a difference when an athlete hears from a coach an explanation of a movement and sees how it´s done by someone in the same age category. It probably would be even more effective when a younger athlete can show the movement an older one is working on. It would not just demonstrate that the expectation from the coach is appropriate, it also would lift the desire to work on the skill to a higher level.
This brings us to the most important ingredient of an inspiring professional athlete - internal motivation. Seeing other athletes mastering a skill should almost ignite a competitive fire within them. Which most likely leads to taking this seriously and working on improving their skills. It can even provide a benchmark for setting a goal on the way to the end goal or recognizing an essential milestone for succeeding.
It is also possible to collaborate with teammates and competitors. Of course, when the competition is on, everyone wants to be the best they can be. This doesn´t mean athletes can not support each other and learn from each other. It also is much more fun when being on a mission together.
One more note on the learning opportunity. When rewatching a race or a game and just observing what others and the athletes themselves are doing from a different perspective, it helps to see new strategies or techniques. The athlete might understand from this view what areas others are stronger, but also what areas the athlete is very good at. It´s about discovering potential and finding confidence.
Let´s now take a look at potential negative effects when checking out what others are doing.
Checking out what others are doing all of the time is definitely distracting and shifts the focus away from the athletes and what they are working on. Of course, with the exceptions I described above. The observation I talked about earlier doesn´t take the whole practice and certainly does not have much place during a competition. If a “check-out” is not done intentionally, it isn´t helpful. To get the most out of a practice session, the athletes want to achieve the goal and purpose of the session. Rarely is this purpose watching how others are doing a drill without doing it themselves. Getting distracted by others means that their own skills can not improve, the athlete doesn´t work on strategies and is not making their own game plan. When athletes are preoccupied with comparing themselves to others and trying to match or outperform them all of the time, it will not lead to the desired results. Their ability to concentrate is limited, and I would question if it is possible to execute a training or competition effectively.
Yes, in the end, sport is about competing with others, and this comes with some pressure, which is not necessarily bad. But when checking out everyone else and trying to match the levels above the athletes' ability, the pressure might become a bit much, and the athletes tense up. In this condition, they cannot even perform at a level they would be able to. This leads to double frustration and less confidence for upcoming events. I don´t think I need to get into detail about the fact that this is not the recipe for future success. It´s not necessary to dominate an age group when being young; a lot can happen throughout building a career, but it will be necessary to be able to perform at a personal best level when it counts.
Excessive worrying about what others are doing can also be intimidating. This also will hold young athletes back from performing at their best, and they may not even know what they are capable of.
When I was a young athlete, no one, including myself, would have thought I would make a living as an athlete. I wasn´t taken to some races because there was not enough room in the van. Being a bit upset about it made me better, not overnight, and not with being bitchy and angry. I got motivated to work on my abilities.
Just comparing doesn´t get us anywhere, we want to know why we check out what others are doing, know what we want to check out, and then implement what we find. The implementation part is the most important, not just seeing something or knowing all the things we want to do does the trick, but actually doing it ourselves.
Having this in mind also will show if it is even necessary to look at what others are doing or if the athlete already knows what to focus on. If so, don´t get distracted!
It is important for athletes to maintain a healthy balance between focusing on their own performance and recognizing the value of observing others. Coaches and support systems can play a crucial role in guiding athletes to develop skills to be able to compare in a constructive way, a way that builds up self-confidence, self-awareness, and a growth mindset - while staying humble. Encouraging athletes to set their own goals and measure success based on personal progress rather than solely comparing themselves to others can also be beneficial.
Do you have a Dream? Keep going towards it :)
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