Welcome to a new edition of RealJock.com's "Ask Billy" column with sports and life advice from Billy Bean, former professional athlete and author of "Going the Other Way: Lessons from a Life in and Out of Major League Baseball." Do you have a question for Billy? Send him an email at email@example.com.
I got into sports after college, and I've found I really love it. I now both play in a soccer league and swim on a fairly competitive gay swim team. My question is, how can I go from being a decent amateur competitor to a great amateur competitor? I think I have some natural talent, and while I know that at my age I won't be going pro, I really want to be the best at my sports that I can be. As someone who made it in professional sports, I would like to know what you think I should focus on to get to the next level as a competitor. Is participating in two sports too much if I want to meet these goals? Also, are there other things I can do to get better (I work pretty long hours as well)?
I always get pumped up when I hear about people falling in love with a sport. Sports have been so important to me that I could not imagine living a life without them. So many friends of mine say they are hesitant to get involved because they didn't enjoy it as a kid, are afraid that they won't be good enough, or have a fear of competition against others. However, most people cannot believe how exhilarating it is to achieve a personal goal or win a match or race against someone.
I did not come out until I was 35 years old, and I have to say that the GLBT athletic community helped me so much when I felt a little awkward, and a bit self conscious. I was lucky to meet many wonderful people by playing in organized basketball and then tennis tournaments. Now I am completely absorbed by tennis and the desire to improve. It's such a healthy alternative, and it's fun to have something to always look forward to each day, whether it's playing a match, taking a lesson, or even just talking about it with friends who play.
Your question asking if two sports are too much is a tough one. Both swimming and soccer will get you in great physical shape. However, if you want to improve to the elite level, I would suggest that you should probably pick one, and then really go for it with as much practice as possible and help from coaches and teammates. As a baseball player, I focused entirely on that sport. I trained hard and did everything I could to improve for over 20 years. After I retired, I didn't know what to do, so after running distance for about two or three years to stay in shape, I started to play both basketball and tennis because I missed the competition. However, I found that I was often unhappy with my performance because I wasn't focusing properly on either sport. (There just isn't enough time in the day with work, responsibilities, relationships, family, and so on). Also, my body was really taking a beating with the pounding of these two high-impact sports. Injuries are definitely a concern when you want to compete into your adult years and beyond.
Swimming is a great sport in many ways. The sport offers excellent, low-impact conditioning. It also allows you to compete against others, but also against yourself. I have been involved with a few large GLBT athletic events, most notably the Gay Games in Chicago last summer. In my opinion, the swimming community always has the most fun, friendly, and largest group of athletes at these events. I think the long-term potential of you becoming elite (or at least the best you can be) would be in the swimming pool. I know you would find a great support group and lots of fun people to challenge yourself with and against. Try to find a friend of comparable abilities who you can train with, and continue to swim and compete with your team. Group practice and training is a great way to push yourself to new levels of competition. Whatever decision you make, always think positive thoughts, and never let fear hold you back.
I wish you good luck, and I applaud you for challenging yourself.