One of the nice things about working with young athletes is that for the most part they have uncomplicated lives. They eat, sleep, go to school, practice and compete. However, with older athletes life gets a whole lot more complicated. Careers take hold, families materialize and leadership demands are extracted – sometimes with a pound of flesh or two. In other words, our attention begins to get pulled in many ways and something has to give.
During my years of competitive karate training, I never had enough hours in a day to do everything. I would disappear to my basement workout room during every spare moment I could find. Child asleep – head for the basement. Wife reading – hit the streets jogging and doing wind sprints. Feeding my young daughter – dive into visualizations. Karate class at the dojo finished – head to the 24-hour grocery store. If I wanted to compete and be competitive and still be a husband and dad, I had to be efficient and squeeze every last drop of time out of a week.
Superhuman part-time athlete?
I will suggest that there is no superhuman part-time athlete who can compete every other weekend and be an involved parent. I had seen my father work long hours and witnessed first-hand the effect of an absentee parent on a family. The Cat’s in the Cradle comes to mind, nicely sung by Harry Chapin. Most parents take a hiatus from competition, and I truly admire their decision and feel it is one they won’t regret. But can they still compete and feel balanced in their life? I’m going to propose that they can, but that it will require some creativity.
Many sports such as the martial arts, running and triathlon require long periods of training for a single event. This will take a plan, but if you are used to competition every weekend, the first thing you have to do is cut back on the number of competitions. It actually takes a lot more discipline to train this way but it can be rewarding, especially if you have a good training facility and training partners. As a friend of mine says, “You don’t want lots of practice; you want perfect practice.” Plan how you practice and make every moment count.
You don’t want lots of practice – you want perfect practice
Select a specific number of competitions you wish to attend per year, and train for them as if you were preparing for the Olympics. Visualize these competitions over and over and set very powerful outcomes for the limited training sessions you will have. Set up a chart where you list your target goals in a week-by-week format. If you have ten weeks before a competition, every week will have a slot with your training goals. You will know exactly where you are, week by week, as you approach your competition. In this way you will not be lowering your expectations as you’ll be able to place new expectations squarely on the sheet. I would actually expect huge improvements with this approach.
There are many other ways to vastly improve your performance without having to take time away from the family. I call it cross-training – taking work-related courses that apply to high performance (but are on company time). We all can take courses on stress-management where we can learn about relaxation or other performance enhancement strategies that will get us ready without being agitated. Even a course in public speaking can give us the added benefit of being able to stand up invincibly in front of our opponents with confidence and stature.
Leadership seminars are very important as well. You cannot be a high performer without being a leader. Athletes who lose their cool or concentration are often affected by opponents who talk about the problems of the race. By learning simple leadership tools, you will learn to hold your own no matter if you are competing against weak opponents who can pull you down to their level or strong opponents who can intimidate you.
Make practice smart
Since you are not going to be able to practice as often, practice smart. Set a plan in place where you know exactly how the practice will go. Stay with the basics and you will do well. Find fun and unique drills to make each of your training sessions a competition. These are simply ways to make the basics more interesting so you get competitive with yourself and others.
Do a lot of visualizing. One five-minute visualization exercise before getting out of bed each morning can be all it takes to put you in the Zone at the next competition. The more often you perform well in your head (and feel the sheer adrenalized nature of it!), the more readily you can connect the visualization to your actions on game day. It feels very good, gets you out of bed in the Zone and is a great start to the day.
Get the significant people in your life to support you. There will be tradeoffs, but as long as you are realistic about it, they will understand how keeping you happy for those few competitions can keep them happy as well. Let them know how you are limiting you competitions. Sell them on the stress-management benefits to getting you out of the house those few times. Return bearing gifts after competitions. It works!
A final issue may be your frustration (and concern) of not staying focused on work when a competition is imminent as well as not staying focused during the training with work deadlines awaiting you back at the office. One way to create separation for your activities is to think of your roles (athlete, parent, employee/boss) as characters in a play. Your job is to play each role spectacularly with undivided attention.
This is a specific skill-set that I teach in workshops, the key of which is to stand back and watch how the play unfolds. Look for imbalance and assign the same amount of passion to each of your roles regardless of any time constraints. It will help you to switch quickly and cleanly amongst the roles, especially if you are “catching” a few moments of training here and there. This exercise can provide incredible focus as well as perspective and balance in our daily activities.
So, if you have a time-constraint dilemma, use these ideas to discover how to balance your sport and your parental and work responsibilities. And, if you still find it hard to do, at least stay in shape and plot your return to competition when the kids have grown and you’ve finished your commitment.
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