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You Only See a Piece of the Pie

by Sierra Brooks (U-M Women’s Gymnastics ’23)

When you aren’t the athlete competing, it’s incredibly easy to be judgemental. They didn’t stick the landing. They looked sloppy. They looked tired. They did better the week before. They didn’t act fast enough. They didn’t win the competition they were seeded to win. The list goes on. 

And that is expected. As humans, we tend to be overconfident in our abilities, especially when the scale that defines good versus bad is ambiguous. Ask humans if they drive better than average, and most will say they do. This simply shows that sometimes, we aren’t fully aware of our competencies and abilities in a given space, which can also make it easier to criticize the actions of others.

Sports fans are all different. Not just in terms of which sports they prefer to watch, but even within the same sport, they root for different teams, athletes, coaching styles, storylines, etc. And these unique preferences are valuable, as they lead to productive conversations and (typically) healthy competition. In return, these conversations can actually help sports grow in popularity which ends up benefiting the athletes too through increased exposure and funding. 

With all of this being said, I am writing this today for two reasons. I want fans and non-athletes to take a step back at times and realize they are only seeing a small piece of the pie regarding athletes and team performances. You can make assumptions and draw conclusions based on what you see, but often times you might not be correct. 

And on this same note, I want athletes to be able to brush off comments from fans or outsiders that bother them. From what I’ve seen, it’s pretty common for athletes to not respond back to the numerous comments being made about their team or individual performance, even if they want to. It’s the virtual equivalent of biting your tongue, as athletes often recognize there isn’t much of a benefit to responding. But even if athletes don’t respond, these comments can still sting. And when they do, I want athletes to realize how much of an information gap there is between what outsiders see and what life these athletes live. Athletes – don’t let a comment made by someone who hasn’t met you or only knows you through athletics alter your confidence or make you question your abilities. You know the full picture. 

So let’s think about what that full picture entails. It’s impossible to write it all down, but if we were to start there is a lot that fans, friends, families, and even coaches don’t see at times. 

They don’t see…

  • You staying up late working on homework because you had to stay at the facility an extra hour and a half for rehab.
  • You waking up early three times a week to get in extra practice because your off performances that bother fans, are just as frustrating for you.
  • The medicine next to your bedside table because you got a cold the week of a major competition.
  • You studying for an exam in a hotel hours before a competition because it’s 20% of your grade and the day after you get back is the day of the exam.
  • You meeting with your coaches to discuss an action plan going forward after an injury or inconsistent performance.
  • You spending your off day helping and supporting a teammate that has been having a rough time.
  • Facetiming your parents after a hard day.
  • You spending hours writing out your goals for the year or how driven you are on a daily basis. 

You get the point. Athletes, don’t be so hard on yourself. We’re often as competitive as it gets, but after hearing commentary from others it can be even harder to take that pressure off. Take a step back and think about everything that you experience, work through, see, talk about, and live every single day. 

The fans typically see the outcome. This entails the wins and losses, mixed with content pushed out on social media which is often an optimistic highlight reel.

So it’s understandable why these comments are made. Most athletes love the growth of their sports and fanbase, so by no means do we want the commentary to stop. But rather, I just want athletes to have a different perspective the next time they see something that rubs them the wrong way. Acknowledge what was said and then just know, it’s easy to judge when you don’t have the whole picture. 

And for those watching us compete, just remember that there is a whole lot that you don’t see. This isn’t only applicable to athletics, but life in general. 

There’s a lot more going on with everyone than we think, so who are we to judge so easily? 

Sierra Brooks, U-M Women’s Gymnastics ‘23

2 thoughts on “You Only See a Piece of the Pie”

  1. First, I want to say how much I’ve enjoyed watching you compete, as well as the entire team. It’s absolutely true that we, as fans, see only a small part of the process–the performances that grew out of years of training, the time taken to hone skills at a high level, and the many hours that have to be divided among classes, study, training, and the demands of daily life.

    I can imagine that, in a sport that requires not only athletic prowess and artistry but also being comfortable singled out in the spotlight, gymnasts have the extra burden of a high level of self-critique and expectation. Fans may be aware of this in varying degrees, but are far from knowing the whole story. They see the “product”–the floor exercise, the beam work–and base their reactions on what they see in the moment. Only a few fans actually know what it takes to complete a vault, something that flashes by in a few seconds but took many hours to perfect.

    Social media makes it much easier to do hot takes or to throw out a nasty comment and disappear into anonymity, without taking into account the damage that may be done to the athlete who has been so carelessly insulted and diminished. There will always be naysayers. But I hope you and your fellow teammates know that the vast majority of your fans support you, not only for your grace and athleticism but for your academic success and for the extraordinary role models you provide for the many young girls who idolize and want to emulate you.

    Thank you Sierra, Natalie, Abby, Gabby and the whole team. You make Michigan nation proud! Go Blue forever!

  2. Amazing perspective! Thank you for sharing what most of us will never see or even understand. For athletics to continue to be the positive and entertaining force that they have been, athletes have to get out of bed every day, do what you all do, and still look yourselves in the mirror at night.

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