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Ten Tips for Keeping your Relationship Healthy when you work in High Performance Sport

 

The term “Sporting Widow” (or widower) is almost a cliche in high performance sport as many, many relationships have fallen apart in the industry due to the demands and pressures of travel, preparation, competition, training camps etc etc.

This article is for all my coaching, sports science, sports medicine and sports management colleagues (and their long suffering partners and families) written after many years chatting over beers and lamenting the challenges of working on the road, away from loved ones trying to balance success in high performance sport with a successful relationship.

  1. The presents you buy when you travel are for YOU – not for the people at home. The biggest “sucker” deal in sport. You are away from home. You are lonely. Missing the kids and your partner. So you go and spend 500 bucks on a pile of expensive presents. Whilst the family will no doubt love the gifts, the bottom line is you bought the presents for yourself to make yourself feel better and alleviate some of the guilt you feel by being away from home. AND – there is a direct and linear relationship between how bad you feel and the cost and number of the presents you buy!
  2. No matter what you are doing, when your partner calls, you are always busy and hard at work.I know we get to go to some glamorous and exciting places working in high performance sport, but someone who is at home with four screaming kids, a pile of housework to do and who had three hours sleep last night does not want to hear about it. Don’t lie! But there is no need to talk about how great your day was when theirs may have been very tough.
  3. When your partner calls, always ask about her / his day first before talking about yours and when you do talk about your day – no matter how interesting it is – keep it to less than one minute. We have all fallen for this one. Because what we do it so exciting and interesting we all fall for the trap of believing our professional life is the centre of the universe. Sure you could talk for weeks about the training and the competition and who beat who and how fast they ran etc etc but listen ten times more than you talk!
  4. The things happening at home are MORE important than whatever you are doing – even if they’re not. I was at the Olympics, doing something that was important to the team and one athlete in particular. My wife called and wanted to talk about what type of curtains she wanted to buy for the kid’s rooms. Even though what I was doing seemed very important, what she was doing, to her and at home, was far more important. What you do might get the media attention and the kudos but what the family is doing is of EQUAL or even GREATER importance.
  5. When you get home, no matter how tired you are, offer to help out with the kids, the housework, the shopping or something else.
  6. Absolute, total, unconditional loyalty at all times.Should go without saying but we have all seen more than one marriage fall apart because of the temptations of being on the road, in a high pressure environment, in glamorous settings and thousands of kms from home. Think of the situation in reverse. If you came home early and found your partner being less than “loyal”, how would you feel? Being in Paris, celebrating a world record win or in New York having a good time after winning a gold medal does not justify the wedding ring coming off!
  7. Do one caring, considerate, thoughtful thing for your partner everyday. Doesn’t have to cost money. Could be a text message, a caring email, a letter or postcard, a quick call – doesn’t need to be much: just from the heart.
  8. When you come home or have a holiday – switch off the mobile, don’t answer emails and don’t check in with the office. Athletes can’t train and compete all year round. The Prime Minister takes holidays. Bill Gates goes skiing every year. Tiger Woods has time off. Do you really believe working 52 weeks a year is going to make you better at what you do? Give “Caesar what is Caesar’s” and your family what is theirs.
  9. Have some friends who have nothing to do with your sport or profession. Nothing drives a partner crazier than finally getting you to agree to a social function, only to find you spend the night talking test sets, injury records, scoring percentages, tactical ploys and recruitment systems. Find some friends that know nothing and care nothing about what you do, who you are or where you spend your time and just enjoy being a member of the human race.
  10. Remember, you are an ordinary person, who does extra-ordinary things: no egos at home. You might be the best in the world at what you do, a media superstar and the leading professional in your field but to your kids you are “dad” or “mum”, to your partner you are “husband” or “wife” or “partner” or “boyfriend” or “girlfriend”. Leave your ego on the pitch, at the pool or on the court and just be yourself at home.

I hope this article has helped all of my professional friends and colleagues come to terms with the demands of the business and contributes to a long, happy, successful relationship.

Wayne Goldsmith

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10 Comments

  • Brian Posted June 15, 2009 10:49 pm

    Hi, Wayne

    You make a lot of sense with this. Although I do not work at the very top, I still have to go away from home from time to time. Every time I go away I would like to take my wife with me but it is not always posible. When I am away from home, I call my wife regularly (and sometimes irregularly!!!) and I always ask her how her day has been and my day comes second. I am very lucky to have the wife I have and she is the most important thing in my world. She is also involved in swimming and does want to hear how our swimmers have performed but she always comes first and I can’t wait to get back to her, she makes it all worth while.

