The pressure I felt as an athlete began even at the young age of five. I played forward on my team, and my job was to score goals. If I didn’t score goals, then I believed I failed, or didn’t meet expectations. I didn’t even need a coach to put pressure me–I put it on myself. When a coach did, it became double whammy. And, how long could I go before I hit a breaking point and was no longer able to bear pressure in a healthy manner?
“GET ON THE LINE,” were the famous words my teammates and I heard throughout our entire soccer careers. Whether it was for punishment purposes or to increase our fitness levels, when I heard those four words it felt as if I was just socked in the stomach. I would tense up, get extremely anxious, nervous as hell, and prayed I would survive whatever challenge was thrown at me. Running fitness was by far the most nerve-racking aspect of playing sports for me. Each player on my team stood on the same line, waiting for the whistle that meant ‘go,’ and then I’d run my heart out… every time. But, no matter how much effort I put into each test, there were still teammates who beat me… every time.
It made me crazy. I worked my ass off. I trained on my own. I put in extra time to get as fit and fast as I could. And, still, there were girls who showed me up. Genetics can be a bitch or a gift. I always felt it was so unfair when I looked at my teammates who were long, lean, and fast, didn’t put time in outside of practice, but still out shined me. I wanted my coaches to see how hard I had worked, and trained, so that when I did hear the words, “Get on the line!” I would perform to their standards. If I didn’t, I was crushed. So, the fitness factor weighed heavy on me since it is such a significant tool used to gauge mental and physical toughness.
Unbeknownst to me then, pressures in life can contribute to the development of an eating disorder. But, pressures to perform in sports put athletes at a higher risk for eating disorders.
As I read the article, “The surprising truth about soccer’s most feared fitness test,” I couldn’t help but reflect on my fitness testing experiences. As a youth player, I recall vividly coming to our first practice session of a fall season. On that boiling hot summer day, it felt even hotter as I crossed the eight-lane rubberized track. The smell of the burning rubber made me cringe, as I associated it with fitness testing, track and field, and pressure to perform. We warmed up on the grass, and my coach said, “Ok, I want to see how much work you all put in over the summer. Line up at the start, and we are going to do a two-mile test.”
Seriously, I thought I was going to throw up. I had put in the time. I was prepared. I was ready to kill it. But, the pressure I felt to run and beat a certain time made me nauseous, sick, and neurotic. What if my legs didn’t move when the whistle blew? What if I got tired after the first lap? What if I ran so hard, my legs cramped and I couldn’t go any further? What if I didn’t come in first? Or second? What if I came in last? If I blew it, would I ever play? Or lose my starting spot?
I couldn’t help it. The pressure I felt was unbearable. And, that was just for fitness. Can you imagine how I felt actually playing in a soccer game? I never had to run the beep test. But, my college test all four years was the other dreadful fitness test–the Cooper test. To pass, it required a seven lap completion around the track in less than twelve minutes. I wasn’t able to focus on anything else each summer, except the Cooper test. I timed myself (well, my dad timed me) every Sunday. And, each week I felt pressure to beat the distance from the prior week. If I didn’t, I thought I failed. I beat myself up. I can’t help but believe this immense pressure I put on myself and felt was definitely a contributing factor to the development of my eating disorder.
Clearly, my inability to compartmentalize my thoughts to beat stress caused me much anguish. I had such admiration when I read the article about the players in the WPSL and on the National Team fitness testing. To me, it was the most stressful aspect of my entire soccer career. Whether it was the Cooper test, “suicides,” two-mile runs, “sections,” or 100-meter runs, I felt an extreme amount of nervousness–mostly involving self-doubt and fear. Each time I stood on that line, jumpy and jittery, I always thought how much easier it would be to just quit. I did better than not quitting. No matter what place I finished, I can say, there was never a time I gave less than 110 percent. And, for that, I’m proud.