The line to use the pay phone wrapped around the dormitory lobby. I stood and waited, tears welled up in my eyes, in desperate need to call home. I had an eternal desire to succeed; to be recognized, and be identified. I needed to hear my dad’s voice; to tell me it would be okay. “Just do the best you can do, Erin. That’s all you can do.” I was sick; my jaw trembled, my stomach churned with overwhelming nerves, and uncontrollable tears streamed down my face.
What I heard from that simple line of encouragement was completely different than his actual words. I heard, “Erin, if you work hard enough, you will make the team. If you don’t, then you will be a failure.” I am aware my parents would never have considered me to be a failure. But, I wanted to make them proud; to be exceptional, and to make the Olympic Development Program’s US Region II Regional Team the first opportunity I was given to tryout. I was fourteen years old that summer.
An article was just published in the New York Times on Sunday that revealed, “A growing body of medical evidence suggests that long-term childhood stress is linked not only with a higher risk of adult depression and anxiety, but with poor physical health outcomes, as well.”
It was the most anxiety-provoking camp I had ever experienced as a teenager. My teammates and I, each summer leading up to those six dreadful days, strategized different ways for it to be cancelled. Maybe someone would start a fire and all the fields would be damaged, destroyed, and vanished. Maybe DeKalb, Illinois would have a natural disaster; possibly a tornado, that would violently demolish the facilities we needed to use that week. Clearly, these are all happenings that are nonsensical and theoretical. However, that is how much I quivered from the thought of Regional Camp.
Olympic Development Program’s Regional Camp consisted of fourteen states (Region 2 represents the Midwest) each bringing a team comprised of their top eighteen players. Each team and player was evaluated by a specialized staff, lined in chairs down the length of the field, during training and games. Each day came to an end, and it was announced that there would be a list placed outside of the cafeteria at 6:00 a.m. of names that had been named to the special training team for the following day. Sixty names would be listed; leaving the remainder of two hundred and fifty players to feel rejected. The pressure, anxiety, and anticipation was unbearable for me. And, my name was always on the list.
As I reflect on my experiences with the Olympic Development Program (ODP), I can appreciate the opportunities I was given after being selected to the final team. I played in Europe, I attended a National Camp at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, CA where I was coached by the highest level professionals in soccer; and I was able to compete alongside the top players in the United States. In fact, it was clear that my selection to this team placed me in a distinguished group of players for college coaches to aggressively recruit. For that, I am forever grateful, as I became the first soccer player in my age group to commit to a college.
Though these are all unbelievably positive takings, I struggled immensely with the pressures, demands, and expectations. The damage that my anxieties and internal stresses posed on me at such a young age will never be specifically known; however, it is highly likely these were all contributing influences that led to my inevitable depression and anxiety in college, and the eventual development of an eating disorder. Soccer was a sport I excelled in physically, technically, and tactically. I, most definitely, lacked the psychological component needed to make it to the next level.