We live in a 24/7 world with constant demands on our time and pressure to do more and more. The nature of social media and the ever-present smartphone feeds this pressure, whether it’s work emails coming in at 9:30pm or social media updates exalting everyone’s latest achievements. Athletes face the same career, family, and social pressures as everyone else, and then heap on the physical and mental stress of training and/or competition. Being an athlete in a 24/7 world can be a challenge, but it can also be rewarding, a pathway to better health, and a means to reducing the impact of other stressors in your life.
A big portion of the work coaches do with athletes is to help them manage stress. Not the ‘count to ten and take a deep breath’ kind of stress (although there’s some of that), but more the ‘how do I do my job, stay married, spend time with my kids, and still train for an Ironman?’ kind of stress. Here are some tips for being successful as an athlete in a 24/7 world:
Failure to communicate is the biggest source of problems that we see. Your family is very supportive of your training goals, right up until it unexpectedly gets in the way of other plans. If you need to do a long run/ride/swim on a Saturday, and it’s really important to you, then make sure the people around you know that. Also, encourage your spouse/partner to tell you early and often if your training schedule is causing frustration. Make deals around time and tasks so everyone feels heard and valued. Good conversations up front save you from bad arguments later.
Consistency is important and so is compliance to your training plan. But not all workouts are created equal. Some are more important than others. If you’re going to have to miss some training during the week or weekend, prioritize the important sessions. How do you tell the difference? If you’re working with a coach, ask him/her. If you’re self-training, then the general rule of thumb is that the closer you get to a goal event, the more priority you want to put on event-specific workouts (intervals over general endurance, for instance).
Define your workday:
The speed of business has never been faster, and that’s partly because technology enables us to connect and do business at all hours of the day and night. But there’s a personal cost to that constant connectivity and more and more professionals (and researchers) are realizing that down time is an important component of productivity and creativity. This is analogous to recovery time between training sessions. You could train every day of the year, but we can show that it won’t be as productive as alternating between quality workouts and purposeful rest. If possible – and I know it’s not possible for everyone – define your workday. Commit to disconnecting from the business or the job after a certain time, or at least for a certain amount of time during the day.
Bonus Tip: Some people struggle to disconnect because emails and texts show up on the same devices they use for entertainment. If you have both a smartphone and a tablet, try putting the phone away at home and use the tablet – which can be set up to not connect to email or text – for entertainment instead.
In addition to turning off the work emails, I think it’s also important for athletes to train without electronics sometimes. I’m a huge proponent of power meters and training data, I enjoy using Strava, and I like listening to music. But sometimes I also like riding and hiking in silence and without data tracking. Our 24/7 world is characterized by a constant level of noise and connectivity, and athletes have a great opportunity – more so than sedentary people – to get out into nature and enjoy some quiet. Data is good, but don’t get obsessed. Sometimes the best thing an athlete can do is to just go for an undocumented and quiet ride or run, just for the fun of it.
Maintain a healthy social media perspective:
If you’re connected to 100 people on social networks, it’s pretty much guaranteed that someone will always be on vacation. Someone will always be starting a great new job or achieving some other milestone. If you’re connected to several hundred people or more, then this scenario is amplified. Even people who are extremely confident and comfortable with their own lifestyles can get caught up in a heightened desire to “keep up with the Jones’s”. Be happy for the good things people are sharing on social media, but recognize that you’re seeing a distilled representation of many lives, and one that is often skewed toward the positive.
It’s not necessarily easy to be an athlete in a 24/7 world, but I’d argue that it makes the 24/7 lifestyle more enjoyable. Have fun, and stay safe!
CEO/Head Coach of CTS