J is for Juggling Everything

BY AIMEE KIMBALL, PhD//Sport Psychologist
Athletes are dedicated. They are committed. They are willing to make sacrifices in their lives to help their sport performance. However, when you take this commitment to their sport and add a similar level of commitment to their academics, social lives, work and family, it can lead to a very difficult juggling act.


Take “Christina” for example. She is an athlete whom I work with that did not play well partly because she had done poorly on a paper and was stressed about it and partly because she didn’t get a chance to eat before her game and instead had taken a nap.


She was so tired because she was up until 1 a.m. finishing a paper. She was up so late because she had procrastinated and did not manage her time well. She had known about the paper for a week, but said that it wasn’t really that long or difficult of an assignment. She even admitted she could have done a better job managing her time because she probably didn’t have to watch “Grey’s Anatomy” (which took longer for her to watch than it did to actually complete the paper).


She also said her friend had a bad day, so she spent almost an hour on the phone talking to her. Because she waited until the last minute, waited until she was totally exhausted, and did not prioritize well, she not only did poorly on her paper she also did poorly in her game. Juggling her fun time, with her friend time, with her sport and academics proved to be too overwhelming. However, if she had thought it through and worked to manage her time and energy better, she could have been more successful in both her academic and athletic performance.


Unfortunately, I’m sure many of you can relate to Christina and are wondering how committed athletes who look for success in all areas of their lives juggle everything. Here are some suggestions to help you juggle your many demands successfully:


Recognize it’s hard to give 100% to everything all the time

You’re not a superhero. At some point something has to give, and that’s OKAY. It’s fantastic to strive to be perfect, but it’s unrealistic to expect it all the time in everything you do. Do what you can, the best you can, with what you have at that moment.


Know your true priorities and think long term

Make sure if you choose to sacrifice one area of your life for the benefit of another that you are not just focused on the here-and-now, that you are thinking about how prioritizing one area of your life will affect you 1, 5 and 10 years from now. For example, if you choose to put your social life first and go out with friends all night rather than working on a project or getting a good night sleep before your 6 a.m. practice, recognize that one year from now your grades might not be good enough to get you the job or get you into college, or, five years from now when your swimming career has ended you may regret not doing the little things necessary to help you to reach your fullest potential. However, when choosing your priorities, keep in mind that the odds of competing at the collegiate or Olympic level are against you. So, before you prioritize swimming over all else, make sure you don’t totally neglect the areas of your life that you have to rely on if/when competitive swimming ends. Again, think about the long-term effects of your decisions.


Know who else your decisions affect

As you are juggling the various aspects of your life, make sure you know what relationships might suffer. Whether it’s your relationship with teammates, coaches, friends, or family, when you are spending a good deal of time with one group your connection to others may begin to fade. It’s just something to consider as you try to balance your life.


Decisions don’t have to be totally wrong or totally right, they just have to be the best you can make at that time

Many people stress out because they don’t want to make the wrong decision. When several things are important to you, you are likely to feel that you are doing something wrong if you have to make a choice between two things you enjoy. When you struggle with such a decision, weigh the pros and cons, the long term effects, the people involved (including yourself), and make the best choice you can with the options available.


Balance the time and energy required for tasks

When you have lots of demands for your time, it is hard to get everything done. You can feel overwhelmed, stressed, and think that it is impossible to be you and be everywhere at once. When you have stress because of significant time demands, the best way to get control of it is to plan it out and learn to manage your time and your energy. First, get out a piece of paper and divide it into five sections. This is going to be your “to do” list.  In the first column write down everything you have coming up. In the second column estimate how much time the task will take. In the third column, decide on a scale of 1-5 (1 being a little bit, 5 being a lot) how much energy the task is going to take. Then look at your list and prioritize-your fourth column is the order in which you are going to complete each task. The final column is the date or time you want to complete the task by.  


To Do

Time Required

Energy Required



Completion Date/Time

















I suggest doing the tasks that require the most energy first, the ones that require the most time next, then, with the remaining tasks, decide which are most important. The reason you want to do the tasks that use your energy first is because you want to do them while you still have energy and you don’t want to have them hanging over your head all day. You might have to call a coach and tell him that you are going to miss practice, something you dread and know it takes a lot of your energy to do but not necessarily a lot of time. If you wait until the end of the day, you’ll have been stressing over this “energy-draining” task all day, which can distract you from all of your other tasks (causing them to take longer than needed and possibly decreasing their quality). Also, once the “energy-drainers” are completed, that sense of relief of having it done can actually bring you an energy boost.


Juggling the various aspects of your life is a skill. If you can create good time management habits, set goals to help you choose your priorities, and learn how to deal with the stress of it all, you will develop the ability to be successful in multiple areas without having to sacrifice too much in others. Sometimes, there is a lot going on and a lot being demanded of you, but the more you work at it, the more things you can juggle at once. 


Make it great!


Dr. Aimee


About Aimee C. Kimball, PhD:

Dr. Kimball is the Director of Mental Training for the UPMC Center for Sports Medicine. She is an Association of Applied Sport Psychology Certified Consultant, and is a member of the American Psychological Association, the United States Olympic Committee’s Sport Psychology Registry, the USA Swimming Sports Medicine Network, and the NCAA Speakers Bureau. She works with athletes, coaches, and parents to help them achieve success in sport and life.


For more information contact: kimballac@upmc.edu, 412-432-3777, http://sportsmedicine.upmc.com/MentalTrainingProgram.htm

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