The Problem with Letting Wins Define Your Self Worth

Competition naturally brings on a count of wins versus losses, who beat who, and how many teams were made when you competed at an elite level. None of this is inherently bad, until we start letting those elements define our self worth. We have all heard stories from past athletes, no matter what level they competed at, of the lessons from sport which have carried over into their careers and personal lives. This happens for a reason, and they share these stories because they are proud of the characteristics sport has given them. They discover that the wins and losses have faded from memory, and they have reaped the benefits of resiliency and determination. It helped them become successful people in life. The athletes who stepped away from sport with a sour taste in their mouth often leave because they focused too much on the wins or losses. They never saw the lessons sport had to give, and often have a harder time adapting to what life throws at them.

It can be a dangerous game when winning is the reason you continue playing a sport. The only person you can gamble on is yourself, and if your self worth is wrapped up in how you perform, you will often come out the loser. I have certainly fallen in the trap of believing that one win will change it all for me. If I just won this match, my confidence would change and I would feel like a whole different person. Or I'd believe that everyone would finally see my potential and all the hard work would be justified. I often felt ashamed if I lost a match I felt I shouldn't have, and believed that I would be seen differently by my peers. This was no way to ensure longevity for myself mentally or emotionally in a sport that I loved.

Looking back on the times I competed to win versus competing for the love of the challenge, I wish I could have seen how much the fear of losing was holding me back. Ask yourself, do the values you hold as a person also align with your reasons for competing in sport? I mentioned before, I value the love of the challenge. But that value was not focused on challenging myself to win a certain way or to win in general. I challenged myself to stay in each moment, to notice my emotions and let them pass, and even just showing up to competition were my accomplishments. It takes bravery for each of those challenges to be met, and you’re not the bravest in the room by winning a tournament.

It's not a bad thing to have pressure or to have a goal of winning. It helps motivate, push, and strive for improvement. But creating an environment where all that matters is the win, creates a breeding ground for negative self worth if that goal is not met. If we are obsessing over a win/loss record and allow that to dictate the energy we take to practice, we are hindering more than helping.

Progression is measured by more than just the win or the loss. If you've lost to the same person twice, but the first time you were pinned and the second time you lost by one point, you can't describe those scenarios as the same. The same logic pertains to with winning a close match, and then winning by a technical fall the second time around. Tiny gains are often seen only by those looking closely. The people who are paying attention are the ones who matter. Those are going to be your team of supporters who are working to help progress your skill set. The ones who are paying attention to your record are most likely not in tune with your long term goals.  

You will always be your harshest critic. Create an environment for yourself that is rich in searching for answers, and gentle on your psyche. Being a wrestler cannot only be defined by who you have beaten or how many have fallen before you. That once you reach a certain number of wins, that you will finally be a worthy competitor. You can strive for a goal of 100 wins, but let that goal of 100 wins be something to strive for, not a new way to critique yourself if it's not reached. You are still worthy if you win, you are still worthy if you lose. You are a great competitor because you challenged yourself and were brave enough to show up and step on the mat.

What you Need to Move Past a Tough Training Session

Giving yourself the opportunity to be okay with the ups and downs of training is important. No one has consistently perfect training sessions, no matter how positive they seem or how awesome their workouts look on social media. Here are my tips so you don't get hung up on a tough training session:

Shift your mentality 

We have all had those days where we are so frustrated or angry during a training session, that we just can't seem to find our way out. We are so worked up, it literally feels like the sky is falling (Chicken Little anyone?) Shifting your mentality is certainly one of the most difficult and personally rewarding challenges to work on. This is also often referred to as "mindfulness." Can you recognize your emotions while they are happening? Can you notice how they are affecting you, and redirect your attention? This becomes important when we know difficult training sessions will come no matter what. Practice noticing thoughts and emotions in day to day situations, as well as during training sessions (good and bad). Learning to redirect helps train us for competition that has uncontrollable factors in play, and to get the most out of a practice when it's an unfavorable situation. 

Move forward, don't look back

What has happened has happened. The more you dwell and think about that rough training session, the less time you are focused on being present in the moment. You are not helping yourself by mentally beating yourself down because a training session did not go as planned or as hoped. Really, who cares? Now what? Bring yourself to the present moment. You will have the next training session to practice being present, and meanwhile you need to do the right things now to prepare and recover for what comes next. 

Know who you can talk to in your support system 

When you can be honest and open with yourself or someone else, you are giving yourself the freedom to make mistakes. Without that freedom, it can be overwhelming each time you feel like you have "messed up" a training session. Find someone who can listen to your frustrations to help you refocus and realize that this is a small part of the larger picture. 

