Is Comparison Stealing the Potential from Our Kids?

There’s so much pressure to be the star player out there. The best, the most, the fastest, the biggest, the strongest. While encouraging kids to reach their potential is important – and what parents, coaches and teachers have done since the beginning of time – I think we may have lost our way a bit by focusing on the superlatives. Somehow, less-than-the-best has become bad. When we attach a value-judgment to a measuring stick, it defeats the purpose and may defeat us in the process.

Can you imagine setting a bolt of cloth against a yard stick and deciding that the first foot was good but the other two weren’t? How about if I stood my three kids up to measure their heights and decided that only the ones taller than six feet were good?

This seems completely unfounded, yet it’s what we do when we use the same tool to measure everyone and then, even unconsciously, consider those who don’t measure up to be worth less. What especially concerns me is that we don’t see ourselves doing this.

Take for example the new Eir Soccer ball, created and marketed as a “female-friendly” ball because it is smaller, lighter and a bit more forgiving than the traditionally used adult, size 5 ball. (which our children start playing with when they are 12 or 13 years old) I have written about the ball here on Soccerwire. Hand the Eir ball to a group of accomplished female soccer players, though, and many scoff that we are being sexist by trying to diminish their capabilities.

“We can play with the same ball the men play with,” they’ll tell you. And of course they can, because they have been. But these women, due to their smaller size, smaller dimensions, smaller feet, and less powerful muscles, might perform better and more safely with the smaller ball. Odd that they still say, “Pfft, don’t demean us.” Perhaps it’s because too often they have had to confront “women are the weaker sex” in order to defend their honor. Why is it more honorable to have a larger muscle mass? (And to set the record straight, fiber by fiber, men and women generate equal force with each contractile unit.) But whole muscles are different, just as men and women are different.

Still, men, probably with the best of intentions and trying to support the women, worry that to adopt such a ball would be considered sexist, as if they were promoting men over women by saying women can’t do what men do because they are not as strong or as powerful. Is that sexist or simply reality?

Well, women can’t and we don’t, because we are not designed to do things in the same way as men. By many physical measures, women are “less than,” but that doesn’t make us “worse than”? The value judgment sneaks in there, and it is high time we called it out. Slower, weaker, less-skilled, and less-experienced are not worse, they’re simply less, as measured by the scale we are using. They’re at a different place on the bell curve that we know describes populations of all sorts:



Most of us, by definition, will fall into the average range. No one likes to consider themselves average and we certainly do not like to call our children average. But the good thing about average is that there is room to grow. There is potential in the middle for the hard-working athlete (or worker or student) to improve his skill, perfect her technique, and boost speed, endurance and strength. I can work with that kid, that is, provided she hasn’t already decided she is worth-less or doomed to mediocrity.

Can I get hold of her before she sees the scale and the value attached? Can I build enough confidence in her to be able to say that playing with a ball that matches my size actually levels the playing field and allows me to perform under the same conditions a man does? with the same stresses a man feels? with the same challenges a man experiences?

Less can be equal as long as we leave the ‘less than’ out of it, and so can more. The difference between performance or ability is not so significant as the room for improvement and the willingness to try. Remove the obstacle that judgment presents and a whole new approach may be just around the corner. Plus, the diversity that is welcomed through that door might invite some creative options.

Frankly, if you were the coach of a team, would you rather work with a championship kid who has peaked but burnt out or a kid who is less accomplished but enthusiastic about trying new things. I know who I would choose. The question is, can we catch ourselves before we give in to the underlying discrimination that upends the process?

What if we stop seeing…

  • weak as worse?
  • low as less?
  • fat as bad and
  • thin as good?
  • tall as preferred and
  • short as diminished?
  • and the list goes on…

It might allow us to see our own potential clearly and usher in the motivation to be better without needing to be better-than. In that healthy environment we may even see the potential of others as something to be nurtured, not challenged or put down, since both of us are on our own paths to success, not in competition for the one path to stardom.

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