Jenny Egan: 10 life lessons that competitive sport has taught me

  • by IMAGE
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The benefits of sport aren't just physical, writes Jenny Egan


Jenny Egan is an Irish International Canoeist with multiple World Championship medals, a European Championship medal and multiple World Cup medals.

She is the only Irish athlete female or male to date to win an International Canoe Federation (ICF) Senior Canoe Sprint World Championship medal, a Senior Canoe Sprint European Championship medal and ICF Senior Canoe Sprint World Cup medals.

She is also currently ranked Number 1 in the World in the ICF Senior Women's K1 5000m event. In 2019, Jenny won her fourth Irish Times and Sport Ireland Sportswoman of the Month Award.

Here she writes about the life lessons that sport has taught her.

1. We need all our passion to achieve our full potential

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For me, the most important life lesson I have learned from my sport is passion, as without passion you cannot have the other qualities which you need to succeed in sport and all walks of life. Passion is what sustains us in everything we do.

My passion for my sport started at an early age, as both my parents Angie and Tom Egan were canoeists since they were teenagers and they are also members of Salmon Leap Canoe Club. My brother Peter Egan is also an international canoeist and when I was growing up, he was and still is one of my greatest role models, as I always wanted to follow in his footsteps and he helped me greatly in doing so.

When I was younger, I did many activities, my Mum was bringing me to many classes after school: dance and drama, singing, violin and I also played many different sports throughout the years. But when I was 15 years of age, I decided that canoeing was what I wanted to focus on, as it was and still is my passion.

I am extremely competitive and I love the feeling when everything works in unison for me to produce the best races.

2. Work smarter, not longer, when pressures are high and time is tight

My parents have always emphasised the importance of having a balance in life, education, sport and time with family and friends. During school and university, I had to deal with both academic and sporting pressures, so my time had to be well planned and managed.

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My Leaving Certificate year was very hectic but I knew if I planned my training and studying times, I could achieve both my academic and sporting goals. I was very focused, I trained before school at 7am and straight after school at 4pm to then go home, have dinner, do my homework, study and get some sleep for the next day of training and school.

3. Get back on that horse

In all walks of life, be it sport, work or family life, we need resilience. I know myself if I had fallen at the first hurdle and never tried again I would never have achieved all I have.

The transition from racing as a Junior to racing as a Senior is a big step which required resilience, persistence and commitment. I am very lucky that my parents embedded this quality in me; they taught me to never give up and to keep striving to be the best even though there might be some speed bumps along the way both in my sporting and academic careers.

I am very thankful to them for this direction in life, as by having resilience I was able to combine third level education and competing on the world stage.

The competitions in which I have not achieved my goals have been the ones that have been crucial to my future success.

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4. One does not fail; one’s failure is their first attempt in learning

The competitions in which I have not achieved my goals have been the ones that have been crucial to my future success. I have learned from these competitions, my weaknesses and what I need to concentrate on in order to be the best athlete I can be.

When I do not achieve my goals, I talk to my coaches, both my brother Peter and my fiancé Jonathan Simmons, in order to tailor my training programme so that it focuses on the areas in which I need to improve.

Failure occurs in all aspects of life and it is how we deal with these failures that determines our future success.

Jenny Egan wins Bronze Medal at ICF Senior Canoe Sprint World Championships in Montemor-o-Velho, Portugal, August, 2018
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5. If you really want to achieve something you will find a way

My training programme consists of 14-16 sessions per week in order to achieve the best results possible during my sporting career. My training consists of on the water sessions, strength and conditioning in the gym and running.

Being dedicated to my sport is not just about the training I complete, it is also about the recovery that I have in between training; staying hydrated, eating a balanced diet and sleeping in order to maximise adaptation to the training stimulus.

It is extremely physical and intense, placing high demands on my body. Therefore, I need to recover to the best of my ability and be dedicated not only to the training sessions but to my recovery also, for me to achieve at the highest level in my sport.

It has taught me to turn a negative thought into a positive thought

6. You will be unstoppable if you believe in yourself

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Self-belief is something we need to always work on and sometimes it can be difficult in certain scenarios. My self-belief has been built by surrounding myself with positive people in my life. Sport has taught me how to believe in myself during times of high pressure.

It has taught me to turn a negative thought into a positive thought, building self-belief, striving to be the best version of ‘me’ in all walks of life.

I believe in myself and this has been a major contributing factor for me achieving on the world stage.

7. Consistency is the key to success

In order to achieve consistent sporting performances, it is essential to have a consistent balance in life: consistent training, consistent everyday life, consistent mentality and consistent preparation. I make sure that my training sessions are as consistent as possible, working hard and smart in every session.

My life must also be consistent, eating nutritional food, getting adequate recovery, having good sleeping patterns, making sure I am on top of my studies/work and having great relationships with my family and friends, as if I am not happy I will not be able to prepare correctly and I will be distracted.

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Consistent mentality is also essential: I must have self-belief and trust in my support team and I also use mental imagery to help me to perform to the best of my ability. Lastly, it is highly important to have consistent preparation: I always have a preparation routine which I do before each competition, this instills confidence and helps to manage nervous energy, both on the days leading up to the competition and on the competition days.

8. Trust the process

Sport has taught me to have patience. The results which I have achieved have not happened overnight, they are from years of dedication and hard work with many bumps in the road along the way. It is important to always trust yourself, your support team and the process.

I have learned as an athlete that if I focus on the process by having short-term goals, I will achieve my long-term goals. I have gained the most knowledge from my sport during this process and I have been able to carry this knowledge over to help the other aspects of my life.

Throughout the years I have learned to not solely focus on the outcome but to enjoy the journey along the way.

9. Always working together

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Although I am not part of a team sport, it is highly important that I am able to work with a team. Communication is key to good team work. I have learned from both my sporting and academic careers so far that when I have communicated with my support team, we have had a much better understanding of the daily demands of my schedule and we have been able to work around that to make it successful for us all.

It’s important to remember that your support team are there to help you to be the best you can be and that this happens by working as a team.

10. Enjoy the journey

Having fun is essential to success. Throughout the years I have learned to not solely focus on the outcome but to enjoy the journey along the way.

Sport has given me so many opportunities throughout my life so far and I am very honoured to be an ambassador for my sport and the only athlete representative on the Sport Ireland Women in Sport Steering Committee — a task force established to provide strategic and practical advice to enhance the delivery, recognition, promotion and development of participation and leadership opportunities for women and the wider area of inclusion.

The Sport Ireland Women in Sport Policy aims to improve four main target areas of women in sport: Coaching and Officiating, Active Participation, Leadership and Governance and Visibility. This policy highlights that there is a place for everyone in sport and that you don’t have to be an athlete to enjoy sport.

I am extremely passionate about increasing visibility of women in sport and I think it is our responsibility as athletes to prioritise being visible to girls and boys to see what we have achieved and hopefully, it will inspire them to achieve to the best of their ability both nationally and internationally while having fun and enjoying their journey.

I am also very proud to be one of only 20 female athletes selected to represent the 20x20 Campaign for 2020. It is such an exciting time for women in sport and all these opportunities along with training and competing have given me a great balance in life and I am having a lot of fun on this amazing journey.

Read more: 'I had a bit of a breakdown in college': Dublin footballer Nicole Owens opens up about her mental health struggles

Read more: 'Comparing women and men's sport goes against the spirit of, well, sport'

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