Performance vs. Longevity: Improving Wellness Culture in Sports & Business
by Live Better
The topic of 'wellness' in sports seems obvious. We want our athletes (whether professional or our kids starting in little league) to be healthy...right?
Maybe. At the professional level, what happens when an athlete is dealing with a career-threatening injury (say, post-concussion) and their team is headed to the Super Bowl?
Should they sit on the sidelines during the biggest game of their life, prioritizing long-term health, or do they risk permanent damage for a once-in-a-lifetime (short-term) chance to make their dreams come true?
The essential issue of wellness in sports is performance vs. longevity. Sports don't (necessarily) reward physical long-term health. Athletes make (seemingly necessary) sacrifices to do something unique and special; after all, they may never get the chance again. While they do contribute to a sense of overall well-being, and contribute to healthy habits later in life, there is an inherent risk of physical (and mental) detriment.
This also applies regardless of what you do for work, whether in an office environment or entrepreneurial. We create stressful deadlines in order to push economy forward. Capitalism is built on performance; do well and your stock rises, fail and you falter (we could draw all kinds of business parallels, like the way investment strategy is discussed).
Performance is urgent. Longevity takes the scenic route.
We often talk in fitness about the concept that "consistency > intensity" - for an athlete, the best "ability" is certainly "availability." Can't make plays if you're injured and on the bench.
Athletes (and all elite performers) do what others can't and won't in order to achieve success, often at any cost.
I believe the foundation of improving wellness culture in sports starts with a better understanding of the consequences from each decision made. To "sit or play" is both a lose-lose and win-win decision depending on how you view it; the outcome should be the choice of the athlete, post objective counsel from medical professionals.
In entrepreneurship, there is no cap to how many hours can be worked. It's your own blood, sweat, and tears that drive you forward. In investment banking, 'successful' cultures brag on the number of hours worked instead of impact created.
One solution might be to encourage consistent effort, applied in a flexible, non-structured work environment (not applicable to time-sensitive jobs, like the ER in a hospital...). A flow of hard work and necessary breaks deters an inevitable burnout, keep the employee healthy (on their terms), and increases the quality of work product (note: no one is firing on all cylinders after an all-nighter).
Without wellness woven into the fabric of sports and corporate culture, it will inevitably fail.
Topic #1: What message are we teaching young professionals surrounding performance vs. longevity?
Pushing young athletes to specialize early is detrimental to their health. Increased specialization early increases injury risk and encourages burnout when it's no longer "fun." Building overall athleticism may be better than just doing one thing well (in early sports).
Pushing high school and college freshman to have life "figured out" is absurd; you don't even know what real work feels like by then. Life hasn't (usually) developed far enough to decide what your purpose is.
We must strive to build a strong work ethic while at the same time creating the mindset to accept responsibility for your actions. In this way, we accept our outcome with a positive mindset, and can choose to move forward. This is the "Best Day Ever" mindset.
The value of hard work is not objective; people have different viewpoints on what that means, and the culture in which you choose to work should support your values, expectations, and ethic. Being a day-trader isn't for everyone, and neither is fighting MMA.
Ultimately, we must do what needs to be done to live the life we want. Then, take a break and enjoy the rewards of your hard work.
Topic #2: What outlets do athletes and business professionals have to discuss this issue? Are there "coaches" available to work through the potential consequences that are unbiased?
This discussion will stir different points of view. On one hand we have the "just suck it up and play" mentality, which is hard-nosed, slightly irrational, and brash. It favors the bold, high performers who thrive on competition and fighting until the end.
There is risk to this approach.
On the other hand, we have a more pragmatic approach, which weighs cost vs. benefit. More rational, but also slow to the trigger. When the going gets truly tough (and demands we hang in there), this crowd usually quits before the other.
There is risk to this approach.
Ultimately, more information is better. Having someone to bounce ideas off is important to individually work through how we want to tackle issues of immediate need. Do we step on the field and risk it all, or take a step back and consider the positives and negatives? This is a personal choice.
Seek out mentors early you know you can trust. Share with them what you want out of work, what your strengths and weaknesses are, and how you plan to succeed.
Mindfulness in sports and business culture does NOT mean removing risk, but simply finding better ways to manage it.
Topic #3: In either case of performance or longevity, we must introduce forms of non-aggressive movement and strategy to promote recovery and mental performance.
One example is yoga and meditation. We've taught yoga and meditation to CEOs, professional athletes, creatives, world travelers, lawyers, bankers, consultants, and the ramp operations team for a major airline. Want to know what all have in common?
They work hard. Really hard. There must be something in the middle of an 'all-or-nothing' approach. This approach often times actually gets you all or nothing, and even 'all' comes with consequences on the back end (e.g. former NFL players that can no longer walk, CTE for aging boxers, heart attacks for the stressed C-suite executive, etc.)
Yoga and meditation are non-aggressive - you can't "win." It's just a practice. There is no competition. There is no judgement. Both forms of practice can facilitate physical awareness, mental acuity, emotional resilience, decreased stress, and healthy longevity. Both also can increase immediate performance markers, from revenue targets to touchdowns scored.
We believe wellness is the foundation for doing anything well. With more energy, a positive mindset, and healthy social support, productivity goes through the roof (on the field or off).
How do we use wellness as the vehicle to drive better business and better sport?
There does exist a balance between performance and longevity, but it's a personal decision. I think most elite performers would tell you they wouldn't change a thing. Swapping long-term quality of life for short-term glory on the biggest stage was worth it. Play hard, and earn the reward.
But there is no guarantee. Win or lose, we must make our own choices, enjoy the ride, and accept the outcome.
The risk is what makes life exciting.
Maybe the answer lies in how we value our impact. What is the most important thing we can do to help other people? Is it better served scoring more touchdowns, throwing down more dunks, and racing one more marathon, or is it what we can do with our platform once 'performance' ends that allows us to give back in the highest possible way?
In the end, we decide for ourselves. What makes you feel like life is at its fullest? This is owning your outcome.