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I’m not very good at looking back on a year, but I am good at looking forward.  In fact, what I teach my athletes to do is to look back only long enough to learn the lesson and then quickly look forward.  Dream.  Create.  Do.  You can’t control what has happened in the past, you can only control your reaction to what has already happened and adjust accordingly.

To use a boat analogy…you can’t control your wake…but you can control the positioning of your sails.

So without further ado…let’s look forward to 2021 with a sampling of principles to navigate through whatever may happen during these (still) uncertain times.

Understand The Value of Stress

Uncertainty can cause a tremendous amount of stress.  And while stress can be good in specific, targeted doses it can also create a cascade of biochemical triggers that can turn on the worst possible reactions in the body.

The Covid pandemic has caused an incredible amount of uncertainty for all of my athletes AND their families. I can’t say that ANY of my athletes are untouched in some way from what is going on with Covid.

So while many people will put on a brave face and say, “We’re good!” in reality, no one is.  

And that’s ok.

I’m the first to tell people that it’s perfectly OK to be…OK.  But it’s also important to understand that every day that you wake up you are at a higher base level of stress than you’ve ever been with before.

What was normal is no longer normal.  EVERYTHING has been affected, and that includes…you.

And if you’re the parent reading this…that includes YOU too.

I look at the parents of our athletes as I would look at a caregiver to someone in the hospital or a nursing home.  You MUST take care of the caregiver as well as the patient.  (The patient is the athlete in this case.)

So what do I mean by understanding the “value” of stress?  Well, stress is actually good for us.  The idea is to not avoid stress but to be able to develop the skills with which to manage it.

How we deal with stress is also incredibly individual.  What is stressful to you may not be stressful to your athlete, or Uncle Bob and Aunt Martha, and vice versa.  

It is critical to understand the stress YOU are under and to manage it accordingly.  Self-care is critical, and managing the emotions you may be harboring inside is critical to avoid burnout or to trigger any other debilitating diseases.

A book I recommend for all of my families to read is, “When the Body Says No” by Dr. Gabor Mate.  In it, Dr. Mate describes how stress is the trigger for any number of maladies.  Many of my athletes feel that they can’t express how they are feeling because “well, everyone is going through this.”  Many of my moms who are trying to “stay strong” and always “be there” for their athletes are exhausted inside.  And there are fathers who, inside, are raging for any number of reasons. 

From the athlete to the parents, it’s a stress-cocktail waiting to break down.

I don’t want that for you, obviously.

Be mindful of the stress you are feeling and find an acceptable outlet with which to vent.  Stress is good, to a point, but when the pressure cooker experiences too much pressure, we are waiting for an explosion and that’s not good for anyone.

And be mindful that, right now, we are experiencing a baseline level of stress that very few of us have ever managed in our lifetimes.

(Another book to read BTW is “The Body Keeps The Score, by Bessel Van der Kolk” to learn more about how stress and trauma affect us individually.)

Re-Evaluate Your Goals (If Necessary)

This may seem strange coming from someone who works with aspiring athletes and their families.  The sport culture tends to glamorize sacrificing everything (including one’s health) in order to reach your goal.  You may have heard the term, “burn the boats” as a visual to having no way to turn back on your dreams.

That’s all well and good if you are trying to overtake a country and dealing with mutinous men…but for our athletes who have a long life to live…well…

If all of this seems like it has become too much…it’s ok to reevaluate.

This year, we had professional athletes opt-out of their season because the idea of dealing with Covid seemed…too much.

Boston College football made a Bowl Game at the end of a weird season (which is a big deal!) and the athletes said, “Nah, we don’t want to go. We’d rather be with our families over Christmas and New Years” And their coach agreed.

It’s perfectly normal for you to want to reassess things when the environment changes.  It’s ok to say, “My values are the same but the environment has changed and this doesn’t feel right anymore.”

That is a VERY personal decision and one that only you can come to.  Just know that I can support that decision, either way.

Be Ready For Anything

Much of the stress people are feeling right now is being caused by their comparison to how things USED to be.  Well, safe to say…things have changed.

It’s like moving the goalposts or moving a finish line further away.  Just when you thought you knew where you were headed…things changed.

That is why I teach all of my athletes to be flexible in their thinking AND in their approach. There is a tremendous opportunity for athletes and families who can adopt a flexible mindset. 

If all you’re doing is bitching about how it used to be…well…you’re going to miss out.

