Two-time Olympic champion and former decathlon world record-holder Ashton Eaton of Portland, Oregon recently participated in an IAAF series called “Advice to my Younger Self,” in which athletes reflect on their career and the things they wish they had known at a younger age. Eaton, who retired from professional competition a few months after the 2016 Rio Olympics, had some interesting advice for his younger self, which is particularly pertinent to aspiring young athletes who may be tempted to focus on their training to the exclusion of everything else: don’t.
Eaton’s reflections give us a rare glimpse into how a retired athlete feels about his accomplishments, and he admits to some regret about sometimes ignoring the people in his life. Parents of young athletes, who sometimes assume their job is to keep their athlete focussed on training, should remember that downtime and a social life are important, too.
“Ashton, throughout your track career you will have total tunnel vision to achieve your goals. Sometimes you will feel it is advantageous to push certain people away believing they are a distraction from you achieving their athletics goals. Yet let me tell you, this is not always the best approach.
Take more time out with others. Devote more time to meet and get to know new people. Don’t just lose contact with some of your best friends to focus solely on your track career. You will miss friend’s weddings because of training but, remember, life is short. You will later discover attending such events will have had no negative impact on your training. In fact, it could have a positive effect on your mentality.
Later you will compete at the London Olympics, but during your time at the Games you will choose, for the most part, to stay in your room. People will ask you about life in the Village but you will have no clue. Please take the time to leave your room and experience what the Olympics has to offer. This is important.
Also during your competitive career as a decathlete do try and take time out to enjoy the moment of your successes. At the time of your biggest triumphs you may sometimes struggle to understand this phrase but later you will understand success does not last forever.”
The Advice to My Younger Self series has been appearing on the IAAF site intermittently since January. Some of the other runners included in the series are Eliud Kipchoge, Sifan Hassan, Kenenisa Bekele, Laura Muir, Julien Wanders and Geoffrey Kamworor.