If you think athlete development isn't about performance you're an idiot.


Regularly I hear stories about ‘old school’ sports executives who can’t fathom their athletes participating or being involved in anything that isn’t directly related to or tied to their respective sport.   These old school sport executives espouse the viewpoint that an athlete who isn’t 100% focused on their sport, 100% of the time simply isn’t fully committed to being an elite athlete.

That could be described as ‘old school’, but it is in fact old and dumb.

It is the sport equivalent of modern day individuals actively advocating that the world is in fact flat and that there is around earth ‘conspiracy’.  Round earth conspiracy theorists are advocating a world view that is roughly 500 years old.  These old school sport executives aren’t reaching back that deep into the stupid pile, but they’ve got their arm in pretty deep. 

Research from a variety of venues continues to demonstrate that elite athletes who are engaged in activities outside of their primary sport domain report decreased stress and increased performance.  In a 2010 research article by authors Price, Morrison and Arnold they noted;

Many athletes stated that outside pursuits provided them with a sense of balance. Previous research (Cresswell & Eklund, 2006; McKenzie et al., 2003) suggests balance in life is integral for athletes to remain fresh, motivated and prevent burnout.

They concluded that;

This research and previous studies suggest that athletes gain maximum benefits from their physical training when all other areas of their life are healthy. Therefore, it is important that both sporting organisations and coaches support the development of athletes as a whole person and encourage engagement in non-sporting pursuits in order to enhance an athlete’s sense of life balance and wellbeing.

It’s simple.  Allowing (if not outright encouraging) athletes to engage in activities beyond sport is critical for their well being, now and in the future.  It is also arguably, the right thing to do.  It is idiotic, on a level beyond comprehension, to fail to grasp the performance implications facing athletes who focus solely on sport and exclude everything else. Consistency of play is compromised.  The chances of burnout are increased. Burnout increases the chance of injury.  Stress and anxiety related to performance increase.  And the list goes on.

Don’t be dumber.

The culture of sport has made it difficult to get elite and professional athletes to understand that participating in activities outside of sport is actually going to help their sports careers, not hurt them.   However, it is completely unacceptable that coaches, general mangers and other sport organization leaders are ignorant to the individual benefits that can accrue to the athlete who proactively manages their life beyond athletics.  Beyond unacceptable and bordering on incompetence, if not malpractice, are sport leaders who remain oblivious to the performance dividends they consistently leave on the table by not engaging and supporting their athletes interests beyond the game.  If you want to win more and optimize your athletes for performance, engage them on and off the playing surface.

Are you a coach, athletic director or sports organization leader? I’d urge you to take a step back and wonder, ‘what am I doing to help my athletes when they aren’t in my building the other 20 odd hours or so in a day?  If you don’t know or the answer is ‘nothing’…, take a minute to absorb the subtitle of this blog.

Game Change was founded in 2011 to serve and enhance the athlete development needs of major professional and elite sport organizations and athletes.  Game Change specializes in customized research and assessment services, the development of applied interventions and resources designed to provide long-term positive outcomes for organizations and individual athletes.  Game Change believes strongly in sport as a catalyst for societal change and adheres to the philosophy of ‘changing the world one athlete at a time’.
Duncan Fletcher