Salsa Verde

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 fruits (and vegetables) of my labor.

The fruits (and vegetables) of my labor.

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.


David and Goliath and American Gymnast Warriors

Making the rounds on the ol interwebs the last few weeks is a kick ass video featuring Kacy Catanzaro’s performance on American Ninja Warrior. Which is, apparently, a thing. I may need to watch more TV. You can enjoy all of the kickass-ness here. In addition, Kacy gives an interview where she talks about her sport background and her competitive drive, recorded before she hit that buzzer in Dallas.

Now I’m sure it would be fun (and easy) to devote an entire blog post to just Kacy. After that insanity ladder, she’s likely earned it. But as I watched the video of her finals performance and listened to the commentators’ reactions to what they were witnessing as she completed the course, I knew I had to write about a lot more than Mighty Kacy.

The key point that stood out to me was the degree of surprise, maybe even disbelief that people seem to experience in response to her performance. Not just being impressed with what is justifiably an amazing performance, but continually emphasizing that they just didn’t expect that she would be able to complete different elements of the course because of her size. “Just 100 pounds!” must have been said about 10 times (ok, honestly, I didn’t count). Which puzzled me. Why would her weight – specifically a low weight – be an issue or hindrance to completing the course? Height and wingspan seems to be much more of an issue, undoubtedly. But my no-PhD-in-physics self seemed to think that her low weight would be a huge benefit in completing the course.

Which leads us to Malcolm Gladwell’s recent book David and Goliath: Underdogs, misfits, and the art of battling giants. Gladwell makes many interesting, stop and ponder a minute observations about the tendency inevitability of people to make mental errors. Honestly, we do this constantly. And where it gets important for athletes to take note: the trouble people often have in accurately assessing what constitutes a strength or benefit. In the story of David, we assume that Goliath’s size is the strength of which we are supposed to take notice. But Gladwell (with the help of some historical assumptions that are impossible to prove but seem pretty believable) points out that David’s skill with a rock and a sling are far more beneficial, particularly when David forces Goliath to “run his race” instead of meeting in the usual manner for hand to hand combat.

There are multiple points discussed in the book that are worth reading regardless of athletic goals or background. Go. Read. Prosper. I don’t want to over-share and ruin it for you. Also, this post is long enough already.

For athletes, learning how to pay attention to how you think about your strengths and assets is an indispensable skill. The next step? Questioning and perhaps rewriting how you’ve assessed strengths or weaknesses. Doing so creatively earns you bonus points. Given your sport, your body type, your skills (and a host of other variables) you will likely benefit from reviewing how you evaluate your ability to be successful. Because here’s the thing: Mighty Kacy knew she could slay that course. And Goliath would have made a crappy ninja.