• Jessica Circe

BEING an Athlete

Playing a sport involves a lot of doing things. Kicking a ball, shooting a basket, jumping a fence, the list is never ending of things athletes do. And when you do it for a living or at elite level, the doing can feel like who you are. We even have titles for it. Footballer, hooper, equestrian, etc. Thus, the doing becomes who you are.

Now any athlete identity coach will tell you, athletes are more than the sport they play, and that’s important. It’s essential that athletes realise they are more than the sport they play, the things they do, the awards they achieve, for many reasons. We are human beings, not human doings after all, so why do we focus so much on what we do instead of who we are… or more importantly, who we are being?

I personally believe it’s because the doing space is a place of action or movement. It’s a space where things happen, and it’s a space where we observe things happen, in ourselves and in others. The doing is measurable (the all important M in SMART goals) with a starting point and ending point. In sport, the doing determines who wins and who loses, who is performing and who isn’t, who is improving and who isn’t. This is why we focus on the doing… we can quantify it. But really, we should be focusing on the being.

Because make no mistake, who we are being has a massive impact on what we are doing, especially as athletes. And you’ve experienced it, whether you realised it or not. You know when you’re “on fire”, “in flow”, “on form” or whatever term you want to use. And you know when you are a slump. Those are elements of “being”, but dare I say they are the ones we have the least influence on. However, there are many aspects of being that we can influence, and we can choose as and when we need them.

Now that might sound like an impossible statement… choosing who you are being… but it’s true. Most of the time, however, we don’t choose. We react with habitual behaviours. And mostly that’s a good thing, but when is it not? When the habitual behaviours transition us into states of being that are counterproductive to our performance. Remember last month when I described myself before going into the ring, that feeling of stress and pressure that affected not only me, but also my horse, and of course our performance? I wasn’t choosing to be stressed and pressured. That was a habitual behaviour I learned over time as a response to showing. We won’t get into the why or how I developed that behaviour (maybe next month), but this is a prime example of a habitual behaviour response having an impact that is counter productive to performance.

If I could go back in time, I would choose to be calm, confident, joyously relaxed, so I didn’t take the competition too seriously. It’s not like I was performing brain surgery or operating a nuclear power plant. I didn’t have anything to be stressed or pressured about (and neither to brain surgeons or nuclear power plant operators, but that’s beside the point), and more importantly, being that way was not helping my performance. My state of being had a massive impact on what I was doing. And you, athlete, are not different.

How many of you get nervous taking a penalty? Or shooting 2 when the game is on the line? Or, like me, get nervous at the in-gate? What if I told you, you could choose differently? Because you can, and with time and practice you will change the habitual nervous behaviour to one that is more supportive of both your performance and other aspects of your like, like your mental health and well-being. And that’s what we will talk this month about. Being an athlete.

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