A Mental Mistake Many Athletes Make
As athletes, we have a responsibility to our university, team, family, and ourselves to be at all times our best self. Especially as female athletes, there’s the added societal pressures and judgements that come with choosing the life of a competitive athlete.
I overheard a saying once from my brother’s coach, “there’s a difference between someone who plays baseball, and a baseball player.”
By choosing the life, in this example, of a baseball player means to eat, sleep, breathe the sport.
It becomes a part of your identity. It’s not just something you like to do just for fun and in passing, it’s something you’ve worked and competed for your entire life.
For me, that was soccer. Soccer was my life, I spent every moment I could at the field whether I was watching, playing or coaching, it didn’t matter. As long as I was on the field I was filled with joy.
I’m sure we can all relate to that at some level, being competitive athletes, we’ve felt engulfed by the sport.
However, being consumed by your sport isn’t always a good thing, especially when we don’t have the techniques and skills to take care of ourselves when it’s not going well or is no longer available to us.
Our society often hears “mental health” and thinks of mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders, etc. While these are all very present in the athletic community, that is not what’s meant by mental health.
The CDC describes mental health as “an important part of overall health and well-being. Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices.”
The reason I make this distinction is because this is for all of us, especially female athletes. It’s something we all need to take care of in order to live our best lives on and off the field.
As a female athlete, we face a lot of judgements for doing what we do. There are also a lot of stereotypes for us to “fill” and when we don’t meet them we are called other names.
Growing up in a household of boys, they instilled a fight and competitiveness in me, one that has played a significant role in who I am and my success in the world of soccer.
But growing up, I remember this pressure to look and act a certain way. I remember being proud to be a “tomboy” in all of the stereotypical ways, until high school, when people looked at me funny and called me different names.
I no longer felt proud of my competitiveness and fight. I felt discouraged.
I can recall images of famous female athletes on tv, in the paper, on magazines that were all very small and fit and thinking to myself “that’s what I’m supposed to look like”.
I remember being so frustrated that my little brother who barely worked out as much as I did had abs.
Our mental health isn’t something to push to the side, it’s something we will face day in and day out both on and off the field.
I never wanted people to think of me differently or see me as weak because I wanted to take time alone, focus on myself, or go see a counselor.
I didn’t want people to think I was being selfish.
I was so absorbed in what other people thought of me that I didn’t take care of myself in the ways I should have.
In all the ways sports can help us, it can hurt us too. Being an athlete is all about the blood, sweat and tears and if we don’t learn to also take care of ourselves through that process, the game will win before we even have the chance to play.
I write this post in hopes that people who are struggling know they’re not alone.
In hopes that we will support and encourage each other to take care of ourselves. In hopes that next time you notice one of your teammates is feeling down you reach out to them.
I still struggle with my mental health, there are days where I feel down and lost especially without soccer around anymore.
Do not let others define you or tell you how to feel. Your feelings are valid and self-care isn’t selfish. We must help each other up and not be ashamed of our hard times.
We must continue to empower and support each other because empowered women will always empower women.
Find what works for you, try new things, explore the world of gratitude, mindfulness, and whatever else sparks your interest. Give it a try and it’ll change your world.
Your life is on your terms, don’t let anyone else prevent you from taking care of yourself and putting yourself first.