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The Art and Science of Fitness | The joy of being an amateur athlete



Do you remember a time when you watched professional sports such as the Premier League or the IPL and compared your age to the elite players? For most of us, eventually, we realise that we’ll never be a professional athlete. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s not about our age, but about being exceptionally good enough.

There is a purity and dignity to amateur sports that sadly sometimes gets lost at the elite level.(Pixabay)

And that is okay. No, it’s better than okay. It’s wonderful.

“Amateur” sports always have a connotation of “lesser” compared with the “pros”, but here we will argue that being an amateur is a gift.

The word “amateur” derives from the Latin verb “amare”, to love. The “amateur” is the “lover”, who plays a sport for the love of it. Because it is fun. Because you can do it with friends. Because it makes you feel good.

This takes us back to the almost existential question, “Why did we get started?” Remind yourself why you picked up the racket for the first time. And what kept you going? What are the highlights you remember? Spending time outside? The feeling afterwards? Or how you surprised yourself with what you were able to achieve? Tell yourself – and potentially other willing listeners – your love story of you and your sport.

There are also some real advantages to being an amateur:

Advantage #1: Just for the love of it

You’re not putting on your running shoes because you need to pay the bills. Not that being a pro means that you cannot love a sport. Take Roger Federer, who played tennis with a passion for the game like rarely seen before and after. But for every Roger Federer, there are many Andre Agassis, who came to despise his sport and couldn’t wait to quit.

Advantage #2: There is no pressure

So you signed up for a marathon and caught a serious cold. You probably shouldn’t do it, not risk irreversible damage to your health. Because you’re an amateur, this is an option for you. As a pro, there is far more on the line such as sponsorships.

Advantage #3: You aren’t competing with anyone else

Unlike elite athletes, whose success is based on how they fare as compared to others, as an amateur, you are your own competition. The simple goal is to become your best, better than you were the day before. Sometimes, even that isn’t necessary. As long as you get moving, you win.

Advantage #4: You don’t have a short career

Most elite athletes have an extremely short shelf life. If injury doesn’t end their career, they are lucky to play professionally until 35. Amateurs, on the other hand, can enjoy their sport of choice for decades, if not till their last breath. Didn’t find your perfect sport until your 50s? Doesn’t matter! You have so much runway left!

Advantage #5: You can take a break whenever you feel like it

Unlike the pros, amateurs are under no obligation to participate in training or events. You can take a break for a few days, months, or years or even get back to it after decades.

Advantage #6: No pressure to cheat

At the elite level, there is a lot of pressure for athletes to perform at their peak and outdo their competition. This often leads to foul play becoming a norm, more than an exception. Amongst amateurs, there is no pressure to cheat. Few people take their stats so overly seriously that they would consider illegal hormone injections.

There is a purity and dignity to amateur sports that sadly sometimes gets lost at the elite level. It is not money, glory or fame we’re after, which only the very top tier of the pros ever reach. (An “average” pro has a horribly short career of constant pressure and very little monetary returns.)

What we amateurs are chasing is much more attainable: fun, health, joy and community. Testing our limits as well as those of our current lung capacity. Living life to the fullest. Remember to always remain an amateur for life. Just for the love of it.

Dr Rajat Chauhan ( Sports Medicine & Musculoskeletal Medicine Physician, Author and Student of Running & Pain

Eva Bacon ( Runner, Roller Blader, Rock Climber, Urban Hiker, Translator and IT Program Manager

Eva and Rajat write a weekly column, exclusively for HT Premium readers, that breaks down the science of movement and exercise.

The views expressed are personal.

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