Sometimes I feel like I was born to be an athlete. Both of my parents were multi-sport athletes in high school. My mom went on to be a two-time All-American in Division III field hockey at the school I currently go to. I often say when I was young, I grew up on the sidelines of a football field. My dad is a high school football coach and has been for almost thirty years. When I was a baby, he would often be seen with me at practices and games in the fall, holding me in his arms while coaching. Some of my earliest memories are with him in the weight room, at film sessions, or sitting with him in the smelly boy’s locker room before games.
It was when I started field hockey at age eight that I really fell in love with sports. I think back on my first few years of field hockey fondly because it was something I got to do with my family. Not only was my mom my coach, but my aunt also coached, and my cousin played with me. My early days in club field hockey and my high school team have given me some of my favorite memories. While I think back on those days nostalgically, what my mind often leaves out is how unhappy I actually was.
I am no stranger to comparison. From as early as I can remember, I compared myself to my teammates. I always felt bigger than them, slower than them, worse than them. I lacked any confidence that a player or a young girl should have. Even in high school, when I like to say I “got good,” I still couldn’t help but compare myself to my teammates. Even though I was one of the best on the team, I still told myself I was the biggest. One of the slowest. I would look around at them and think, "none of them have thighs like me" or "maybe if I was fast like her people would think I’m better."
Now, as I’m approaching my last season of collegiate field hockey, I still find myself having these comparative thoughts. I have grown to love my big, strong thighs. I have come to learn that I’m not as slow as I think I am. But these comparisons still haunt me. I may love my thighs, but they’re still bigger than everyone else’s. I’m not that slow, but I’m still slower than I want to be.
My biggest battle with mental health hasn’t been external. Yes, I’ve had struggles with my teammates or my coaches. But, it’s the internal battle that hurts me the most. After one mistake, I’m thinking about it for the rest of the practice. My head is spinning, saying things to myself like, “maybe if you were faster you wouldn’t have missed that pass” or “maybe if you were better you’d make a smarter pass.” If I finish a run last, I’m thinking “I’m too slow” and “maybe if I was faster I’d play like her.” I could have a great game and still walk off the field upset over one or two missed shots or passes.
How can I cope with these thoughts when I can’t get away from them? They never let up, and they only get worse with external complications. If I’m injured, I just get harsher with myself. I think, “maybe if I prepared better I wouldn’t be in this situation”. If I’m having trouble with my coaches or teammates, every mistake I make gets amplified tenfold in my head.
My mom and my close friends are no strangers to this negative self-talk. I’m a vocal individual, so I let other people know when I’m upset or when I’m struggling. They all are appalled when they hear what I say to myself, but they don’t know it’s only the tip of the iceberg. I tell them only one negative thing that I’m thinking, when in reality, there are so many worse thoughts floating around in my head. These thoughts are my anxiety getting the better of me during practices and games.
Even in social settings with my teammates, I can’t help but compare. I think “I’ll never be as pretty as her,” “I wish I was as skinny as her,” or “I wish I could wear a top like that, but I’m too big for it.” I hate these thoughts, but I can’t help them. It’s like I can never let myself feel confident in what I’m wearing or what I look like.
It’s so easy to compare yourself to others when you spend countless hours with them. Even though I have started therapy, I still can’t get away from these thoughts. And the worst part is the only person I can be angry at for these thoughts, is myself. I truly am my own biggest enemy in everything I do. I feel as if I’m the only one to blame. I can’t get mad at my athletic department for their lack of support for mental health when they didn’t foster these thoughts inside my head. I can’t get mad at my teammates for who they are when it’s myself that I can’t stand. This is the hardest battle I’ve had to face. Not the lack of mental health services in athletics, or the pressure being put on me as a collegiate athlete. Don’t get me wrong, both of those things are serious. Institutions like The Hidden Opponent and Morgan’s Message are doing so much to help with these issues. But sometimes I just can’t even think about the pressure that others are putting on me when I’m putting so much on myself.
Comparison has led to the demise of my mental health in athletics. I’m learning slowly through therapy how to be nicer to myself, but I still have a long way to go. One thing I am reflecting on now as I write this is, what has all of this negative self-talk brought me? Nothing but pain and sadness. Nothing but anger for myself. The greatest thing I have done for myself in order to combat these thoughts and the pain they bring is therapy. It has 100% saved me. While it took me a while to be ready to talk about these things, once I took the step, I realized it was one of the best steps I had ever taken.