While I help a variety of people in my coaching practice, the group I am the most passionate about supporting is athletes. When I talk about my passion for this work, many people are instantly curious and wonder why athletes need extra help.
If you’ve ever known an athlete, I bet you can say that person seems pretty accomplished as you’ve seen them juggle a high degree of stress, physical challenge and the demands of an overloaded schedule all while trying to live a “normal” life.
All athletes have a similar experience if they’ve played their sport for at least 3-5 years: sport becomes their lifestyle, their social connection, their daily routine and their primary focus. In short, they eat, sleep, move and connect primarily only with sport.
One of the biggest myths is that athletes are “successful” people therefore they couldn’t possibly need help being better than they already are. They’ve accomplished so much by such a young age that we assume there is a direct connection between their current success and their ability to create and maintain future success.
However, there is one aspect of being an athlete that not only impedes an athlete’s ability to be successful in life, it puts them at a disadvantage. For what makes them especially successful in their field of sport can isolate them from the skills they need to function in any other arena. What I’m talking about is the downside of being a specialist.
The daily routine of any athlete’s life revolves around the rituals they’ve been taught to use in order to be successful in their specific sport. For example, the quarterback does not eat, train or live like the linemen. Because of the high degree of specificity with which athletes exist, they have minimal experience being independently in charge of their daily life.
They are trained specialists, not generalists—so figuring out how to apply their strengths and abilities to everything else can be challenging. Be it self-care, relationship building, social settings or a career; they rarely have to make a plan for themselves because their sport dictates what they need to be doing.
After years of specialty training for one role in sport, athletes too often are left feeling panicked, lost and depressed at the thought, “What do I do next?” While they are infinitely more worthy and capable than they recognize, there are few organized resources to help athletes translate success in sport to success in other arenas.
The Numbers Don’t Lie and Neither Do the Pro’s
When you prepare for life success based on one formula and one path, what happens when the path ends? Will you really know how to find your way? Will people understand what you’re going through? Or will they just see you as someone who used to be amazing?
In an interview with Tim Layden for Sports Illustrated, Michael Phelps described the dark moments he thought were the end of his career by sharing, “For a long time, I saw myself as the athlete that I was but not as a human being.”[i] Ian Thorpe, winner of five Olympic gold medals, describes being “really tough when I raced, but I couldn’t hold the rest of my life together.”[ii] These are just two examples of elite athletes who have struggled with depression and loss of identity. While their struggle culminates in adulthood, an athlete’s path to depression and loss of identity typically begins in childhood.
There are 45 million youth athletes in the U.S.—which means, “Seventy-five percent of American families with school-aged children have at least one child participating in organized sports.” By high school (age 15), there are over 11 million athletes in the U.S. Couple these numbers with the reality that just 0.2 percent of high school athletes (22,500 people) will attain an elite level within their sport, and we are leaving over 11 million young adults under age twenty wondering as Phelps did, “Now what am I supposed to do?”[iii]
Athletes are highly specialized and infinitely talented human beings with the shortest professional expiration date of any industry. They need as much life skills training to be successful in their lifetime as they do sports skills training to be successful in their sport.
This is the truth that Move Strong Mind® was born from. This athlete story is my story and I’ve spent the past 20 years climbing my way back from injuring out of my sport, battling depression and failing time and time again as part of my path to success. It was with the culmination of my MA in Transpersonal Psychology that I understood what my journey had prepared me for.
Virtually everyone, besides the athletes themselves, is blind to the path of pain and identity loss that athletes tread. The dramatic end to my athletic career, the growing list of athletes I met with the same experience and a deeply felt divine calling to empower athletes beyond sport motivated me to create Move Strong Mind® life skills performance coaching.
Athletes are infinitely more powerful when they can embrace both the beginning and the end of their time as an athlete. We owe it to the 45 million children who play sports in the United States and many millions more around the world, and the 11 million-plus young adults between the ages of fifteen and twenty. We owe it to every elite athlete we’ve ever bought a ticket to see, cheered for, bet on or been entertained by.
Elite, professional, amateur or in training, athletes dedicate their lives to being good at just one thing. They deserve to know how to expand their personal power and impact in the world beyond their sport. To that end, I am here with Move Strong Mind® to make sure athletes have an easy to use, organized process to inspire whole life success while they’re playing and long after they’re done.
[i] Layden, Tim. (2015, November 16). A New Man. Sports Illustrated, 54-63. [ii] Ian Thorpe quote regarding life skills https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2012/nov/12/ian-thorpe-swimming-depression [iii] Numbers of youth athletes in the U.S. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3871410/