The thoughts & concepts behind this blog have been pretty challenging for me to develop and put in a format that is not just me rambling about old experiences. Instead, I actually wanted to provide some helpful takeaways and guidance so I’m going to share my experiences with the shift from being a full-time athlete, to coaching, to balancing my personal life between them. The problem is that all three of these are an individual self concept and in the past I used to struggle to keep myself balanced so that I felt competent in each identity. After traveling the past two weekends to coach athletes in the Central Regional and to compete with my Team at the Atlantic Regional, it finally started to come together in a way that I felt it would be helpful for those in a similar situation.
The past few weeks have been a “test” of the disciplines I’ve put in place to help keep myself on track to and to remain present as a husband, coach, and an athlete. Especially the week before our competition as I had an athlete compete individually, clients to manage, project deadlines to meet, needed to keep healthy and fit for my team, and my wife was turning 30 that weekend. Wearing all three of the hats simultaneously is not something that I would have been able to handle a few years back. I’m still learning better ways to keep them balanced so I know that I’m growing my relationship with my wife, improving as a coach, and maintaining a competitive level of fitness. This can be a challenge because they are all a very big part of who I am and I used to struggle with sharing my time between them.
Below are some concepts that I have learned over the past few years that helped me discover why each piece is an important part of my life and how to maintain some balance so that they work concurrently with each other and help me continue to make progress, not just maintain.
1. Adjust, don’t quit.
“You can’t be a coach and an athlete at the same time.” I battled with this concept for quite a while. This idea is often preached that it has to be one or the other. That being proficient in one erodes quality in the other. I used to believe that I could not be a great coach and a great athlete at the same time. So for a while, I gave up competing and didn’t take my training as seriously. I would rely on the excuse of “well, I’m coaching now, so it’s ok to not train as hard.” The problem was, I didn’t understand how important competition and goal oriented training was to me.
Let me take you a few years back to 2012. Back then, 24 year old Mike McGoldrick had very few responsibilities. I was single, didn’t own a home, and had a secure job with limited & flexible work hours. My schedule was setup perfectly for full time training.
Back then being an athlete seemed simple. You know who you are, what your purpose is, and where you are heading. You put a lot of time and effort into forming this identity. Which is why at the end of a long quest, it can be a really tough experience if you’re not prepared for what’s next. Especially if circumstances change and you’re unable to give the same amount of time and attention to your training.
At some point, you’ll have to face up to the time that wasn’t spent developing yourself in other areas beyond your fitness. “I just want to train hard and WIN” is an awesome attitude to have for an athlete, but this sport is not very forgiving if you’re not winning at the highest level. If your idea of success includes money, then you must be good enough to compete at the highest level at the Crossfit Games. Being an athlete should not be an excuse to avoid putting time and thought into developing yourself in other areas of your life, because circumstances can change in an instant. If you don’t know who you are beyond the title “athlete”, it’s a tough process to go through if you’re at the end of a quest or if you’re unable to compete.
Fast forward a few years and I’m now married, own a business, and am coaching athletes for a living. For a brief stint, I thought the competitive athlete side of me was gone. I tried new sports and formed new goals, but was left unfulfilled because I knew I couldn’t put the same amount of time and energy into it as I had in the past. Life had changed and I didn’t want to accept it. So my instinct was to just turn it off. I thought my time competing was over. But that mindset left me unfulfilled.
What I didn’t realize is that being an athlete is a part of who I am. I can’t just turn it off and set it aside. This might mean that I will never be the greatest coach in the world because it doesn’t get 100% of my time, but I have recognized that and accepted it. At least for where I am right now. I have also learned how to let them work in unison with each other instead of against each other. For example, having limited time in my schedule for training has created a pressure that when it’s “gym time”, it has forced me to make sure I hit my sessions with focus and intensity. On the other side of it, learning to use my body as an experiment and continuing to share my training experiences has proven helpful in my understanding of program design. I think it’s important to continue to feel what your athletes are going through, especially if you're coaching in a “pain sport.” It’s easy to lose touch with that. If you’re prescribing brutal conditioning pieces, I think you need to understand what your athletes are experiencing.
So the message here is, do you have to give up being an athlete?
If you find yourself at a crossroad on whether or not you should stop competing, just keep in mind that “hanging it up” isn’t always the most fulfilling path if that is a huge part of who you are. It’s better to adapt and balance it based on your current passions and responsibilities. Life changes, so change with it.
2. Creating a Self Concept.
I mentioned above at some point you have to face the time that wasn’t spent developing yourself outside of being an athlete. This is important because if you reach the end of a training journey or are no longer able to compete because of circumstances beyond your control, it’s really difficult to know what to do next. Especially if you have no idea who you are outside of being an athlete.
