From the time I was a little girl, I strived to please others. I thrived on praise and attention, and put all my efforts into being recognized and acknowledged. It was something I felt internally, but was never able to look inside, and see that was where my troubles were brewing. I happened to have gravitated toward soccer at the age of four. Not only did I enjoy it, but I stood out, and it came more natural to me than it did to others. It provided me a sense of accomplishment.
It was clear from the start that soccer was my sport, and was going to play a significant role in my life. I was determined to be the best; on my team, in my league, and in my community. I was competitive, and refused to lose; whether it was a practice or a game. I found joy and fulfillment from my success on the soccer field.
But, the pure love and joy for the game of soccer that I once had as a young girl began to fade. As days and years passed, my expectations for myself magnified. My moods began to be dictated by the way I played, or the way I thought had played. As hard as my dad was on me, I was much harder on myself. I lived with a knot in my stomach, always questioning whether or not I was being evaluated by coaches and parents as a top player. The truth is, I was more worried about how others viewed me as a soccer player, rather than just playing, enjoying the game, and doing my best. I was more focused on the end result than the process.
I never felt like it came easy; like I was the coach’s favorite, or that it was a given I would make a team. There were other players who had older siblings who paved the way for them. I didn’t have that. I needed to create my way without any external influences. As a result, I always had a chip on my shoulder, which probably benefited me in some aspects, but was, also, detrimental to my psyche. I was always playing, battling, and competing to prove myself. I needed validation; whether it was verbal, a selection to a team, or through my game production.
My nerves were atrocious. I spent more time wondering if I was going to play well that day, than focusing on just going out there, having fun, and working hard. Even as a kid, I lost sleep the night before a big game praying that my performance would be impressive. My focus became more on my individual contributions than on the teams results. It some cases, if I deemed my personal performance as acceptable and copacetic, than my team’s loss wasn’t nearly as disappointing than if we were to win, and I perceived my play as poor.
I remember the day clearly. We were in West Lafayette, Indiana my freshman year of college playing at Purdue University. The score was tied 1-1. I had struggled to be impactful that day. I had a chance to redeem myself in the last few minutes of the game when I found myself in a position to score; and, I missed. I was distraught. With seconds ticking down on the clock, we were awarded a free kick. Our junior captain stepped up to take it, and scored. I was still distraught. I recall getting on our team bus that afternoon in tears. Though, this appeared to be selfish behavior, and it was, I couldn’t help it. I was too focused on critiquing my own performance to even open my eyes and celebrate a huge victory. Would I lose my starting spot? Would my minutes be minimized the next game? These questions raced through my mind on a daily basis. I recognize now that had I received help on how to manage these internal struggles, I may have been able to fully embrace the team sport that I had once found joy.
I truly believe that my body and mind weren’t able to fight those demons any longer. Instead of “burning out” from soccer, I believe I began developing unhealthy habits and behaviors, as a result of the immense pressures I felt inside. It is heartbreaking to reflect back on the amount of time I spent focusing on my performance, and how I perceived it. The reality is, it was never good enough in my eyes. I was never satisfied. And, I convinced myself that I was always going to lose my spot, playing time, or position on the team.
It is easy to say now, I wish I had let go of the stressors; and to have just enjoyed running around, competing, and participating in a team sport. To have smiled, laughed, and relaxed when it came to practice and game time; instead of having my lip quiver, and my limbs shake with nerves in hopes of playing exceptionally. To have been satisfied by knowing I worked as hard as I could, and gave it all that day; instead, of obsessing over what I could have done differently or better. To have not been so fearful of failure that it inhibited me from truly reaching my highest potential; and, ultimately, preventing me from enjoying the beautiful game of soccer.
To be continued… How developing, battling, and overcoming an eating disorder granted me an opportunity to do just that; love the sport of soccer; smile and laugh; and be a true team player. But, was it too late?