Give yourself a break

Be gentle with yourself. I've spoken about this in other blogs and I will continue to say this over and over. The longevity of your mental health in sport, or in whatever you do, is critical. If you continue to beat yourself up each time you have a tough training session, you can bet that your motivation for continuing in sport will begin to fade. If you are good at beating yourself up, then it's going to be a hard path to continue following. Give yourself the benefit of the doubt and remember you're human and not meant to be perfect. 

Journal for improvements 

Always keep a journal! When you are noticing your thoughts, write them down! If you can remember what thoughts you actually notice during a practice, good or "bad," you will start to learn how to remind yourself to come back to the moment. 

Just keep going 

Tough sessions often mean great breakthroughs are on the horizon! That's because when we don't give into the thoughts that say "just give up," we tend to make mental or physical breakthroughs that we didn't know we were capable of reaching. It is actually an exciting time, so keep on keepin' on! 

How to Balance Real Life and Nutrition

Whenever I speak with my adult female friends on nutrition, I often hear them speak about wanting to "get back to eating clean." When I ask them what does that mean or look like for them, it is often "oh, super super healthy and I do everything perfect." 

Honestly, that immediately sounds stressful to me! If you've been reading most of my blogs, you'll start seeing the pattern of how I talk about things: first mentality, then lifestyle change. The problem with starting off on a kick of strict "clean eating," is that this means DIET. It means that you will go on it and then eventually, you will go off it. This is an exhausting yo-yo that tends to never lead to lasting change. The second problem with this idea is that as soon as you break your perfect clean eating streak with one yummy muffin from Starbucks, it is too easy to decide to scratch the whole operation and "go back" to eating the way you would rather... which mostly means you would rather not feel under stress about your choices! 

Lasting change does not come out of binging... on carrots or on chocolate. Just like you cant expect to stop biting your nails in just a few days, you can't expect actual life long change and balance from "clean eating" for a few days or weeks. The change has to come gradually, and you need to achieve milestones that you can actually commit too. Can you commit to drinking a glass of water each morning when you wake up? Great, add that to your routine. Do you want to include a vegetarian meal one time a week? Perfect, make that a goal and it starts becoming second nature. 

And who is rewarded when we decide we are the worst person on earth for eating a cookie? Do you really want to live in a "clean eating" world where you have banned yourself from some of your occasional sweets for life? I sure don't. And the more you punnish yourself for it, the more you go for your 3rd, 4th, and 5th cookie... in secret... in your closet when you get home. Stop living in shame! By allowing yourself to have that craving you wanted, you don't have to go into binge mode because you are fearful that it's the last time you will never allow yourself to have it! And in time, your craving for those sweets become less and less. Its the law of attraction: when you allow yourself to have something, it becomes less attractive to you. 

I'm sure there are quite a few people who have stopped reading by now. They wanted me to tell them the quick fixes towards balancing their life and nutrition. They wanted to hear all the fast lane gimmicks that help them get to "clean eating" the quickest way possible. That's not what I'm telling or teaching. But I am excited to write about steps towards life long change that can really help people. If you're still reading, then I know that's what you are searching for too. Moderation is everything, and I'm excited to write a series on this very subject. I want to help others improve their lives, so I hope you enjoy everything in the nutrition section moving forward! 

5 Things to Consider When Reviewing Your Competition Performance

1. How well did you prepare

Hindsight is 20/20. Most of the time, we can't tell how well we have prepared for a competition until we have gone through the preparation and competition process. But with experience, you can get better at recognizing what works and what doesn't and become more self aware of when you are on or off the right track. Taking actual steps towards becoming more self aware is extremely important. If you don't already have a sport journal, GET ONE. Recording progress, workouts, results, thoughts, and feelings are so important in the steps of becoming more self aware. You'll find out how beneficial it is to have a written record of how and what you did to prepare.

Record in your journal:

What were you doing a few days out, weeks out, months out?

How does this differ from past competitions?

What did your taper for competition look like?

What did you do the day before competition?

What did you do on the day of competition?

What did you eat/drink on competition day or leading up to competition day?

How well did you warm-up and cool down?

Where was your focus? 

2. What does your support system look like

It is important to surround yourself with people who support the way you train, and can help you reach your goals. A support system can consist of many people, or just a few. Communication is key when it comes to a coach/athlete relationship, as well as athlete/family relationships. If your needs are not being heard by coaches or family, it is time to address those needs. Especially if it is negatively affecting your competition preparation and results. Make sure you use the best possible way to communicate your needs to those within your support system. As you become more self-aware, those around you will be able to support that growth as you evolve as an athlete. Do you have a coach who is refusing to recognize those needs? If different forms of civil conversation is not reaching them, it could be time to think about if they are helping or harming your future growth as an athlete.

