Crossing the Line: Dedication vs. Destructive Behaviors in Athletes
Updated: Apr 3
Dedication and passion are what separate a good athlete from a great athlete. To some degree, most people who reach an elite level in any field of endeavor have some “obsessive” tendencies. Differentiating between addictive and healthy exercise behaviors can be difficult, especially when one is in a period of heavy training. But when does dedication and passion cross over and become obsessive and destructive?
There are some key signs that one’s dedication to skating has crossed a line. Training becomes borderline disordered when it negatively affects your health. One sign that an athlete may no longer have a healthy relationship with skating is when they’re overtraining. Overtraining occurs when an athlete exceeds their body’s ability to recovery from strenuous exercise. Common signs of overtraining include pain in muscles and joints, insomnia, lack of energy, decreased immunity, decrease in training capacity/intensity, moodiness and irritability, depression, loss of enthusiasm for the sport, decreased appetite, increased incidence of injuries, and a compulsive need to exercise. If an athlete trains even when instructed to rest from doctors or coaches, then that is an indicator one is not just “being dedicated.”
Other examples of behaviors that suggest that an athlete no longer has a healthy relationship with skating would include doing extra workouts outside of a normal training day that aren’t known to the coach, engaging in disordered eating behaviors (restriction/purging) to feel “lighter” or manage weight, wearing heavy clothes to sweat more, binging on “off days,” or taking diet/caffeine pills to maintain energy throughout the day. In the eyes of the athlete, these behaviors are considered part of being passionate. But in reality, these behaviors are incredibly destructive.
The absence of a social life outside of the ice rink may be a red flag for some individuals. There is nothing wrong with associating with people of similar interests, for your skating family will become lifelong friends. The problem is when training is consistently placed above one’s social life, school, work, and family time. Having a life outside of your sport is beneficial to mental health and well being. It prevents burnout and being passionate about other things outside of skating makes retiring, whether due to injury or by choice, a smoother transition.
To improve sports performance, training load must increase while at the same time integrating adequate recovery and ample nutrition. But if one is physically harming their body or suffering mentally, then the athlete likely has an unhealthy and destructive relationship with skating.
One doesn’t need to “stop skating” to learn how to have a healthy relationship with it. It may mean sitting down and doing some self-reflection to see if that love for the ice is truly still there. Maybe you’re burned out and want to explore different facets of life. Or maybe you just have too much pressure from your family or coach. Or maybe you are putting too much pressure on yourself.
It may mean going out of your comfort zone and setting boundaries with your coaches, trainers, and parents about what kind of topics are off limits (ex. body/weight comments) and what ways you learn best. It may mean taking control of your life in other areas, for if skating is the only way you cope with your emotions then it’s important to learn new coping skills. It may mean taking some time off to heal injuries or seek psychiatric health for underlying mental health issues. Taking the time to address your physical and mental health that makes you a better athlete.
Every athlete is different and has different goals. Skating is supposed to be fun and bring us joy. It’s also supposed to challenge us and teach us life lessons. Skating is not meant to physically destroy your body and me
ntally break you down.