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Sophia Kersten: Soccer was my first love

Soccer was my first love. It has brought me so many joyful and unforgettable moments. It has allowed me to meet some pretty amazing souls. It has allowed me to learn and grow.

I think that a sport should be someone’s safe place, their escape from the chaos of the world, where they can go to feel free, strong, and accepted. Soccer was that for me for so long. However, we grow up. Other people’s opinions start mattering more, the sport turns into a pressure about performing: don’t make mistakes, you have to look like this, be passionate but don’t show emotion, suck it up, forget about everything else for this game. Performance becomes the ultimate priority. I completely lost myself in this sport. I forgot to allow myself to be human, to make mistakes, to be tired, to rest, to feel my emotions. For so long, I let this sport and my performance define me.

Soccer has given me so many great things, but it has also aided my anxiety and depression. The thing is, I know so many other athletes go through this. I want to tell you that you’re not alone. You, the person, is more important than any game. Your mental and physical well-being is more important than any game. That’s what soccer is…a game. But society has caused us to look at it as this ultimatum. Win or you’re not good enough. Push through it or you’re weak. You have to do more to be great. Embrace the “grind.” We can shove our emotions down and continue to push through.

But, I think the grind and showing grit is actually feeling your feelings, and still deciding to get up the next day. Because that is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.

Soccer broke me mentally and physically. I was given one season to play due to ACL injuries, I didn’t even make it through the season because that is when I finally said enough is enough. I broke the stigma engrained in my head. I walked away and made my well-being the priority for once in my life. I looked back at the young girl who dreamed of playing collegiate soccer and at first, I was sorry for her. I felt like I failed her as an athlete because I walked away. That wasn’t plan, we were supposed to be this great soccer player. But, I eventually realized I was sorry for a different reason. I was sorry that I put her through so much toxicity and so much pain because she is worth so much more than that.

This isn’t a hate on the sport of soccer, it’s a concern for what the sport has become. I could go on about this for days, but I will leave you with this. Something needs to change because we are so more than athletes and we deserve to been seen as such without punishment.

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