Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Balancing Life and Sport

Today I'm going to talk about having balance in your life. Coming from someone that once identified himself as a good squash player, I know some of the challenges of this. I'm always curious if the professionals have some form of balance in their lives. I assume the ones that have gotten married and have kids do. But it's well documented the troubles that retired professional athletes have. Many can't find the same thrill, excitement, and adrenalin in everyday life; while others just feel like they are now average and can't find a place to feel special and significant anymore.

There comes a time where either by decline in skill, injury, or just loss of motivation that we all move on from competition. Of course in squash there are masters events and you can compete for a long time, so we're lucky we have that going for us. I don't envision Michael Jordan playing competitive basketball these days nor do I imagine Wayne Gretzky playing competitive hockey games. So what do these people do now? Are they happy? Have they accepted their retirement and diminished skill? Or like some others that we've heard in the news; retired athletes that end up abusing substances, gambling and eventually end of declaring bankruptcy. Some retired athletes become depressed and feel like they having to live for. Many likely didn't have any of these issues surface while they're competing, but now are lost out in the world. Is this only a problem once it arises? Or was this always destined to be an issue once they retired?

I'm going to start with kids in sport. As a kid that was pretty good at squash and won a lot of tournaments, I didn't have balance in my life. I would spend every day on the squash court and would hit for 2 or 3 hours at a time. I played as many tournaments as possible and when I didn't win a tournament I would get angry. Why would a kid get so upset about losing a match here and there? I think it was because I defined myself as a squash player. I thought I was better than anyone I played and did everything I could to be the best I could be. I didn't learn from my loses. When I stopped playing squash for a few years it was the first time I got to find out who I was outside of sport. I felt pretty empty and unfulfilled and eventually I gravitated back to the sport.

These days I see some of the top players and wonder if they have balance outside of squash. Do they enjoy things in their life besides playing squash? Because one day squash won't be there for them and they'll have to face reality. This can also happen while they are still active in sport. When you are going through a slump or not having success on court, you likely won't feel very good about yourself if your ego is identified as a good squash player. You can see how this puts a lot of pressure on you every time you step on court. You have to prove not to anyone else, but to your ego that you are indeed still a top squash player.

I'm sure to be the best you have to go all in and not have reservations. But does that mean you have to have an ego? That you cannot have balance outside of the court? Or is balance the only way you will have any longevity in the sport? Well not many of us are going to be the next Ramy Ashour, even though many of us dream about it. Does that mean we should not try to be the best we can be? Or that we have to keep things in perspective? That there is more to life than squash?

This is why I feel it's important to have other interests, hobbies, and a personal life outside of sport. Even as we age and are unable to compete at a high level in our sport we can still learn and improve at other activities. This is why I value balance in life. Too much of a good thing is still unhealthy. Yes, even water! Having a day off and spend time with your friends and family not playing squash is good for your well-being and mental health.

If you identify yourself as a squash player first maybe it's time to try something new. Your perspective needs to change or you will encounter some issues one day. Create some balance in your life, find new interests, and have relationships that don't involve sport. This way you can be happy in life independent of what happens on the squash court. 'Don't let a win go to your head and a loss go to your heart.' When the match is over, give yourself an appropriate amount of time to digest everything that's happened (e.g., 1 hour). Some will take longer than others at doing this. After this time has elapsed just move on mentally, regardless of what happened or didn't happen on the court. Even if you believe you're a good squash player and not special at anything else, you're much more than that. Squash is only a small part of who any of us really are, even Ramy!

Have you encountered difficulty balancing things in your life? If not squash, maybe your career and personal life? Do you think it's possible to be one of the best athletes in the world and have balance in your life? Do you think it's possible for a talented kid to be on a path to play professionally sport while maintaining some form of balance in their life?

No comments:

Post a Comment