It reminds me of the stories of astronauts falling into depression after returning home from a space mission. There’s no vision or quest to follow next. They are left as a “Man without a mission”. But, there are also stories of those who continued on to new ventures and found new ways to feel successful.
A few years back, I had reached what I viewed was the pinnacle of my athletic career. Once accomplished, I had no clear direction of what was next. So I pushed on, aiming for the same goal again. When I failed to reach this goal, I had to step back, as cheesy as is sounds, and do some soul searching.
The first step in building an identity outside of being an athlete is to draw a clear image of who you want to be. Follow that up with an idea of how much of your life you want to dedicate to that self concept. In my case, it’s a balance between being a husband, coaching, and training.
Creating a very clear self image is important because your actions are a reflection of this image. In my office at home, I have a large white board on the wall that has each piece of who I am blown out with characteristics, qualities, weaknesses, and disciplines. I revisit these daily to keep that image fresh in my mind. It helps me remain disciplined so that I feel like I’m making progress in each category.
If I want to be a great coach, then I need to create an image in my head of the qualities that a great coach might have. If I want to be a great husband, then I need to have a really clear image of what that looks like. When building this new identity, ask yourself “What features and qualities would I have? What actions and disciplines do I need to fulfill this image?” The actions that follow will be a reflection of that self image.
Once you’ve decided which of these areas of your life are most important, it will give you a clear idea of where your time needs to be spent. Then you can figure out what you can actually provide for each piece of this new self concept.
3. Finding Balance.
Straight up, I CANNOT maintain balance in my life without discipline.
Discipline helps me make the right decisions that keep my actions in line with who I want to be. On the board on my wall, I have a list of the qualities that I see in a great coach. Next to it is a list of disciplines that I feel are necessary to help me achieve those qualities. On the contrary, I have a list of weaknesses followed up with disciplines that I feel will help me avoid falling into those habits.
Trying to maintain balance between coaching, training, & personal life is not easy. Discipline has helped me learn to transition from one to the next without them carrying over into one another. I think blending them together will leave them watered down. If you bring your coaching self image into a high intensity training session, you’re going to have self doubt, question how you feel, and impede your performance. This passed weekend presented me with a great example of that.
After event 3 I suffered a tear in my teres major. I thought I might to do further damage and was unsure if I should continue. The coaching side of me was extremely hesitant because all I could think of were reasons why I should not go forward and push the risk of doing severe damage. I started to think about the time it would take if I had to go and see doctors, get surgeries, spend money on MRI’s, etc. I started to doubt whether or not I should even be doing this when I’m committed to a craft of helping people make better decisions about their health and here I am being a hypocrite sacrificing my body. The thoughts went back and forth, until I asked my coach Max what I should do. He made the decision simple with an outside perspective of two choices.
Withdrawal or Commit.
I could withdrawal to not put my self at further risk. It would suck to have to explain it to my team, but I’m sure they would understand. I wouldn’t want anyone else to put themselves at risk either.
Or commit and don’t look back.
The decision was easy and I chose to take the risk. It’s been a while since I was in a position to challenge myself on that platform and I didn’t know when it might come around again. I had to switch off the analytical brain. If I carried that doubt out on the floor with me, I would get eaten alive.
On the other side of it, if you carry over too much of the athlete into your coaching, it can lower the quality of your service to your clients. You need to be selfless, give them your time, listen, understand, and be present. If you carry either of these into your home life, it can start to deteriorate your relationships. If you come home wearing the coaches hat, and are trying to cue your wife on how to fix a problem she might be dealing with, you’ll probably end up in the dog house. Just shut up and listen.
You have to practice the ability transition from one to another. I know some coaches who are really good at “turning it off” when needed. It’s very clear when they are in athlete mode or coaching mode. It takes practice and it’s a skill. Discipline will help you with developing that skill. Learn to be disciplined with your time, with your thoughts, and with your actions.
I hope these concepts and my experiences help give you some guidance if you are a coach or an athlete in a similar situation. Giving up a piece of who you are isn’t always the answer. Recognizing how your life has changed and balancing that with what feels most important is almost certain to yield the results and balance that you desire. If not, you might be chasing something that you aren’t truly passionate about or you just don’t have the capacity to handle it in your life at that moment. Either way be honest with yourself so that you don’t draw quality from the other areas of life that are important to you. Make sure you paint a really clear picture of who you want to be, then use discipline as a way to make sure your actions reflect those images.
It took some time to settle in, but I finally enjoy sharing the time between myself as an athlete, a coach, and a husband. And I feel I am able to fully enjoy them more than ever.
Thanks for reading.