How Pro Athletes Strike A Work-Life Balance, And You Can, Too

Achieving work-life balance isn't just a major-league problem for pro athletes. Here's how working professionals can juggle everything.

Work-life balance sounds simple enough in theory, but in practice, your job and life’s daily demands are often competing, making balance elusive.

Enter Bob Tewksbury, director of player development for the Major League Baseball Players Association and former pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals. Until earlier this year, Tewksbury was a sports psychology coach for the Boston Red Sox. Now, he works with players seeking to achieve balance in their lives and their careers.

Here are five work-life balance tips Tewksbury gives his high-performing athletes that high-performing professionals can use, too:

1. Identify What’s Going On

If there’s a problem with your performance—at work or on the field—the first step is to identify what’s going on. "Oftentimes, players get off to a good start and create unrealistic expectations for themselves," Tewksbury says. "After one or two great games, they believe they’re going to be playing well all the time, and don’t deal with failure well."

If you’re in a slump at work, then take a step back and evaluate what’s behind it. High-achieving professionals say they don’t have time to exercise, or they travel a lot, eat poorly, or don’t spend enough time with their families, Tewksbury says. That’s why it’s important to get up earlier to go to the gym, eat better, and use Skype to connect with loved ones.

2. Understand the Thought Process Behind It

A key part of Tewksbury’s job is to understand what his players are thinking. How do they deal with failure, and how do they talk to themselves about it? What message are they telling themselves? Each player is different, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach.

Sometimes you have to change the thoughts to change the behavior, and sometimes you have to change the behavior to change the thoughts, he says. You have to find what works for each player.

Do you beat yourself up after a not-so-great presentation? Or do you take stock of what went well, what could use improvement, and move on?

3. Get a Hobby

Baseball takes up so much of a ballplayer’s time: 162 games plus spring training equals around 220 days. When you’re in it, Tewksbury says, it’s all consuming. That’s why he works with players to create a balance; where they’re not so totally mired in their performance.

Tewksbury often jokes with his wife: "When baseball is good, life’s good. When it’s bad, life’s more difficult." He suggests players take up hobbies like guitar, reading, art, movies, or taking classes.

"Baseball is what they do, not who they are," he says. They’re fathers, sons, brothers, friends, and husbands, too. "[They need to] get away from thinking about baseball 24/7."

His advice is met with varying degrees of success. It’s difficult because players are very structured, he says. "Until baseball’s good, they have their blinders on."

4. Visualize Your Success

One approach Tewksbury encourages is the use of imagery and visualization, where players imagine performing successfully. If you’re a pitcher, for example, you’re throwing in the strike zone. Steer clear from visualizing results like hitting a home run, since you don’t have control over how others are playing, Tewksbury says. If you’re giving a big presentation, imagine yourself well prepared and speaking confidently.

Other practices Tewksbury suggests include journaling, goal setting, exercises that improve concentration, and focusing on your breathing and being in the moment.

5. Check In With Your Coach

Business professionals can find the same types of support professional athletes receive by working with life coaches and psychologists, Tewksbury says.

"I struggled with confidence," he says. "As a player in the 1980s, sports psychology was a relatively new field." Back then, he explains, there weren’t any programs in place to help players deal with their feelings or help with the mental aspect of the game.

Today, Tewksbury says most of the 30 major-league teams have a full-time staff person or consultant available to work with players, and he’s an additional resource for them.

Tewksbury recommends a weekly follow-up, a regular check-in to see how the game went, and how the player performed. Problems arise when a player deals with an issue once and it’s fine, but the next time they "fail," they think they can handle it and don’t seek help or talk about it.

By then, time has passed, and they’re uncomfortable checking in; instead carrying around unnecessary stress and negativity. "It’s important to stay in touch," Tewksbury says.

[Image: Flickr user Keith Allison]

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