Doing Double Duty: Being a Student & an Athlete
Whether you come alive on the court, on the field, or on the dance floor, physical activity is a huge part of your life. Being an athlete can be a confidence booster and provide the motivation to work toward being the best you can be. Striving to be the best can’t be a bad thing, can it? Self-improvement in and of itself isn’t a bad thing; it’s great to have a goal of being a better athlete or person than you were the day before! However, your mindset is everything.
How do you treat yourself on days when you didn’t perform like you wanted to? Are you stretched so thin with keeping your grades up and attending practice after school that you don’t have time to breathe, veg out, or watch a movie with your friends? Maybe you feel like you’re coming very close to a meltdown, just barely keeping your head above water. Or maybe you think you are doing a pretty good job of balancing everything on your plate. No matter where you are in terms of the balancing act, all student athletes must take a second to reflect on and improve their self care.
Limits, What Limits?
Part of becoming a better athlete is pushing your limits: doing things you didn’t think you could do. Regularly pushing yourself physically can absolutely make you a better athlete. But it’s just as beneficial to know your limits in order to keep yourself in that optimal best state. Additionally, it’s just as important to know your mental limits.
Everyone needs down time to relax and not think about that neverending to-do list. Some people can tell they are overworked and overwhelmed when they have a headache or their chest hurts, other people become physically exhausted, and some are more likely to catch a cold! You may not be at that point yet, and hopefully you never will be, but taking a look at your limits can help you prevent yourself from getting overloaded and burnt out. Here’s how to make sure you aren’t stretched beyond your limits.
Self Care for The Busy Athlete
- Make time for fun regularly (not involving your sport)
- Go to bed at the same time every night
- Give yourself a wind down period before bed where you don’t do homework
- Say no to things that don’t feel good to you (ex: “No, I’d rather stay home tonight. Thanks though!”)
- Be ok with stopping an activity if you’ve taken on too much
- Ask for help when you need it
When Is It Too Much?
This is a tricky question, and the answer is different for everyone. Just because people’s limits are different, doesn’t mean that one person is “better” than another. Some amount of stress and a sense of feeling overwhelmed are definitely normal for athletes. However, you will know for yourself when something doesn’t feel good and hasn’t for a long time. Many times, it simply means acknowledging that voice in the back of your mind that you keep trying to ignore. You should be enjoying your life NOW. Some people think: “keep your head down, just get through this,” but that robs you of the joy the present moment has to offer. Nothing is worth being miserable over. Here are some things to watch out for that may indicate that you have taken on too much.
You may need to make a change in your life if you….
- Are exhausted ALL THE TIME
- Are super critical of yourself when you make a mistake, on and off the field
- No longer enjoy the activities that used to make you happy
- Feel like a failure
- Compare yourself to those around you and it brings you down
- Are so overwhelmed you feel like you can’t start to work on anything
- Isolate yourself and don’t want to be around people
- Become mean towards your friends or family
- Find others avoiding you because of your ‘mood’
Does any of the above list sound familiar? If so, don’t panic! There are lots of things you can do to help yourself get back on track to enjoying all of the awesome things in your life. First, start by taking inventory. Are you in survival mode? Does everything feel overwhelming? Does something have to give? You might want to consider shifting your schedule or giving up an activity for a time to give yourself a breather. If it’s not to that point, but you know you need to change something, here are some tips to consider:
- Commit to getting 7-9 hours of sleep EACH night
- Remind yourself of the things you LIKE about yourself
- Change the way you talk to yourself
- Plan a veg out night with friends
- Take a look at how you are eating
If you don’t take care of yourself, it can negatively affect you both physically and emotionally. Therefore, if you want to be the best athlete you can be, taking care of your mental health is part of your training! Getting enough sleep each night not only helps you feel better, but also helps you focus. Sometimes as an athlete you can become so caught up in wanting to improve, you can lose sight of what you like about yourself RIGHT NOW. Consider making a list of those things on a sticky-note and placing them somewhere you’ll see them every day. A bathroom or vanity mirror is a good option.
Finally, change what you say to yourself about yourself. Negative self-talk can become so ingrained that it’s automatic. TRAIN yourself to flip what you’re saying. For example, changing “Wow, I really sucked today,” to “Yeah, I’m disappointed, but I know I’m good at basketball.” It may not seem like a big deal, but how you talk to yourself can have a huge influence on your mood and self-esteem. Work to be as nice to yourself as you are to your best friend. By the way. reach out to that best friend and invite them over for a Netflix binge and spend some planned downtime to decompress. Pick a day to sleep in. Also, make sure to look at the fuel you are feeding yourself. If you are living on fast food and caffeine, you are more likely to wear down and less likely to make progress physically or emotionally.
What if I have tried the above tips and I still feel overwhelmed?
Reach out to your coaches, parents, teachers, or school counselors for support. If you need someone outside of your normal system, professional counselors can help you balance your life, as well as work through underlying issues that may be keeping you stuck in a loop of exhaustion. They can help you to help yourself in the future.
Finally, here are some resources for stress management.
American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry: Stress Management & Teens
Angelus Compass Program: Counseling in Laurel Schools
- Ask your guidance counselor if your school has a school based counseling program. Many schools due and they are an excellent resource for counseling during the school day, which can at times be the ONLY time athletes are able to sneak in that self care during active seasons.
Carrie sees children, teens and adults in or Wallace Ave location. Having her own student athletes at home she is very aware of the stress that this can take on both the parent and student and works well in helping both learn how to manage differently.
Michelle has an extensive background in mindfulness, relaxation and self care strategies that can help any student learn how to develop healthy and positive outlets and a flexible and realistic expectation of themselves and their abilities.
Working at our Compass location, Lori sees kids K-12th grade within the Laurel School System. As a previous athlete and current coach she has extensive experience in helping student athletes find the balance they need.
Blog Credit: Natalie Drozda, MA, LPC is a PH.D student in Counseling Education and Supervision at Duquesne University and soon to be clinician at Angelus Therapeutic Services.