    Keep up the good work.

    Best regards

    Brian

  • Brian Stephens Posted June 16, 2009 9:47 am

    Thanks Wayne
    I always enjoy your blogs and this one is no exception. Family life is one of the most neglected but important areas for a coaches well being. I know some great coaches whos private life is a mess. These tips would go a long way to improving many of our lives.

    Brian Stephens

  • Wayne Goldsmith Posted June 25, 2009 10:27 am

    Thanks guys.

    We all love what we do but forget why we are doing it sometimes.

    Most people are looking for:

    Something to be passionate about doing;
    Living where they enjoy living;
    Living with people they love to be with.

    I hope this article saves a few marriages and relationships.

    WG

  • Lena Posted June 25, 2009 1:48 pm

    Hi Wayne,

    Great article and applicable to all passionate professionals who travel for work, regardless of industry. I would love to see a follow up article exploring the appropriate ways to engage your partner in the details of professional life.

    Kind regards,

    Lena

  • Wayne Goldsmith Posted June 25, 2009 4:53 pm

    Hi Lena,

    I think that’s a great idea for an article.

    Because our lives are usually “the story of me” and we are so excited about telling our partners what we are doing, I think we rarely really engage them in their own terms.

    So the trick is allowing them to define your business from their own vantage point and engage with it their way.

    Or if you like, the way NOT to do it is to try and educate them about your business and force them to get involved in the same you would do it with a trainee or new employee.

    Your career is like having your first baby. You are so excited and enthusiastic, that you can’t believe everyone isn’t feeling the same way you are.
    To you – the “baby” is what gives you life and passion and enjoyment. To everyone else – it is just a job.

    Also, I believe the more you want it to happen, the less likely it is to happen. Provide some opportunities for your partner to get involved but allow them the space and time to engage in your industry by their own rules.

    Thanks – really enjoyed your comment,

    WG

  • james marshall Posted October 25, 2010 4:08 pm

    very apt timing for a post Wayne.
    I started a big contract at the same time as my wife came off maternity leave, my 3 year old started pre school and my 11 month old son started nursery: guess what was more important?

    I used to think that having children got in the way of work training. Now I think it is essential to get a balance in life.

    • Wayne Goldsmith Posted October 26, 2010 6:59 am

      Thanks James.

      Lots of coaches will say that their “family” is the most important thing in their life.
      A quick visit to their diaries will show that while they might say that, their behaviours do not support it.
      I often ask coaches to add up all the time they have spent in the past week working with other people’s children in training and competition, then add up all the time they spent with their own kids.
      Worst one I have seen is 26 hours with other people’s kids: less than 10 minutes with their own children.
      And this was while the coach was living at home – add to that touring, “away” competitions…..and the coach in this example still maintained that his family were the absolute number one priority in his life.

      In the end, each person has to decide what’s important to them then live to those priorities.

      Thanks,

      WG

  • travis Posted October 31, 2010 12:03 pm

    Wayne,

    I regularily do 2-3 of the points that you mention when i am away on the road with a sporting team, but i am guilty of not listening and asking how my wife is going first when, or pay enough attention when she wants to talk about the kids or answer home related questions or issues.

    It’s good to hear it from another perspective, keep up the great posts…

    Trav

    • Wayne Goldsmith Posted November 2, 2010 10:55 am

      Thanks Travis.

      I am far from perfect on these things too my friend. This article was a bit of a soul searching exercise for me to and one I need to read and re-read myself.

      Keep trying to be all you can be.

      WG

  • Jeremy Posted November 2, 2010 1:34 pm

    Wayne,
    Again some TIMELESS insight that every coach should be mindful of (Lord knows I have been guilty). One of the potential traps of coaching when it comes to balancing work and family is that most of us feel ‘alive’ when we coach. It provides an environment with great variety, energy, challenge, etc. Often times at home, coaches experience the complete opposite (which is a mindset more than anything else). Being aware of this ‘trap’ can make all the difference in the world.

    A great litmus test for me as well as a daily driving question is to ask myself ‘who does my (insert wife, child, significant other) need me to be right now?’ In coaching, our saying is that ‘if it’s all about YOU than you’re not a coach’, and the same principle applies in our family life!

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