Making the Olympics once is a monumental achievement. Making the Olympics five times is astronomical.
Kenyan-American runner Bernard Lagat has done just that, competing in his final professional race at the age of 41 (and placing second). His secret sauce? A five-week "off-season" every single year.
As actors, we'll inevitably experience our own version of "off-season". While ours is unlikely to follow the reliable annual pattern an athlete's does, there will be periods in which we aren't being employed to act. Perhaps we'll find the flow of auditions to momentarily slow as well.
For most of us, this cues a fun downwards spiral of anxiety, panic, and self-doubt. But it doesn't have to. In fact, by adopting an in-season/off-season perspective, we can even come to embrace it.
The two seasons
For most athletes, the year is crudely divided into two: in-season and off-season.
In-season refers to the period of competitive play, including games, matches, heats and/or competitions. This season can vary in length depending on the sport but is often the majority of the year.
Off-season refers to the period in and around the in-season. In ye olde days, this was when athletes let loose, indulging in the pleasures they'd foregone in the months prior. This approach has now largely been abandoned, with athletes and coaches recognising: a) the mammoth effort then required to return to match fit-ness when the in-season swings around again, and b) the immense competitive advantages an intentional off-season can provide.
Asking the question, "How can I make the most of my off-season?", is the crucial first step and one we're certainly wise to pose. However, it's the showing up that's the real work. Showing up in the off-season requires a rare self-discipline — a rare commitment and dedication — despite the fact no one is watching.
That said, coaches and sports psychologists agree that first taking a short but complete break from training is critical.
Antti Vierula, former coach of the Finnish Olympic track and field team, says, "A holiday is needed not only for the body but for the mind as well". This "holiday" enables us to holistically recover from accumulated stress, as well as take a step back from our craft. "Absence", as they say, "makes the heart grow fonder".
Vierula personally recommends two weeks, but this number varies from coach to coach. We'll have to judge the optimal length for ourselves, but whether we opt for one or four weeks, the important thing is that we block this time off as soon as our in-season wraps. We can then use this time to pursue other hobbies/interests, travel, spend time with family and friends, get our sleep on lock… Whatever calls our heart.
After our break (and do take one, homies), we want to start planting the seeds for our in-season success. This is where most actors drop the ball, so approaching our off-season with intention and focus can give us a real edge.
There are several strategies we can employ to get ourselves match fit. As our off-seasons tend to end unexpectedly (hello last-minute audition or role!), being in peak form is key. As Miguel de Cervantes said, "To be prepared is half the victory".
Reevaluate goals. We're talking both the Ambitious-Ass variety (to keep us fired up) and the process and/or performance (to cultivate our self-efficacy). Off-season is the perfect time to check our goals are still meaningful or make amendments if needed.
Train smart. This is where our Actor's Training Menu comes into play, ensuring the 5 Pillars of Actor Training are being maintained and developed consistently. We want to prioritise precision and intensity when working on these skill sets. Quality over quantity.
Stoke the passion. Regularly returning to our "why" and tending our Actor's Flame increases our professional longevity. Burnout and disillusionment are common pitfalls on our path. Prevention is always better than cure.
Increase the stakes. Performance anxiety is a natural response to returning from the off-season. We can counter this by gently raising the stakes in training to acclimatise our minds, bodies, and souls to the pressures of game day.
Assess. Reviewing our strengths and weaknesses, as well as asking for advice, can provide us with invaluable insights we mightn't otherwise have the time/mental space to process during our in-season. Take the opportunity to level up.
Seasons are part of nature’s wisdom. Let’s honour and make best use of each one.
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