It’s no secret that the Venn diagram of sport and life has an overlapping middle section filled to the brim with values, lessons, and experiences. The complex relationship between performance on the field and wellness outside of athletic endeavors has been explored by athletes and professionals long before the days of NILs, Gold Gloves, and Super Bowl titles even existed.
And while there have been many leads, advancements, and discoveries, the outcome has been simple (or anything but): far too much information; too much for an athlete to comprehend and translate to results on the field. An all-compassing smorgasbord of theories, ideas, and principles spanning the spectrum with no concrete areas or clusters of commonality or growth. A cluttered mess.
Think of it like the hit baseball film Moneyball. Prior to 2002, the concept of analytics was thought to ‘be the future of baseball,’ yet the application of the data remained unorganized, data-dense, and frankly, sloppy.
That changed when Billy Beane and the 2002 Oakland Athletics used sabermetrics to winnow the mess of measurables down to a single number that accurately projected a player’s on-field success.
The puzzle pieces found their home, results were produced, and the smorgasbord of uncertainly became an eloquent five-course meal.
Through the creation of a strategic survey that reflected on data from over 900 athletes, Ayala and her team compiled five concrete categories that bridge Athletic Performance and Overall Wellbeing. With subjects ranging from high school athletes to Olympians and professionals, Ayala’s team consulted with industry leaders in mental health and performance and dug into the data to develop five characteristics that codify the complex relationship between athletic performance and everyday wellness.
“The one thing that’s really important that athletes need to know is that you can’t have sustainable performance without mental health,” Ayala said. “They go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other and that was the biggest reason for doing this.”
Success in sport is much more than just a box score, free throw, or game-winning goal; it’s a culmination of traits, lifestyle choices, and skills that create an environment where athletes can prepare for peak performance.
Not all of those skills take place on the court, field, or rink. Here’s a glimpse into the five clusters that act as the glue that seals success in both sport and life.
A common phrase tossed around in today’s society, the true measure of a growth mindset revolves around an athlete’s ability to set goals, limit negative self-talk, and demonstrate locked-in focus. Athletes with a strong growth mindset find ways to let mistakes go, practice self-compassion in competition, and limit outside distractions when the going gets tough.
Games are won in preparation, not on game day. Performance Mindset looks at psychological skills such as mental preparation for competition, goal-setting, and deliberate and intentional practice. Athletes of all levels are faced with internal and external pressure when competing and those with a strong performance mindset thrive in pressure situations thanks to laser focus and developed skills that help them perform freely.
It takes a village. Team Support measures an athlete’s relationship and sense of connection with teammates and coaches. Those who have a strong score in Team Support feel as if they have a voice on their team and that their worth as a human and not just an athlete is appreciated by teammates and coaches.
Wins and losses don’t define people. Character does. Team Support measures how valued an athlete feels in their environment, regardless of how they perform that day.
Early to bed, early to rise. An athlete’s routine off the field in everyday life correlates directly to reliable performances on the field. Physical Wellness measures things such as sleep habits, nutrition and hydration, and precautionary measures to avoid injury. Athletes who score high in Physical Wellness make sure to live a balanced lifestyle that includes rest to avoid burnout.
It’s awfully tough to compete well when you don’t feel well. Mental Wellness measures an athlete’s ability to speak openly about struggles, self-reflect, and utilize professional mental health resources. More and more athletes have begun to speak out about mental health, and utilizing skills and resources when help is needed has become a cornerstone message in today’s society for both athletes and non-athletes.
Why it Matters
Think of these five clusters as a recipe, a blueprint for success in sport and everyday life. Even if an athlete is thriving in three or four of the five clusters, that missing ingredient or two could cause the athlete to struggle, even in a category that they’ve scored high in.
All athletes have areas of growth in sport or life, regardless of level. A high school soccer player could have an incredible foundation in team support but may struggle with physical wellness. An Olympic swimmer may have physical wellness locked down but could have a dire struggle with team support.
At the end of the day, these five clusters provide a baseline for how athletes can strive for success in all corners of life. The recipe requires a solid foundation in all five clusters, not just one or two.
The good news? Each cluster provides a path of improvement for not only athletes but coaches and parents as well. Stay tuned in the coming weeks as we break down each of these categories, what it takes to improve, and how you can elevate your athletic performance while living a healthy, balanced lifestyle.
Check out the full study here!