I’ve been feeling just a tad guilty about the lack of time I’ve committed to researching and writing for Driven lately. There’s so much I’d like to do and say! And on so many topics! Where in the world will I find the time? This post in particular is getting started at 12:29 AM.
Which leads me to ask “where does the time go?” And the last few weeks (and months) it’s the garden. Yep, I’m one of those seed planting, pickle it, jam it, sauce it types.
The strawberries, the cucumbers, the tomatoes and tomatillos, and these days a disconcerting number of peppers with which I need to find something to do…. But this isn’t a gardening blog. Or a blog about making your own hot sauce (too bad. those are my new favorite blogs). Nevertheless, I think my need to escape to the dirt is related to performance.
Most athletes that I work with tell me that they are much busier than they would like. They tend to have little to no time to do activities outside of their sport, school, or spending just a little time with friends and/or family. It seems that fewer college athletes are graduating with work experience outside of participating or coaching their sport. Many of my high school athletes are regularly choosing to compete and train instead of go on spring break or other “normal” high school shenanigans. In college, you really don’t get as many choices and in-season obligations frequently overlap with major holidays, breaks, and time when everyone else is off having fun. Think wrestlers cutting weight during Thanksgiving festivities. And I understand – when you love competing in your sport, want to earn or maintain that spot on the line up, or make it to the next level it’s hard to think about wanting to do anything else with your time. But it’s also possible to have too much of a great thing.
Athletes (and sport psychologists alike) need to take a break from being all they can be on a somewhat regular basis. Key question: besides your sport, what do you talk about with closest friends and family? If you’re drawing a blank, you may want to make adjustments!
Even for athletes who love their sport and want to be working at getting better as much as possible, an unbalanced life – too much work and not enough play – can have negative effects on mood and motivation, overall health and freedom from injury. In the worst cases, someone might become burnt out (Read about models of burnout here. Or if you really wanted to geek out over here. But this actually isn’t a post about burnout, so we’re just going to move along…) or decide to leave their sport early because they just need a break.
Paradoxically, sometimes in order to do as an athlete you need to stop working so hard.*
In my 10+ years of experience working with athletes, the very best – the most successful who also have a positive sport experience – are those individuals and teams who have interests outside of their sport. And it’s not just about avoiding burnout, it’s the realization that sometimes we make gains when we try very, very hard and other times we see progress when we stop pushing for it. In Kobe Bryant’s words, it’s about “understanding the importance of shutting down and unwinding.”
So here are a few recommendations that I’ve put together to summarize what seems to work for many. **
- Make and maintain friendships outside of your team/sport. These are the people that can help keep you grounded in the “real world” outside of your sport. They help remind you that you that being an athlete is ONE part of your identity, but not all of it.
- Develop hobbies or leisure activities outside of your sport. Athletes – at least the ones I know – actually tend to suck at being leisurely. Which is fine! But not a bad idea to see if you can find something fun and engaging that involves using a different “gear.” If you really only have the one gear, definitely find another activity that challenges you in a different way than your sport. (And guess what, you may have to work at it for a while before you know what works best for you.) I tend to encourage creative ventures – art, music, writing – or being outside enjoying nature.
- Take breaks from your sport when the season ends. Ideally, a break should be measured in days or weeks, not hours.
- Maintain the fun while you are in practice. Work with your coach to have an occasional day for playtime instead of the usual practice or enjoy the dance-off warm up. A little goofy goes great with a lot of hard work.
Listen to the All-Knowing Gut! If things are feeling off-balanced, what can you do differently? Why wait until practice dread is upon you? Be willing to make small changes today if you believe it would be helpful – even if it isn’t easy at first.
In the interest of my own down time and self-preservation, I’ll end our conversation for now. Oddly enough it’s 12:29 AM AGAIN why in the world am I still up? I’m hoping to get home early enough tomorrow to pick a few more peppers before it gets dark and we all know that hot sauce isn’t going to ferment itself. (KIDDING! Of course it’s going to ferment itself! Ah, behold the magic of gardener’s jokes.) And just in case my peach jalapeno jam isn’t very inspiring, the wonderful people over at Flowrestling present to you some of the Best Creative Goofiness you can buy with absolutely no money.
* I’m working on following my own guidance.
** Be willing to try new things, but always trust your instincts if something doesn’t seem to genuinely fit. No single approach will work for everyone, but a well-timed experiment (ie: not 2 days before a big competition) can help you increase personal awareness.