Almost by definition, elite triathletes (and often serious age grouper triathletes) and coaches are extremely dedicated to their sport. The large majority of their life effort and energy is focused on their training and competition. They spend time with others involved in their sport or supporting them continuously to improve their sport performance. With few exceptions, coaches are ‘time poor’ for things outside of the physical training and competition. Often, things outside of sport are seen as a luxury they cannot afford and very often they feel their life is out of balance.
What happens when all you have is sport? To be frank, your performances (whether as a coach or athlete) can be adversely affected.
The most critical implication of this can be on your personal self-esteem and confidence. From an athlete or coach’s perspective, your identity (who you see yourself as) and self-esteem needs to be attached to more than your sport, and the results you achieve. If not, your sport becomes more important in the overall scheme of life than it should be. If sport is the only major part of someone’s life and as sport goes, it naturally has its ups and downs, then the coach or athlete’s self-esteem is also attached to this one dimensional “roller coaster”. However, when there is something else of value in their life (study, family, interests and time with friends) there is literally balance between each interest and their self-esteem is supported through this balance.
In some cases, single-mindedness towards their sport can also lead to over training, a condition of fatigue and under performance.
It does not take an Einstein to learn that sports science has shown recovery works and improves performance. Quality recovery strategies include active recovery (low intensity activity), compression garments, hot-cold contrast baths/showers, food and fluids, ice (water), pool work, massage, spas and stretching. Small lifestyle changes can make all the difference; for instance, getting the recommended number of hours of sleep will improve health, as insufficient sleep combined with stress or other factors can weaken the immune system.
But there is also another scenario that is becoming more common – the pursuit of the ‘all round’ achiever. Try aiming to qualify for the Olympic team and study a PhD! Try being the Principle of a school, parent and win your age group in an Ironman! To be frank, some things are a long way from possible – NOT impossible; BUT a long way from possible. With an Olympic goal, few other areas of your life can take priority or be managed at a reasonable level without significantly hampering your main goal. That’s not to say that you can only have sport if you want to go to the Olympics – quite the opposite in fact – but you will struggle to achieve your full potential if you have too many competing goals. You may end up being mediocre in all, “jack of all trades, master of none”.
So how do you get balance with sport?
Liz Hanson - Client Director of Athlete Assessments in the USA provides her top 5 recommendations for balancing sport and your life.
Know what is most important to you; What do you truly value? (A way to know what these are, is to look at how you spend your time and money. We usually spend these two things on what we most value – check in to see if this is true for you? You may need to make some changes. Otherwise, another suggestion is to look at what creates ‘extreme’ levels of emotion for you. The things that bring you the most happiness and the things that give you the most heart-ache. The things that bring you the big highs are usually valuable to you and the things that give you the biggest lows usually represent what you most value being taken away or compromised. In a general sense, go for more of the positives and avoid what causes you pain.)
Set your goals; on what you truly want to achieve and ensure you are committed to their achievement. This may mean missing out on other things – are you prepared to give those up?
Prioritize your time and energy; it is ok to say “No” and miss a session if you need it. Listen to your body – you know it best. Plan you day, week, month to schedule in recovery, time with your loved ones and social activities.
Love something away from your sport. Having a fulfilling hobby or other interest is a wonderful energy builder. Just make sure this interest is complimentary to your sport.
Understand your stress levels and learn to diagnose when you are pushing too hard. Take time to recharge. “Self care” isn’t selfish or a luxury, it is a necessity. Write a journal or diary to reflect on.
One word of caution about how you relax and unwind from your sport: Alcohol consumption decreases speed, endurance, agility, strength, and concentration; all key factors in the success of an athlete!
Athletes and coaches MUST remember that sport in effect is only part of their lives, not the other way around. Everyone needs to find time for friends, family, education, opportunities outside of sport, other interests and hobbies in order to maintain life-balance. Not only will your sport benefit from choosing to do something outside the routine of training and care BUT so to will the people and relationships you do it with!