The athletes who adopt a flexible approach to training and competing will not just survive…but thrive as their competitors stay stuck.

It’s one thing to have a steady-state of routine…but when that routine keeps you stuck, it’s not working for you anymore.  It’s time to change.

Being able to adapt is a fundamental quality of great athletes.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a change of venue or a change in the weather.  Being ready-for-anything is a skill that can be learned and can help you succeed when others are going to fail.

Take a moment to think about how your thinking may be holding you back now that the environment has changed.  

What do you need to let go of?

Double Down On Your Goals

This may seem contradictory to my “Re-Evaluate Your Goals” section above, so let me explain.

One of my athletes who is part of our Athlete Breakthrough Blueprint program was really looking forward to competing in the Summer Olympics in Tokyo…in 2020.  That’s when it was supposed to happen.

For her, life was ready to begin after she competed and fulfilled that dream. She had it all planned out. Compete.  Have a result.  Retire from sport and finish her degree.  Get married.  Have kids.  Career.  Etc.

She had it all planned out.

And then Covid hit.

A problem I see with many athletes is that they already have one foot out the door.  They are waiting to compete and for it to be over so they can “get on with things”.  But this is no way to be really successful at what you’re doing…now.

If you’re “in” be “all in.”

If you’re “out” be “all-out”.

After a few weeks of coaching calls, we were able to help this athlete double down on her athletic goals.  Life will come after the Games no matter what happens. (At the time of this writing we are still hopeful the Games WILL happen).

My advice to my athletes and their families is that life is short.  If you follow the works of people like Peter Diamandis you’ll know that our athletes today, with the help of modern medicine, will live to be 100+ years old.  This time in sport is VERY short when you look at it over an ENTIRE lifetime.

Covid has caused some interesting changes in sport.  Some athletes have already decided that this is all too much.  The risk of traveling and getting sick is too much for them so they are retiring.  Others, because of the uncertainty are on the fence which isn’t a great place to be when it comes to reaching an athletic goal.

For you, by doubling down on it all and saying, “I’m going to GO FOR THIS!” you will reap the benefits of having competitors who are a little uncertain and others who are quitting.  No better way to move up the food chain than by having some of your predators leave.

Give some thought to your goals and really go for it.  You may be surprised at the results you have once the clarity comes.

Get Clear On What You Really Need To Work On

For many athletes, Covid has been a blessing OR it has been a big distraction.

Not knowing if the season is going to start, or will happen, or will get cut short, or finishes altogether has caused indecision and confusion.  And as the saying goes:

A confused mind says no.

Depending on your sport, and what you need to improve on, my suggestion is to make a plan and stick to it. 

Let’s say you’ve got three months until your season MAY start.  You have to ask, “What is going to give me the biggest bang-for-the-buck return between now and then?”

For some athletes that means focusing in the gym.  For others, it may mean focusing on new equipment or the development of some mental skills.

The worst place to be is trying to do too much in too little time. 

Sure, there is always a rhythm to training that every athlete will continue to work on.  But there is also ONE thing if they focus, that can make a massive improvement.

Ask yourself…what is that ONE thing?

There Is a Huge Opportunity For The Athletes Who Stick With It

Some athletes are quitting their sport altogether.  Others are distracted by uncertainty.

This leaves a massive opportunity for the athletes who stay focused and go for it.  I can’t say this enough.

Only time will tell how this episode in our collective history will affect the development of athletes.

But I can guarantee you this…for those athletes who can stay zoned in on their goals…tremendous opportunity awaits.

Being able to stay focused in times of uncertainty will be a skill you can carry with you for the rest of your life.  Learning how to thrive, and not just survive, is an incredible ability to adopt. 

Stay focused.  Double down.  Manage stress.  And just…go for it.

I think you’ll be glad you did.

Olympian Jonathan Edwards

Olympian Jonathan Edwards

Founder - The Athlete Breakthrough Blueprint

Olympian Jonathan Edwards is the Creator of "The Athlete Breakthrough Blueprint": The world's only mental performance training program for aspiring athletes with big dreams.  Over nineteen years he has worked with athletes who have gone on to or competed in NCAA D1, D2, D3, MCLA D1 and D2, the Olympics, NHL, MLL, NLL, NFL, and others.  Feel free to link to this article from your blog and share it with an athlete, parent, or coach who would benefit from these concepts.

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