If you want to be an Olympic athlete, professional rugby player or Protea cricket player, your yearly, monthly, weekly and daily plans will be set without you having to think much about them. Goals determine the structure of every athlete’s life because in order to reach the goal, there are very specific things that need to be done. I knew if I wanted to swim a particular time or qualify for a major event that I needed to train 9 times a week in the pool and fit in 4 gym sessions (at a minimum). I knew when the galas were, and what I needed to do to prepare for each of these. Life, in that sense, was relatively simple – it was completely mapped out for me. And I loved it (athletes generally thrive under some form of structure).
The issue comes when that structure is lost.
For most athletes, the loss of structure happens when they transition out of sport. In fact, this is probably one of the most difficult aspects of retirement for many – as NHL player Sean Avery says, ‘The most jarring thing about the real world is the lack of structure’.
The time we are in now mimics this transition. Sent home to ‘train’ by themselves – with no definite idea of exactly when they will be able to get back to full training and competing – athletes no longer have an inherent structure to their day. There may be an initial sense of freedom from the very ridged demands of training (I have spoken to a few athletes who are enjoying the time at home because they can now do things they usually don’t have the time or energy to do), but this loss of structure becomes disorientating very quickly and feelings of aimlessness can creep in. Having woken up each day for years with a clear plan, leading to an ultimate goal, waking up to no clear vision is frustrating at best, and at worst can create huge anxiety.
In a letter to his younger self in the book Waking from the Dream, Bafana Bafana legend Phil ‘Chippa’ Masigna wrote:
For 16 years (half your life!) soccer will dominate everything you do; and now, overnight, it’s gone. Your days have always been scheduled for you, with your time and energy revolving around practice, games, media appearances, sponsor commitments, or just hanging out with your team-mates. Waking up outside of that structure is going to be a big challenge. You now have to decide for yourself what to do every day, and what sounds so simple in theory, is so much more difficult in real life, because in the end, all you really want to do is play soccer. Losing the game will create a void in your heart, which will be difficult to fill.
Although you may not have fully lost you sport, the message still applies, and is a crucial one: during this incredibly uncertain time, set some daily and weekly goals and let them guide you in creating a routine and structure to each day.