What is Your Distraction of Choice?Nov 27, 2023
The series of posts continues with the third common theme from 160 practitioners in high-performance sport. It's the challenging topic of being emotionally unskilled that is insidious, and yet deeply destructive.
A lead strength & conditioning coach told me:
"I don't know because I’m not a specialist but I’d certainly say in hindsight I was displaying all the signs of burnout and depression. I wasn't able to see it though. There were some days where I just didn't want to get out of bed. And that's a classic sign of depression. I also started to rely more heavily on alcohol to switch off and to help me sleep and stuff like that. And it was just, you could just see, and of course I lived on my own. No one could point it out."
Understanding Emotionally Unskilled
This does not mean anyone is stupid or doing something wrong. And this certainly goes far beyond just the boundaries of performance sport.
Many practitioners I've spoken to find it hard to be alone with their thoughts, and they have become masters at unconsciously numbing themselves instead.
Do any of these resonate with you:
- Regularly work when you get home at night
- Over-train under the disguise of "performance" training
- Regularly drink alcohol after work to take "edge" off the day
- Binge-watch Netflix night after night without connecting with your partner
- Spend hours on dating apps
- Go on multiple dates for one-night stands
- Use any type of substance to "get away" from discomfort
(NB: When done in an intentional and supported way, I believe certain substances can be used as a deep inquiry into understanding ourselves as part of our healing journey. The research in this space is fascinating. Check out the latest research here)
I used most of the above to numb myself at times in my past.
These traits of distraction are down to an inability to feel or express what is actually going on inside.
This is most often down to many coaches not feeling safe to express their concerns for fear of the perception of others e.g. sign of weakness, incompetence, repressed male traits in our Western culture with a classic one being "suck it up."
A further quote from a head of sport science:
“From the outside looking in I'm very successful at my job. But I don't have any hobbies or areas of interest away from watching my athletes play. I don't have anything outside of my work that inspires me, it's hard because when I finish work I think what do I do when I get home... if I don't work I think too much and then I get lonely.”
Our personal sides are rarely discussed within our professional roles in elite sport. But whether we like it or not, they sit just below the surface and inform our every thought, feeling & action.
A final quote from a high-performance manager:
"I am very successful in my career and financially but I don't feel the happiness I expected, I have complained a great deal about my working conditions but have come to the realisation that maybe my problems are not my work - but within myself."
For me, this caused significant problems in my personal and professional life until I turned my attention to self-growth.
What is Self-Growth to You?
- Have you ever thought about your own self-growth away from technical skills?
This recent paper highlights the need for self-growth to optimise high-performance environments.
I know the self-growth process now as the "Practitioner Needs Analysis."
You have most likely done many variations of this with the athletes and sports you've worked with over the years.
- Have you ever turned this process in on yourself?
Doing so allows you to identify what qualities are most important for you to show up in your role, career and life in your fullest expression.
It also provides an inner analysis that highlights the components of your life, giving you clarity on what is blocking you, how it's blocking you and what you need to do to release those blocks.
This helps you to tailor your goals and actions away from potential burnout, divorce or illness, and instead towards one where you thrive as a practitioner and in your home life.
Click here to read a detailed overview of the Practitioner Needs Analysis.