Elite athletes, serious student-athletes, and coaches – by their very definition – dedicate themselves to their chosen sport. Most of their time and energy is spent training and competing. They spend most of their time with the other people in their sport, sometimes supporting them and improving their performance. There are very few exceptions to the rule that coaches don’t have much time to dedicate to things outside of training and competition. They consider things outside of their sport to be a luxury that they are unable to afford, and will typically feel their life lacks balance.
So what happens if sport is all you have?
To put it simply your performance – whether as an athlete or a coach – is impaired. This can have critical implications for your confidence and self-esteem. From the perspective of coaches and athletes, your own identity and self-esteem need to be about much more than just the sport you play, the team you play for, and the results you get. If not, then sport becomes a more important part of your life than it should ever be. If the only thing you have in life is sport – which tends to go up or down – it can mean that the self-esteem of the coach or player rides on this roller coaster. However, if you have something else in your life that you value – such as your family, interests, and friends – then it balances things out and gives you more things to support your self-esteem with.
There are some cases where a single-mindedness towards sport can rule your training, leave you fatigued, and cause you to underperform. This article doesn’t look too closely at over-training, but it is still worth touching on, even if we don’t do justice to how severe the problem can be. Keep in mind that prevention really is better than the cure.
Overtraining is when there is an imbalance between the time you spend training and competing and the time spent recovering. Athletes suffering from overtraining are more at-risk of infection and illness, persistent fatigue, lethargy, and depression. This in itself has some serious implications, even without considering the damage done to life balance. The best way to fight overtraining is to understand how important it is to take time to recover, which ties in with having a good life balance.
Sports science has constantly shown that recovering improves performance. There are several strategies for recovering including active recovery (performing low-intensity activities), hot-cold baths/showers, compression garments, food and fluids, ice, working in the pool, massage, spas, and stretching. Making small lifestyle changes such as sleeping more can also improve health and speed recovery, as a lack of sleep compromises immunity.
Unfortunately, athletes and coaches consider having a good life balance as something that would be nice to have, but not a priority. Even so, there are short-and-long-term ramifications of not having a good balance.
The All Rounder
Another common scenario is that of trying to become an “all-rounder”. I remember a conversation I had on the matter with a young athlete and her family. She was in her final year of high school, was performing well in her chosen sport, and had dreams of competing in the Olympics. Her dad was interested in helping her achieve this dream while also attending college, working part-time, and having a healthy social life. It’s just not possible. When aiming for the Olympics, it’s just not possible to prioritise other things without compromising the main goal of the Olympics. This doesn’t mean sport can be all you have in this case, it just means that you’ll have a tough time reaching your potential when trying to do too much. You could end up as the proverbial jack of all trades, master of none. At the end of the day, you need to prioritise what matters the most to you and work on your timing.
Some things in life will have a time limit while others won’t. Being able to start a family, age-related issues with work visas for traveling and working abroad, and reaching your physical peak for performing in sport are all time-related. There are some exceptions and there is medical science of course. Some athletes perform brilliantly at both young and old ages to prove these exceptions. But it remains true that there is a certain age bracket to performing at your peak and playing the highest level of your sport.
Then there are things that don’t have a time limit attached to them. One can always go to university when older, or one can try to pursue a professional career when older. Holidays can be enjoyed no matter your age as well. The advice I gave to the young athlete that if she really wanted to go to the Olympics she would need to work hard at for the next few years. Whether she made it or not, she would be 21 years old and ready to enjoy her other life goals like having a career and a good social life. By making her sport the main goal, she was able to pursue balance and enjoy the time outside of sport with less intense goals that allow her to have some fun, relax, and build on her education; ultimately allowing her to achieve better results.
How does an athlete find balance with sport? By following my five recommendations for balancing sport and life:
5 Recommendations for Finding Balance When All You Have is Sport
1. Understand what really matters to you; the things you really value. A good way to know what matters to you is looking where you spend your time and money, as these are usually spent on the things we value. You might find you need to make changes. Also consider the things that bring out the most emotion in you. What makes you happiest and saddest? The things that give you emotional highs are often the ones that are valuable; while the things that cause emotional lows represent the things you love most being compromised or taken away from you. I recommend going for what makes you happy over what makes you sad myself.
2. Set goals based on what you want to achieve. Make sure you are committed to these goals and achieving them. This could mean that you have to miss out on other things. So are you prepared to do that?
3. Prioritise where you spend time and energy
4. Love something that has nothing to do with the sport. Having a fun and fulfilling hobby is a great way to build energy and enthusiasm; just do something that compliments your sport performance rather than hinders it.
5. Understand stress levels and ow you can tell when you’re being pushed too hard. Give yourself the tie you need to recharge. It’s not selfish to take care of oneself; it’s a necessity!
A brief word of caution on relaxing and unwinding from sport. Statistics show that around 60% of all seniors and around 50% of all juniors are regular drinkers. Studies published by the American Athletic Institute offer evidence that consuming alcohol directly decreases sports performance. Drinking alcohol will reduce your agility, endurance, speed, strength, and concentration; all of which an athlete needs to succeed!
It can be beneficial for athletes and coaches to remember sports performance is only one part of life performance, rather than it being the other way around. This means everyone should find the time for their friends, family, education, and other opportunities and interests outside of sport. Take some time to rest away from the sport, even if it’s only for a short while. Think about something that makes you happy and enjoy the memories. This will benefit not just yourself, but also your sports performance.
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