Many athletes take pride in being “tough” and pushing themselves to the limits. They are completely focused on their goals and apply all their energy towards the big game, race, or performance that is coming up. They wake up early to work out, put in extra practice time, go on muscle-building diets, and even sacrifice time with friends and family to squeeze in every second of training.
So what’s wrong with this picture?
Well, for starters, there’s no fun/serious balance! While it’s important to learn the art of concentration and give everything you’ve got in practice and games, you are setting yourself up for burnout if you keep it up without the appropriate downtime and a connection to why you like your sport in the first place. Secondly, your athlete life, while important, should not define the totality of who you are as a person. What happens if you give it your best shot and still lose a game, come in 5th in a meet, or injure yourself because you were so stressed about the outcome that your body got too tense and distracted from the task at hand?
Your self-worth should NEVER be tied to your performances, and your body is not a machine.
Having perspective on your athletic life goes hand in hand with having balance and personal care, which includes your mental and physical body. If you can slow down long enough to realize that you’re dehydrated or that you’ve barely spent any time with your close friends or siblings, then it will be clear how these things are just as important at recharging you as another drill.
Here are some essential self-care practices for athletes to help you regain a sense of balance:
This may sound obvious but you’d be amazed at how many athletes either forget to drink enough water before/after strenuous activity, or drink things that aren’t really hydrating their bodies. Your body needs a lot more water to produce sweat and create the chemical reactions needed to maintain strength, agility, and a clear mind when you are engaging in physical activity. Drink several liters of pure, clean water every day.
It’s been scientifically proven that teenagers need more sleep than adults, but what tends to happen with this age group is that they stay up late doing whatever they like in the evening and then wake up very early in the morning to work out or practice before school. Inadequate sleep is definitely going to hurt your performance in the long run. When your body sleeps, it does the very vital work of detoxing and repairing tissue damage, both of which are important for athletes. Aside from that, not getting enough sleep on a regular basis will leave you tired and sluggish so that all those efforts in the game or event are going to feel more difficult than they would if you were well-rested. Get at least eight hours of sleep every night, nine as often as you can.
3. Eat real food
These days you don’t have to look far for the nearest protein powder or bar that promises to build muscle and give you energy. It’s much healthier to eat whole food that has real nutrients, especially fat and protein which are essential for energy. Get rid of the processed foods and give your body what it really needs to reach peak performance, real food with lots of vitamins and minerals!
It’s ironic but your body requires a healthy dose of rest and stillness in order to generate strength and power before going at full throttle. Just like sleep, general rest helps you chill out and de-stress when you’re not directly under the pressure of performance. Having this time and space will allow you more focus, flexibility, and a fresh perspective to address challenges when you’re back in the heat of competition. Relaxing means taking time to just do nothing sometimes, hanging out in your backyard, meditating, reading a book, going for a walk, or spending a day at the beach.
5. Enjoy time with friends and family
Being surrounded with people you love and who love you nourishes you on a deeper level. These are the people who support and motivate you no matter what, they make you laugh and remind you about what matters most in life. This perspective is priceless and gives you the stringboard to go further in ALL of your life’s endeavours.
6. Address your pain
Finally, we can’t address self-care without talking about injuries. If you are hurt you must address the issue right away! Don’t try to be a tough guy/gal and pretend like that hit you took didn’t hurt, or that you’re “fine” the next day when you’re still in pain. It will not do you or your team any good to ignore injuries because it’s a pain to get checked out or you are afraid of being sidelined. Your body is your instrument and if it needs some TLC to heal properly then have the patience to do what it takes. If you address it right away you’re much more likely to recover quicker and get right back in the game.
Remember to check in with yourself occasionally and see if anything is out of balance. Is your schoolwork paying the price? Make time to study or ask for help. Are you feeling tired all the time? Make sure you’re getting enough rest and eating enough. Is something up with your health? Get checked out by a doctor. Being aware of what’s out of balance and addressing it will only strengthen your ability to achieve great things in your sport and life. And whatever happens, remember that YOU are NOT your performance!