Looking back through my life I cannot think of a time when I was not playing sport. Over the years I have practised a variety of dance forms, been part of lacrosse and netball teams, competed in swimming and cross-country running competitions . Quite simply, sport has shaped and changed my life for the better.
School days introduced me to team sports, netball at primary school and then lacrosse at secondary school and university. These days taught me the importance of encouraging those around you, raising them to success raises you to success. Of course every single team member made mistakes at some point at crucial moments but despite being young we never blamed or cursed each other, we literally turned around and said “Never mind, we’ll get back on track.” In my work life now I take pains to encourage my team through the hard times and am the first to acknowledge a job well done. You can succeed on your own but when you need help you will have to turn to someone. When asked for examples of teamwork in cases such as job interviews I immediately point to my life in teams which began at a young age, proving this is a core part of my character. I have actually been offered a job with significant influence due to having played lacrosse and the company founder had also played at a high varsity level.
This is an obvious one, playing team sports introduces you to people. I was at single sex secondary boarding school and a study hermit, working well into the night and eschewing sociable TV time. However, I was always the first girl out for and last girl in from practise. Outside of a sports context I rarely spent time with my team members at school but on the pitch they knew I would do anything for them so in the classroom we had mutual respect. Lacrosse at uni did not truly become so significant until my fourth and final year. By this point most of my original friends had graduated and whilst my small group of course mates were perfectly likeable I was not inclined to spend vast amounts of time with them. It astounded me to hear my course mates saying they only went on a night out once, maybe twice a term. I went out every single Wednesday night at least for post-match socials. As study breaks during finals most people resorted to YouTube or 4oD, I went to training sessions and had dinner with the girls and boys squad. Being on a small course it was refreshing to meet such a mixed group of ages studying different courses. This in turn helped me develop communication skills with those from different backgrounds, valuable for personal and work life. Living in a city it is amazing, outside of work, how difficult it is to meet new people. By joining my local swim squad I have met a remarkable spectrum of ages with a similar passion.
Time management and discipline
If you play sport at amateur level possessing strong time management skills is a given. Even though during my degree I had thirteen hours of scheduled teaching time and piles of written work for assessment I did not miss a single practice or game. Being in one of the Northern BUCS (British Universities & Colleges Sport) Leagues meant we travelled to play games all over the north of England, even Scotland, so being efficient about getting my work done was essential. Now I have a full time job with unpredictable shifts I juggle this with triathlon training, sometimes squeezing in two sessions on one day. Yes I get up and go to bed some days at stupid o’clock but it also means I make the most of every minute given to me. I must be disciplined, there is no faffing around getting jobs or tasks done, I look for the most effective and efficient means to get my goal achieved. Companies and you should embrace this, you get more bang for your buck. There are moments when I would have liked to stay for an extra drink with friends or missed occasions entirely for training or competitions but it means I prioritise what means the most to me.
So often I am asked how I have the energy to do as much training as I do as well as managing work and having a social life, there are two answers. Firstly, you have to find a sport or exercise routine that fits your lifestyle. Secondly, and most importantly, you must find something you enjoy. If you love dancing, try Zumba or aerobics; if you enjoy being outdoors why not consider cycling; need someone to tell you what to do, have you tried the British Military Fitness classes? At secondary school I took myself swimming because there was a state of the art pool next door to my boarding house, at uni the lacrosse pitch was literally a five minute walk from my house, as was the uni gym, and I took up triathlons because I love being outside and needed something which I train for by myself without straight at the same piece of wall in the gym. Not only do I love being outside stretching my legs but I actually find training in the morning more invigorating than a cup of coffee, my mind has had time to digest what needs to be done that day, my blood is pumping and I already have oxygen flowing through my brain. In essence, the right amount of exercise actually gives you more energy.
You are not going to enjoy the heady view if you about to crash and burn down a cliff edge. Integral to maintaining energy and productive training is quality rest. Many athletes subscribe to the concept of “smash it, then crash it”, that is following a punishing regime until your body can take no more. However, my coach Fiona Ford has proven to me that quality rest and easy sessions are just as important to a training plan as pushing yourself though gruelling sessions. The variation means you look forward to your next sortie and avoid injury. Admittedly I still fail to take the number of hours of sleep I should but I do get more than I used to and when I am tired, instead of ploughing through fatigue I actually enjoy taking a nap or some quality time doing nothing. I also take pains to literally put my feet up when I am at home to aid the blood circulation in my legs. My body and soul is most definitely happier for this rest.
There is little point in training if you fail to properly fuel your most important piece of equipment, your body, both before and after your activity. After the first couple of months of endurance sport training my weight had dropped dramatically. Working erratic shift patterns and having a job where I am on my feet all day I was struggling to not only eat enough but also the right food. The wondrous internet helped me find the sports nutritionist Jo Scott-Dalgleish who created a flexible, realistic and tasty set of nutritional guidelines for me. Within a week of following Jo’s advice I was noticing the improved quality of my training and my physique too has changed for the better, one which supports and drives improved performance. I still enjoy my sweets and some “naughty” foods but these are part of a wholesome and adaptable eating plan.
I cannot remember where I heard it said but it is so true of triathlon, and I am sure of other amateur sports, but triathlon is not a hobby but a lifestyle.