In every journey, there are challenges, obstacles, victories, failures, and lessons learned. In my journey, one of the biggest obstacles for me to overcome was my own mindset as an athlete and as a human being. We all have different beginnings to our journey, and when I was born, my parents discovered I was deaf. Around 18 months old, I got a cochlear implant and hearing aid to hear and communicate with the hearing world. Little did I know as a two-year-old that my journey in the hearing world was going to be different than my hearing peers. Before being mainstreamed in first grade, I attended a school called Northern Voices Oral School. This school provides an opportunity for young kids with hearing loss to learn how to listen, speak, and socialize with the hearing world. Even though I did very well with my speech performance and listening during my time at Northern Voices, my speech still needed much improvement after I graduated. In first grade, I was mainstreamed, and I went from a place where all the students had hearing loss to a place where no students had hearing loss. I took speech lessons outside of school until 8th grade but continued to have accommodations and resources during my time in school.
Going from Northern Voices to being mainstreamed was a major transition for me and one of the things that helped me greatly with the change was sports. Luckily, I was fortunate to be athletic and able to play sports at a high level. Sports gave me a wonderful opportunity to make friends, compete at a high level, and work on my social skills. Sports has given me the chance to travel all over the world and create amazing experiences and memories. I would not be where I am today without sports. Even though sports have been given me a lot, it also provided me with a lot of challenges on and off the pitch. One of the biggest challenges sports brought forth was comparison. To elaborate, I struggled with comparing myself to my hearing peers which impacted my confidence, motivation, enjoyment, and my performance in the classroom and on the pitch.
There is a famous saying that “comparison is the thief of joy” and that is something I struggled to work on throughout my sports career. As competitors, it is natural to compare yourself to your teammates and your opponents. We all want to be the best, to have that starting spot, and to beat our opponents. So, it is natural to scope out the competition and compare your strengths and weaknesses to theirs. For me, having my hearing loss, I was always comparing myself to my peers and sometimes worried what they would think of me. I am pretty certain that most of the athletes I played with or against had never seen a kid with a cochlear implant or a hearing aid before, so it was that fear of the unknown. I did not know how they would react or treat me based on my disability. I always thought I had to prove myself to others to earn respect, but in reality, I realized that you only need to prove yourself to yourself and not to others.
As I got older, that fear of worry went away, but I still would compare myself to others. I was so focused on everyone else’s strengths and why they should be playing and not focused on my own strengths and skills that I had. (1) I was concerned about coming off as too cocky as people were not fond of the cocky kid and (2) I never took the time to write down the things that make me unique and special as a player. In simple terms, I was too fixated on the things I could not control and should have focused my time and efforts on the things I could control. The first part of my college career is where I had the most trouble with comparison. I was not playing and losing my motivation for playing soccer. Looking back on the situation, one of the things I learned that caused my drop of motivation was that I was always comparing myself to the other players in my position and kept saying that they are better than me. Whether it was true or not, it was a thought that kept recurring in my head and it impacted my confidence during training sessions, and I was getting frustrated with myself.
The one place I always felt confident, and calm is with USA Deaf Soccer. In the fall of 2019, I had the opportunity to go to Chile for the 2019 Deaf Pan American Games. This was the changing point in my mindset as a soccer player and as a human being. At this point I have only been on the team for about two years, and it was my first international tournament. Instead of nerves, I was super excited to compete and play in the games. This was the most excitement I had playing soccer that fall. One of things that led to this excitement is that my teammates are all like me with a hearing loss and they all love the game of soccer. It was not an environment where people were comparing themselves to each other instead people were encouraging and uplifting towards one another. Everyone wanted to see everyone do well on and off the pitch. Just being on the field with other players that are like me really inspired me to play hard and work for each of them.
During that tournament, I just played soccer with excitement, passion, and love because I wasn’t thinking about how I was doing compared to others or worried about making mistakes. I was focused on my game and how I can get better to help my team win. In the tournament, we had to play four games in four days against Mexico, Brazil, Chile, & Argentina to finish it off. We won all four games and won the gold medal at the Deaf Pan American Games. I got the opportunity to start and play the full 90 minutes in every game at outside back and it was one of my favorite memories in my life. I was just enjoying the moment, playing soccer with peers that have a hearing loss like me and experiencing Chile. This particular tournament helped me to focus on myself and my goals when I returned back to college soccer. Even though my playing time in college was limited, my motivation was to keep training hard for USA Deaf Soccer and keep on improving my game.
Growing up, I struggled with the issue of comparing myself to others, but I still celebrated the little victories such as an A on a test, or a shutout in soccer. One of my old soccer coaches told us that there are only two things you can control, your effort and your attitude, and that message helped me become a better player in soccer. As a result, that motivated me to give back to the sport by being involved in sports psychology and helping young athletes through their individual challenges. I believe that focusing on the overall wellness of the athlete even beyond sport. I like to help athletes recognize how their thoughts, feelings, and emotions can impact their performance. My focus in working with athletes is to support them through obstacles in sport and in life.
Comparison is going to happen, and it can impact our performance, motivation, and confidence. Comparison is a part of sport, even the top athletes get compared to old timers. When people say you’re the next Mia Hamm or Roger Federer, say “I am not the next Mia, I am the first “your name”. Write down your gifts, successes, and your dreams on a piece of paper or in a journal and when comparison kicks in, you can look back at that journal to remember your gifts, your past successes, and your dreams. You are all unique in your own way. If you have trouble figuring out what is unique about you, ask a coach, assistant coach, Athletic director, friends, families, teammates, partners, etc.
“Don’t Compare yourself to others, Compare yourself to the person from yesterday.”