Monday, 11 November 2013

Striking a balance

Last week I delivered a workshop to a group of sports scholarship students at the University of East London.  The session specifically looked how a student-athlete can set about creating a balance in their lives, an environment which will both help them in their sport and facilitate their development as a human being.  Some interesting discussion followed.  Here is a summary of the key points:

No man is an island
Athletes, like everyone else, live in an ever changing environment, and have to interact with many different people, and balance many different aspects in their lives.  These are just some of the many things that athletes (and particularly student-athletes), need to be good at:
  • Managing budgets
  • Selling themselves (to funders and potential sponsors)
  • Dealing with the media
  • Managing their time
  • Organising and planning
  • Coping with setbacks (bouncebackability)
  • Managing relationships (with coaches, teammates, fans, sponsors)
  • Coping with pressure (from the press, fans, teammates, self, parents)
  • Decision making
  • Accepting the uncontrollable
  • Negociating
  • Striking a balance
  • Setting goals
All these skills are required in addition to the physical and mental attributes required for their sport, and more than a good measure of hardwork.  The above factors are just some of the elements which make up the ‘athlete lifestyle’

Getting a balance
The best story that I heard of to demonstrate balance, is the one where the university professor gets two pint glasses, and demonstrates to a group of university students how they can go about getting a balance in their lives.  He takes the first glass and fills it to the brim with water (signifying alcohol or a social life).  Filled to the top, there is no room left in the glass to for anything else; place a stone or pebble in it, and some of the water will flow over the edge.  He takes the second glass, and fills it to the top with stones.  The glass takes 5 or 6 medium sized stones and can take no more.  The glass, it could be said, is full of stones.  With the stones, however, there is still some room of other things.  The professor takes some small stones, and puts as many of them as he can in the glass.  He fits a large handful in.  A handful of pebbles follow, and then a small handful of sand.  Just as the audience think that the glass can hold no more, the professor takes a beaker of water, and manages to fit some into the glass.

The glass can be taken as a metaphor for the student-athlete’s life.  Think of the larger stones as the training sessions, the smaller ones as the lectures and coursework, the pebbles as all the little chores of life like shopping, cooking, and eating, the sand as sleep, and the water as relaxing and social time.  This way around, there is plenty of time to fit everything in.

A good route to striking a balance, can be broken into 5 processes:

1. Set goals
Deciding what you want to achieve, and what you want to get from life will help focus your balance.  Some of the questions that you might want to ask yourself include: what do you want to achieve?  What do you need to do to achieve those goals?  Are  the goals realistic?  Do you have goals in multiple areas of your life (sport, academic, career, other hobbies, life)?  What can be done to ensure that those goals fit together?  Are you following your goals for the right reasons (i.e. are they your goals, or are the goals you think others expect you to achieve).

2. Make a plan
Plans can be set on a daily, weekly, termly, seasonal, or yearly basis.  Some specific forms of planning are included in the timemanagement blog below.  Use the tools and planning process that work best for you.  Constantly consider your goals when planning.  Do your plans work towards your goals?  Review your plans to ensure that you are realistic in what you can achieve on a daily basis.  Identify where you are losing time, or being inefficient (are you spending two hours travelling each day, when the journey would be quicker to cycle? Did you spend time travelling because you failed to pack everything you needed for the day before you left the house in the morning?).

3. Make any important decisions
Student athletes constantly need to make decisions as they attempt to strike a balance in their lives, and often make decisions on a daily basis which they don’t even realise that they are making.  At certain times, however, important decisions which affect one’s goals and plans, need to be made.  Procrastination over making decisions can be an additional source of stress for an athlete, and delaying making the decision can result in missed opportunities.  Athletes should develop sound decision-making skills.  The following task, helps to highlight some of the processes involved in making decisions:
  • Pick an important decision that you need to make now, or in the near future
  • Consider what happens if you don’t make a decision, or delay making the decision
  • List all your available options (include at least one ‘dream’ option i.e. in an ideal world what would you do?)
  • List where you can find further information to help you make your decision
  • List all the people that you can seek advice from (don’t just include people who will tell you what you want to hear)
  • List any factors that you will use to help you make your decision (e.g. your goals, values, abilities, time, financial or family situation, location, things that you will/won’t compromise on)
  • Consider what sort of things stop you from making decisions
  • After seeking further information and advice, and considering any factors that your decision will be influenced by, choose 2 or 3 viable options from your initial list
  • List the positive and negatives for each option
  • It will be a lot easier to make a decision once you know what exactly your options are.  Imagine yourself in different situations.
In many cases, there are no right or wrong decisions, just decisions that cause stress because they haven’t been make.

4. Build in relaxation or recover time
Planned recovery time can be far more rewarding and beneficial than ad hoc down time.  Consider how you are going to relax and recover each day, week or season and use recover to refresh and revitalise the mind as well as the body.  Use down-time at the end of the season to cross things off your bucket list that you don’t get to do during the season.

5. See everything as a choice, not a sacrifice
Sport for most is a hobby, and the choices you make to achieve your goals should never be seen as sacrifices.  Choose to be successful.

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