By Vasilia Polycarpou, The Sports Financial Literacy Academy
The life of solo-sport athletes may seem fascinating in the eyes of spectators, being the center of attention while they perform, having independence and autonomy since they don’t need to rely on the efforts of others; taking on all the credit for their success. However, there is much more to solo-sport athletes than meets the eye. From swimming, to running, to golf and tennis; individual sports come with a wide range of obstacles; proving to be more challenging emotionally and mentally; relative to team sports.
One of the greatest struggles of solo-sport athletes is loneliness. With solo-sport athletes always on the go- traveling alone from competition to competition, training alone, without a team to rely on; feelings of isolation may arise. Without teammates to form bonds and deeper connections with, the life of solo-sport athletes can get very lonely, since they spend too much time by themselves and have to find ways to motivate themselves to push through their hectic and demanding schedule. The relationship they have with their coach can help ease these feelings of loneliness, however the dynamic of the relationship could never replace that of peer and teammates.
Moreover, mental health and well-being are also significant aspects of sport life. Solo-sport athletes only have themselves to rely on and when they fail to achieve their goals, the effect can be demoralizing; putting a strain on their mental health. When a team loses a game then the weight of failure will fall on all the team members, since the sport is performed collectively. But when it comes to individual sports, the solo-sport athlete will have to go through the disappointment on their own and carry the entire weight of the responsibility. This sense of failure may lead to depression and anxiety. Dealing with success is definitely easier- celebrating with family and friends is great- however, it is not the same as sharing your success and with someone who is actually part of it.
Studies suggest that sports promoting collaboration and competition encourage the athlete to feel happier as opposed to sports solely promoting competition. Consequently, it could be assumed that athletes of team sports are much more likely to enjoy themselves and have fun while competing, whilst solo-sport athletes are more likely to be goal-oriented when it comes to competing. Numerous solo-sport athletes, from champion Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps to four-time Grand Slam singles tennis champion Naomi Osaka have opened up publicly about their mental health struggles, to raise awareness about their own personal journey.
One of the best things about being part of a team is the ability to rely on your team-mates to carry you through a game when you are having a rough day, given that you will return the favor when they are having a bad day. In the context of a team sport, even if a player is not performing at their full potential, the team can still go on and win the game, compensating for that player’s effort. When it comes to individual sports, not performing at your best will cost you since you only have yourself to rely on.
Additionally, when it comes to individual sports, athletes are expected to be constantly travelling around the world to compete at an international level, having to sacrifice their personal life to a great extent. Continuous travelling can be exhausting and emotionally draining, especially if travelling by yourself. Consequently, finding a balance in your personal life can be a great challenge.
Finally, the traits and habits that athletes develop throughout their sports career can significantly affect their personal life and social connections. Usually, athletes who compete in team sports are more likely to develop better communication and teamwork skills, having a positive effect on their social interactions. On the contrary, solo-sport athletes, are more likely to develop complete independence as they learn to rely on themselves entirely and due to spending most of their time on their own. Depending on how these traits are utilized, their effects on the solo-sport athletes’ personal lives may vary.
All in all, it can be concluded that individual sports come with various challenges which require a lot of mental strength to be overcome. It is important for athletes to be aware of these challenges and not be afraid to seek for help and support if they need it.
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