Updated: Jan 31, 2020
A few months ago, I was on a day off while working at camp when someone asked me a question that stumped me. We were sitting at breakfast when one of the administrative staff asked me about what I was going to do on my day off. When I said I had no clue, she was asked what I liked doing. Which is where this line of thoughts starts. In a moment of honesty, I had to admit: I don't know what I like to do.
If you're an athlete, it is very easy to get caught up in the daily grind of practice, training, and school/work. You have a set schedule that revolves around practice and training and you piece stuff together in between. If you're serious about your sport or craft, it all too often becomes your waking thought and guiding light. I myself have found myself in that trap. Prior to working at the camp, I had spent the last three years with two major focuses: coaching and training. In the three years leading up to being asked the question of what I enjoy doing, I had taken less than twenty days off. Now, when I say this it doesn't mean that I worked in a facility or trained seven days per week. But for those three years, every bit of my mental space had been filled with thoughts of career development and training.
When I realized this, it reminded me of something no one likes to talk about in sports.
At some moment in time, sports cease to exist in the way you knew them.
Sports will always exist, but at some point you do reach the end of the line at a certain level of play or mental ability to continue. And if all you know is sports, then finding an identity afterwards can be difficult. Which is something we all forget to remember.
You are more than an athlete, a student, or son or daughter. You're human. And if you let your identity be wrapped up in any one given thing then the moment it potentially fades the loss can be difficult.
That's one of the reasons you need to find something else you like to do. Learn an instrument, write, read, become a movie critic, or learn to draw. Find something you like to do that it is not your sport or career and pursue it vigorously. Having these things not only helps relieve some of the mental pressure of sport and career, but also frees the mind to be more creative.
Which brings up another good point: having outside hobbies makes you better at your sport. After I was asked what I like to do, I started wandering around the camp thinking about that question. I started talking with a counselor who was on his way to the Rifle Range to teach kids how to shoot, and invited me along. It turned out that target shooting was something I really enjoyed, and got very good at in a short time. It also provided a mental outlet from my job working in the kitchen (where my job was to make desserts), which in turn allowed me to be more relaxed and put out better food.
Especially if you find an artistic hobby, creativity will start to flow into your sport. Art, music, or film tends to have a way of helping one to understand "the box", and then how to think outside of it. There are patterns in most of them, and by noticing them it can teach you how to see the patterns in your sport. While becoming good at art may not have any skill transfer to a soccer game or basketball game, the cognitive ability to be creative does.
The ability to see the lines and color outside of them allows you to level up your skills on the field.
An interesting point along these lines was mentioned in David Epstein's recent book "Range: Why Generalists Thrive In A Specialized World". In one chapter, Epstein mentions how most millionaires have a creative hobby outside of their normal job. The art allows them to think creatively, and that creativity allows them to be more open to different methods of achieving success in their given job. It reminds me of watching Generation Iron (what meathead strength coaches watch on Netflix), and seeing bodybuilding great Kai Greene pursue his passions in art. Greene has a passion for art and for bodybuilding, and is known for some of the most creative posing routines in the sport. To him, art allows him to express his emotions, as does his expression through his posing.
Now it doesn't have to be art. The two outside things that I found I really enjoy are baking and target shooting. To me, one of them breeds creativity (baking), and the other reinforces focus and mental clarity. For you, it can be anything. Learn to dance, start reading consistently, learn to cook, or learn a new odd sport like skateboarding or snowboarding. Having something else that you can do will ultimately lead to more freedom athletically, as well as develop you into a better human.