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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- When you get home, no matter how tired you are, offer to help out with the kids, the housework, the shopping or something else.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.