Aikido · athletes · Crossfit · cycling · martial arts · racing · Rowing · running

On being a Jill of all sports

Or here’s another way to put it, I’m a polyamorous athlete. There are lots of different sports and physical activities I love.

I spent a lot of time with people who really only love one sport–Aikido, rowing, CrossFit, or cycling, for example. Sure they may do other sports but those activities are in service of their one true love. They lift weights to build strength for cycling off season or they run so they don’t get winded on the mat in Aikido but if they could just cycle or do Aikido, they would. I find the worst mono-exercisers to be runners and I’ve written a bit about that in the post Is there life after running?.

My son is like me. He plays rugby, basketball, and football. He loves all three but he’s at an age where he’s being pressured to make choices. He’s a good size for rugby but a bit small for football. He runs well for his size but getting faster might mean getting smaller. And tackling styles vary between rugby and football. Specialization lurks.

But me? I’ve got no serious future in sports. I play for fun. My primary passion is cycling but I’ve come to love rowing too.  I’m a green belt in Aikido (middling rank) and I dabble in soccer and CrossFit. In theory, it ought to be okay for me to play the field, so to speak, but in practice there are challenges. Here are some of them:

1. Coaches design training schedules assuming you’re doing one thing, their thing. Sure, they say you can substitute one workout each week with a crosstraining activity of your choice but often they don’t have much idea of what you’re up to with your other things for which their thing counts as crosstraining. It can get messy.

2. This get worse when training gets more purposeful. You might be in the “build an aerobic base from which to add power” stage of one activity while the other is focused on “developing explosive power.” Yeah, right.

3. Then there’s race schedules versus training schedules, building and tapering and recovery all thrown into one big mess. This year I considered doing a rowing regatta the day after a mini duathlon and while I think it would have been okay (both events weren’t that long) I can see why others were skeptical. That’s one nice thing about triathlon. You get to do multisport but with a training plan where the sports fit together.

4. You are often arriving at one activity tired from the other. I felt bad for teammates in soccer when I showed up for a game the day after a century bike ride. On the one hand, I was there. But on the other, I couldn’t exactly run my hardest.

5. Sometimes it feels too much like an excuse. The rowers think I’m really a cyclist. The cyclists say, well you haven’t been out much this year, you’re too busy rowing. The CrossFitters know I dabble and running, it’s always third string. I make no great claims in that department.

6, And it can be frustrating. I watch the people who do CrossFit everyday or who row everyday or who are at Aikido each night and see them make terrific progress. They advance much faster than me and I’m jealous.

6. But on good weeks? It’s amazing. I’m doing lots of different things I love. I’ve got a waiting list of new things to try. And the world of physical activity looks rich and full of choices. I’ll never be a star but I will have an awful lot of fun. I promise!

Iranian women playing different sports
Iranian women playing different sports

11 thoughts on “On being a Jill of all sports

  1. Some people are so athletically gifted that they truly do excel in multiple sports. Bo Jackson who played both professional baseball and football was one of these incredible athletes. He was an exception to say the least, however, even for a professional athlete. While many gifted college athletes play multiple sports, they usually have to make a decision regarding which sport they go with professionally, and even these people do not always become stars in their chosen professional field. For those of us, however, whose university days have been over for some time, and who won’t be playing any sport professionally at least anytime soon, I really don’t think it matters much. I say – do what you like and care not a whit what some uber-aggressive amatuer athletes have to say about matters. Like you, it can really bother me when one aspect of my training takes away from performance possibilities in others, but the truth is it would bother me alot more if I gave up some of what I do.

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    1. Yes, exactly. I’m thinking though of trying to find my son an independent source of advice, not a football or a rugby coach, about what’s his best plan…But for me? The fun matters lots and serious athletic achievement is a road not taken. PhD, three kids, late discovering athletic self and all that…

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      1. Agree completely. I am like you in these regards. The difficult decisions which your son must make remain difficult, even if he is quite blessed to be in a position to have to make them. I think it’s a great idea to provide him with the opportunity to speak with many people about these matters.

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  2. Interesting! I can totally relate–CrossFit, cycling, yoga, soccer, backpacking, trail running, and triathlon top my list–and I get very frustrated when I go and try to write myself a training program or even to schedule my workouts. For a while, I was doing too much all around — I was too sore from CrossFit to ride my bike enjoyably and too tired from riding my bike to feel good at CrossFit, my arms wouldn’t hold me up at yoga, etc. — and a stress fracture was the ultimate, unfortunate way I applied the brakes. I’m learning to do what I want and stop worrying about: a) how it will affect how I look and b) whether it’s “enough.”

    For a gal with a “not good enough” complex, I like the points you raised. I can feel not good enough for not doing all the activities to the max or I can feel not good enough for not being the best at whatever it is I’m doing when I am doing them all. Lose lose.

    One thing that helped me realize that not being the best at anything was taking my CrossFit level 1 cert. “Fitness is a compromise” became my kind of go-to reminder that I do NOT have to be the best at any given thing, because I’m pretty darn awesome across the board (and get to do all the things I want to!).

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  3. I’m feeling over scheduled these days, not able to give as much time as I’d like to any one thing. But I love them all too much to give anything up. It’s frustrating sometimes but I think it’s okay to mix it up a bit so that different things are priorities at different times.

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  4. I was thinking about this last night, in the context of playing a lot of sports AND playing a lot of different positions in those sports. Last night I played in net for half the soccer game, then came out to play forward and scored twice. I play both ways in football … you get the idea. In baseball the term is “utility player,” and I often think about it in terms of being a “swiss army knife” (an analogy I use for work as well). I’m decent at many positions, and I can play anywhere. I think I prefer that, frankly. It kind of sums up my attitude pretty well. 🙂

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