It’s that time of year again, where we have enjoyed the silly season and are looking forward to spending time with family and friends, eating our body weight in food on Christmas Day and inevitably enjoy viewing some form of sports, no matter where you are in the world.
But what about athletes, who year-in-year-out play and compete when the rest of us are sitting back and relaxing?
Often, they sacrifice their time over the traditional periods of the year that are usually spent with those closest to us, travelling across the country and the world to participate in their chosen craft.
For many athletes when they retire, one of the top lifestyle considerations for their post-athletic career is having free weekends, which of course carries across to holiday periods. Professional sports people though aren’t the only people whose profession requires sacrificing their time to work when the rest of us play.
In my previous life as a currency trader, outside of weekends, the only two days throughout the year where the markets were closed, were Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Every other weekday throughout the year required some form of presence on the desk.
Not for a second am I saying that currency traders get it as tough as other industries, but it is certainly a consideration, with early starts, often before 7am, and a number of traditional holidays requiring attendance at work throughout the year.
Doctors and nurses, providing an incredible service to the greater community, have to juggle extremely difficult schedules, with weekends, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day not excluded from that. Those in the industries servicing the public, such as public transport operators, hospitality and leisure workers, lifeguards, the list goes on, all sacrifice their time when the majority of us have work as the furthest thing from our minds. All certainly not receiving the same financial compensation as those in the English Premier League who also have to play on New Year’s Day!
I haven’t even mentioned the military, which takes sacrifice to a whole new level during these periods, if away on deployment.
Whilst they may need to work over holiday periods, there are still many benefits to those professional athletes competing at this time. They usually get rewarded handsomely for doing so and are doing something that they love (the same could probably be said for currency traders as they are typically in a more highly-paid industry).
However, it highlights attributes that can be applied to their life after sport, showing discipline and commitment. It shows that whilst athletes may appear to have an enviable lifestyle, there are perhaps elements of their lives that have to suffer, and that often these can be taken for granted by the general population.
The commitment to compete over the holiday period often involves significant travel, sometimes to the other side of the world, as will be experienced by the England cricket team being in Australia for the Ashes next Summer. This leads to extensive time away from family and loved ones, at a time when we want them closest, when the importance of family is being explicitly expressed.
In turn, this can lead to relationships being placed under stress and associated anxiety, just as being a doctor or nurse working shifts can place extreme pressure on relationships. It takes a level of understanding from partners and family members, as well as sacrifice of their own, but is something that must be approached and acknowledged from both sides of the relationship.
It raises an interesting point for athletes when their time comes for them to retire and to transition into a career after sport. As previously alluded to, many athletes will seek to regain many lifestyle aspects that were not possible in professional sport.
Through our work at The Final Whistle, we see many athletes expressing their desire for lifestyle considerations in their new career, such as free weekends and regular working hours. On top of this, spending more time with family and those closest to them is mentioned regularly.
From this, it is therefore really worth considering one’s career options and understanding what they involve before perusing them. It’s not to say the athlete won’t be flexible and their desires are rigid and uncompromising, but a greater understanding of career choices and what they entail will undoubtedly lead to better outcomes.
So if having free weekends is a top priority, perhaps going into the hospitality, cafe and restaurant industry is not the most ideal solution. However, if it is an area of passion and enjoyment, free weekends may not seem so important. It really is a balancing act.
Raise a glass
Whilst it undoubtedly is a sacrifice to be away from family and loved ones during the holidays – in not just sport but in any industry that requires it – it can help mould who that person is. It will also provide robust skills that will enhance their attributes of what they can offer as they progress or transition in their career, skills like resilience, commitment, discipline and performing under pressure.
So this Christmas, whilst I sit down on the couch to watch the start of the Boxing Day test, I’ll raise a glass to the families of those competing, to the doctors and nurses, those away on military service, and all those away from those they love for the pursuit of their career.