The importance of balance in the lives of competitive athletes (via Onrise)

Editor’s Note (Nov. 29, 2023): This article was submitted by Onrise, which US Club Soccer has partnered with for ongoing educational resources related to mental health. The author, Tasha Saunders, is the VP of Player Care at Onrise. Tasha has her Player Care Certification and has completed training in Mental Health First Aid training for Adults and Youth. She grew up playing competitive soccer and continued her career at Sewanee as a four-year starter.

Many athletes will push themselves beyond measure, and, while this speaks volumes to work ethic, it is nothing without balance.  

As a competitive athlete, it can be incredibly hard to have additional hobbies, time with friends, a job, travel for soccer on the weekend, and have multiple practices a week, while maintaining a high academic standard. While I was in high school, I took on every extra-curricular activity I could to balance out the fact that I didn’t have a job to put on my resume because of my dedication to soccer. I also thought that if I had lots of other extra-curriculars, it would distract from a lower GPA than I would have liked. The truth is, in the long run, it’s all about balance.  

An open line of communication. Athletes, work proactively to keep this open. When openly communicating with teachers, coaches and parents or guardians, they will be able to better help you manage your schedule or potentially provide accommodations. Yes, this means planning ahead of time. Never forget to ask for help. Coaches, keeping an open line of communication helps your athletes feel heard and valued. When they can communicate where they are with you truthfully, you’ll be able to have a better pulse on how to coach them, provide feedback, and gauge what you can expect out of them during a practice or game. Parents, even if you think you know the answer, make sure to ask: “Do you still want to do the extra training this season?” Just because your child decided to opt out of the extra trainings, does not mean this will affect their performance negatively. Balance prevents burnout, and an open line of communication promotes trust.  

Goal setting. Coaches, parents, and guardians, you play a huge role in this. Because you have a bigger perspective from simply being around longer, you can see a bigger picture for your athletes. This does not mean that you should set goals for your athletes, but rather help them set realistic goals. Anyone who has ever hired an athlete knows they work incredibly hard – sometimes to a fault, if there is no balance. Coaches, help your athletes create bite-sized goals that they can achieve. The phrase, “Shoot for the moon; even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars,” doesn’t always work well for athletes. When athletes shoot for the moon, we will work so hard that we will end up burning ourselves out alongside the other stars. Again, balance is key in goal setting. Athletes, set realistic goals with the help of your coaches, mentors, teachers, parents and guardians, and you will end up on the moon.  

Holistic development. Onrise is contracted to work with the United Soccer League Players Association. Through working with dozens of professional soccer players in the USL 1 and USL Championship who are transitioning out of playing soccer professionally and into a new career, one of the first pieces of work these players must do is figure out their identity without soccer. For some, this is easy. For others, this is a daunting task. Having hobbies outside your sport is crucial, but pushing yourself too hard for balance defeats the purpose. By finding interests outside of your sport, you are increasing your diversity of perspective. You are developing new skills and allowing yourself to grow in balance.  

Don’t believe me? Let’s hear the perspective of the only player to win a national championship and WNBA title in the same year, Alexis Hornbuckle:

“Balance is the key to excellence and essential for achieving high performance in all aspects of life. Being a champion means not only valuing every possession on the court/field, but also in life. Take care of your mind, body, and soul.” 


Onrise is a compassionate player care and mental health company. We are a place where retired athletes and clinicians unite to revolutionize athlete mental health care. At Onrise, we believe that everyone needs efficient strategies to cope with mental challenges both on and off the field. From game day to a big test day, our mission is to ensure that athletes have access to high-quality athlete to athlete support, therapy, and psychiatric care, regardless of their circumstances. Check out our website for more information.


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