Karen Savia Maciel
Sport, physical fitness, athletic activities are considered crucial for the all-around physical and character development of an athlete. Discipline, hard work, perseverance, integrity and ability to compete are some of the more important traits for a successful career in athletics and fitness development. However, for some reason, the development around the physical aspects of training are given far more importance than any other facet of human athletic development. The attitude of ‘more is better’ in terms of constant activity is a quest for individual or team success is prevalent in today’s sports world, starting at the youth level and continuing through the secondary school and collegiate level. ‘Push for more’ is today’s ideology when sometimes doing less is enough.
Considering all the physical fitness activities that are going on out there, there is very little importance given to the holistic development of an individual. Emphasis is paid to the external ‘chiselled, muscly look’ while minimal attention is paid to the mental and psychological development of the individual. In today’s fast-paced world, being ‘visibly’ more productive is far more important than being effective in the long run. Rest, recovery, sleep, relationships with friends and family are not given their due space in an individual’s life. We tend to live in isolated worlds where we play the zero-sum game; your loss is my gain and vice versa. Training for competitiveness is unfortunately given far more importance than training for competency. Have we lost out the joy in the process? Have we missed out on the journey towards the goal? Is it no wonder that athletes are burnt out rather than being refreshed and happy after a training session or season?
Athletic trainers can help with burnout in athletes through an awareness of the signs and symptoms, and in communication with coaches and strength staff to monitor the athletes for overtraining, which is a large contributor of burnout. Very often ignoring our bodies because we want to push for more can lead to overtraining and burn out.
The ‘masters of the sport’ have understood it to be more than just a physical pursuit. It is indeed a path to self-mastery, requiring growth on all levels, be it physical, mental, emotional, psychological and spiritual. The ego is expected to be controlled at all times and listening to the body is paramount for longevity, progress and preventing injuries.
Tempering the mind and learning to control the emotions are crucial to mastering discipline and baby steps taken in this direction are good enough for small improvements that will compound to massive success over time. Don’t despise the day of small beginnings.
“Make discipline your lifestyle. Discipline is not a one-time event. Self-discipline is like building your muscle. It’s like going to the gym. You cannot go to the gym today and build your muscles. You should get a programme and go slowly by slowly. That’s the way to build your muscle and that’s the way you can have discipline.” The above is quoted by marathoner, Eluid Kipchoge. In no place has he said that we are to hurry to get bigger, faster or stronger.
Simplicity, humility, patience, perseverance, integrity are valued traits in such societies where sport is a valued and esteemed profession. They truly understand it is a process of self-mastery and requires a lifetime of work. They also appreciate the blood, tears and sweat it takes to get to the elite level. It is a conscientiousness based process!
Training should be customised based on the athlete’s adaptation, rather than mere rote ‘push and grind’ generalised principle for all. When we understand that athletes are not mere robots we will be better able to derive the best performance from them through meaningful conversations with the athlete, and seeking holistic development from them. Consistent daily progress and seeking productive feedback should be the focus of every athlete. There should be room to grow!
It’s time for a change in the way we look at coaching in sport. Rather than just being an authoritarian discipline with the day-in and day-out grind, let it be a meaningful understanding between the coach and (the already driven and coachable) athlete. Being mindful of the present moment and drawing our attention to our bodies brings its own lessons for the day and that in itself is success. Compound on that daily success for the next 10 to 15 years and you will have achieved the likes of the world-class. As Lionel Messi once said, “I start early and I stay late, day after day, year after year. It took me 17 years and 114 days to become an overnight success.”
(The writer is an ISSA-certified strength and conditioning specialist, nutrition coach and corrective therapist)