Record in your journal:

Who is my support system?

What kinds of things do I need to feel supported? 

3. Sports psychology: what did you notice during the competition

When you analyze your performance, it is important to first be nice to yourself. Don't fall into the trap of beating yourself up because you made mistakes you thought could be avoided. You are doing something brave, something most people do not dare do by accepting the challenge of being a competitor. You have honored your competition by showing up and doing your best. Let's get the self pity and self ridicule out of the way so we can really make improvements. PHEW. Remember, thoughts are just thoughts. They don't predict the future and they don't predict how well you will perform.

Record in your journal:

Can you remember emotions that came up?

Thoughts you noticed when you went to bed, when you woke up, before you competed, during, and after?

How often were you able to let thoughts of self doubt come, go, and bring your focus back to the moment you were in?

How often did you get hooked on a thought? What were those thoughts?

What can you do to bring your focus back to the present moment starting from the night before, until competition ends?

4. Where did you make improvements

Your improvements are important because it helps an athlete move past the pity party of focusing on the negatives. This is about changing the narrative, and becoming consistent with your emotions. Learning how to handle adversities, as well as exciting victories, are important so that you can consistently review yourself in the same manner. 

Record in your journal:

 What is your takeaway from this competition? 

Were you able to recognize a mistake and redirect your focus? 

Three things you can improved on, however small

5. How consistent were you?

Do not mistake this question for, "how perfect were you?" Consistency is about creating an environment around your training and competition prep that becomes more accurate. To learn how to have a rhythm that you utilize to help you prepare. Consistency doesn't refer to perfection in the slightest, instead, it refers to being organized and being flexible. Its actual synonyms are "limberness" and "hardness." Can one word encompass more awesomeness than that? Its about being tough with what you need to do, but also being okay with change. Creating consistency comes with experience, and learning about what you should and shouldn't compromise in order to be ready for a tournament becomes key. 

Record in your journal:

Where I am I consistent?

Where am I not being consistent that is preventing me from being properly prepared for competition?

My ideal competition prep routine

Related Posts

"Dear Younger Me": Lauren Fleshman

I am so impressed by the female athletes of today who are writing on girls' and women's issues. I have been a major fan of competitive runner and entrepreneur, Lauren Fleshman. She is an Oiselle Brand ambassador, co-founder of Picky Bars, and all around awesome mom and athlete. 

She recently wrote a letter to her younger self; a "I wish I had known" article called Dear Younger Me. She narrows down on major young athlete issues like body image, comparing yourself to male teammates, nutrition, and adjusting as your body shifts from "girlhood" to "womanhood." Being especially passionate about these topics, I wanted to share some love for this blog to my LuchaFIT family... all of you! 

"You'll see girls react to a changing body in three ways: give up, ride it out, or fight against it. With 100 percent confidence, I can tell you the best choice is to ride it out. The best is yet to come."

Lauren does such an amazing job describing the female athlete woes and (literal) growing pains. She talks about coaches and teammates who encourage taking paths towards resisting those natural changes. Extreme dieting and extreme working out that will temporarily seem like the natural progression toward woman-hood is halted. An extreme sport culture that only seems to "feed the desire of for short term success." 

I have seen many athletes loose opportunities to continue a potentially amazing wrestling career due to coach, team, or family pressures towards wrestling a particular weight class. Unrealistic expectations that their young athlete will always be... young. That the only way to be successful, is to be the biggest one in the smallest weight class you can get to. That the value is on winning, no matter the expense to body, mind, spirit, or longevity. 

"You notice what happens sometimes to female athletes. She hits puberty; her times get slower or plateau. She is confused; she is working harder than ever. Clueless adults who are overly invested in her "performance" will grieve, as if her worth is based solely on PRs. This makes you scared of growing up."

Lauren describes that after being a professional runner for 12 years, she can recognize a completely different set of values... miles away from a culture around recklessness for achievements. I love that even in a completely different sport, I can relate to the same sentiment. It takes experience and long years to find these values, but the time invested in always worth it. 

We are fortunate to have athletes in the world who are giving back in the way Lauren does. She has revealed a darker side of female sports that is often ignored or not discussed. She certainly had to draw upon personal experiences in order to share to future generations of athletes. 

Make sure you check out the full article linked above, and find her on her personal website and social media! 

Lauren Fleshman: