‘The team’ of the individual athlete
If you play a team sport, you have more like-minded people around you. You have a common goal and you can support each other with successes but also during less good days. Your teammates are your mirror if you have not performed well enough, and will compliment you if you excel.
For the athlete who practices an individual sport, the world around him is a lot smaller. He probably meets the same people during competitions, but no matter how well the athletes get along, they remain competitors.
Now that does not have to be a disadvantage. Athletes who practice an individual sport are probably not fit to work in a team and often do not need it. And they are at their best when they can go their own way.
The cooperation between the individual athlete and the coach does get a different dimension because of this. There is no question that the coach is temporarily distracted by another team member, the attention is 100% on the individual athlete. And so there must be a ‘click’, a chemistry between athlete and coach, resulting in a bond of trust.
Of course the main task of the coach is to bring the athlete to the best sporting performance, but there is more to it. Performing at top level is not just a physical issue. The mental burden cannot and should not be underestimated. There is increasing attention in the media for athletes who fell into depression after having had a major competition, for example after an Olympic Games, or when the sporting career ended. The daily routine is gone, no longer need for discipline. No more tight times of getting up and going to sleep, no more strictly balanced feeding schedules and especially.... no more structure in the daily schedule. Nobody who still expects turn up on training times. These athletes hit rock bottom and they have trouble picking up "normal" life.
But even during the sport career, these dangers are lurking. The (adolescent) athlete has one ambition; become the best in his sport. And that requires sacrifices:
- While classmates order a hamburger menu at a fast-food restaurant, the athlete eats a self-brought lunch to make sure he is getting the right food;
- While the athlete turns in on time every evening, classmates watch television and discuss the programs they have seen the following day. The athlete can never talk about that;
- While friends go out at the weekend, drink alcohol and party late into the night, the athlete is on his way to a competition and worries whether he will arrive on time, still to have enough hours to sleep before competition day.
These are just a few examples from daily routine. And that’s only about the environmental factors. But the adolescent who wants to become a top athlete must stand strong to be able to face the misunderstanding about his lifestyle and to resist the temptations of his environment. It is simply not easy to explain to non-athletes that you are willing to do all this to achieve your goal. Or that you will not be persuaded to watch the late movie in the cinema one evening. And that requires character.
Being a top athlete is a profession. That is hard to understand for those who do not have to deal with it in their daily lives. Every minute of the day is dominated by the future/next competition. Ask any partner or family member of a top athlete about their experiences and they will tell you that you should leave the athlete alone during the month-long preparations for a big competition. The athlete has no time for futilities and you should not take that personally. The environment must adapt to the athlete and that is not always easy. But the athlete has other things on his mind.
Because apart from the tight sleeping-, eating- and sports regime, there are other factors not to be forgotten. You cannot have same motivation or strong presence all days of the week. There will be many days when there is doubt; I am good enough, will I ever succeed. Especially when you do not achieve the results that you have trained for the whole year and put everything aside for. During the competitions you only get limited opportunities. If you do not use it well, you can go home and you will have to start from the beginning with your preparations for the next competition.
At that time, the relationship between coach and athlete is just as important. The athlete must not only be confident that he can go to his coach with all his questions and doubts. The coach must be able to breathe life into the athlete's motivation and give him confidence to look ahead and start again with 100% dedication to the new training sessions.
The best proof of a good bond between coach and athlete is if the coach already signals these fears and doubts before the athlete can give them words. Because then a lot of frustration and misunderstanding can be prevented.
So in both mental and physical support, there is a team surrounding the individual athlete. It is called family and coach.