Performance anxiety. Uncertainty. “No days off.” Fear of failure. Coach wants to talk to me. Coach didn’t say anything to me. I didn’t play today. I played really well today. I’m not feeling 100% into it. Can I be that honest? Walk it off. Don’t milk it. But don’t push it. X drink is good for you post workout. X drink is also bad for you post workout. I’m sorry, what the actual eff are we supposed to do? It’s no question why athletes are taking a step back to re-evaluate how they’re being treated, but also how they are treating themselves.
You want to talk “soft athletes” or you think MeNtAL hEaLtH is a crutch? Better stay off the mound with that one.
Long before the shut + up and dribble era, athletes were expected to always be “on.” Male athletes couldn’t show any weakness (still hard to today), and female athletes? Well we were just lucky to be part of the journey. Even so… it was customary to be vulnerable and cry in baseball (sorry Jimmy Dugan), but it wasn’t really a safe space to do so.
Growing up I played 6 sports. Six. All at the same time. Sports were my life. I had Kobe #8 posters alongside Jordan on my wall (that eventually gave way to ‘90s pop bands, but more on that never), and according to the street sign above my door I lived on Michael Jordan Ave for quite some time. This became my identity. It surpassed being a girl, a Chilean in an American’s lifestyle, and an at-the-time academic. (Also to note, I very much was a tomboy for pure fact that short girls’ clothes weren’t it and only boys played sports so…)
I grew up at the tail end of women’s sports emerging, and am currently competing in the fight for mental health acceptance. Right between the “back in my day, we fought through this bs. We didn’t get water breaks. Nobody let us take time off.” and the “Houston Dash just announced they’re providing mental health days for the entire organization to take the day off together.” (#DashTFon btw) There is also little to be desired about the early emergence of “sexy” content regarding women’s sports before people realized, oh hey they’re actually pretty talented. Enter body dysmorphia, eating disorders, obsessions with working out, and coaches making less-than-subtle comments about our bodies.
It’s an exciting time. Hard to see former athletes not be as supportive because they didn’t get that treatment, but times they are a-changin’.
Personally, I’ve become pretty in-tune with my body, my mindset, and my emotional capacity. Telling people I don’t have room to take on their phone call at the time, saying no to playing soccer 8 times a week, and only putting myself in environments that are positive/non-toxic. But what I think has been the toughest, if I may speak for athletes, is that we are now called “soft” if we want time off, if we feel we are overtraining, if we want someone to talk with, if we say no to a competition. While I love the dedication to the #nodaysoff, we just have to remember to include self care as an “on day” and that rest is a positive. I saw several tweets and comments in response to Simone Biles — “Then you’re not cut out to be an Olympian.” “Maybe you shouldn’t be in sports.” “Olympians are stronger than that.”
Stronger? Than what?
To me, expressing vulnerability and voicing your needs are certainly signs of strength. Knowing how to best take care of yourself. Skip Bayless referred to Dak Prescott as less of a leader for sharing his emotions and tears after the loss of a family member. Seriously?
We should all be able to answer the question each day of training or a game, “Am I 100% ready?” without repercussions. Yes, to compete at a higher level, we often do push past our comfort boundary and beyond fully-recovered injuries. I have done it, to my own volition, we all have. But 1) not everyone is a high-level athlete, and those of us who are were not always and 2) you have to find that happy medium that allows you to succeed and exceed mediocrity without harming your wellbeing. I’m very familiar with endurance training, weightlifting; you do have to push past some pain points. Push too far, though, and you’re screwed.
It’s getting there. I’m proud of all the athletes I’m encountering who are taking themselves seriously, calling out coaches for ill behavior, men supporting women, women supporting men. The athletic world is a powerful one, and I hope we all remember to take care of and love ourselves so we can in turn love everything about the sports we play. It will take time, but luckily we are conditioned to play til the final whistle.