Letting Go of Playing Sports in College

I recently decided to take a step back from playing my sport at a college level and it was probably one of the best decisions of my life. It was also one of the hardest. I have been playing at a competitive level for a good portion of my life and I didn’t know anything else but that lifestyle, until now. I was letting something that I love destroy how I felt about myself, and that shouldn’t be how it is. 

            One week before preseason, I was sitting on my kitchen table with my thumb sliced open from cutting myself while making breakfast (and yes, I was having avocado, I know you were all thinking that), tears running down my face because I just couldn’t let go. I just couldn’t let myself walk away from what I have always known. This defined me, and without it, who was I? 

My sport is something that I have been doing all year round since the 3rdgrade. I ALWAYS had it. “I can’t, I have practice,” was my go-to line up until now. I played my freshmen year and could not admit to myself that I was miserable. Just miserable. I had barely any friends other than the team, and the only things I would do was eat, sleep, study, and repeat. If I wasn’t at practice or in class, I was hidden in the corner of the library trying to get all my work done. When I played at home, I felt good about myself, unstoppable. I LOVED going to Friday night training with my goalkeeper coach. (Yes, I actually enjoyed spending my Friday nights practicing). But while playing at school, I felt the complete opposite. I felt like the worst player every minute of every practice. Sometimes, I wished I got injured so I could get out of practice. How did it come to this? WHAT HAPPENED?

I finally reached my breaking point and I knew I just had to let go. I put myself in this ugly and dark state of mind for almost an entire year. I was afraid of letting go of my grasp of my comfort zone. All my life I have trained. Trained, trained, trained, trained. That is all I knew. Now, I had nothing. What was even worse was that I felt that I was letting two of my coaches from home, who are two of my favorite people, down. This was an all-time low for me. It felt extremely weird my first few weeks back on campus. I felt like there was something missing.  I didn’t need to wake up for a 6AM practice or wear my practice uniform to class and carry around 2 backpacks, or study on a bus for two hours once or twice a week. Or have to worry about someone making me feel like I wasn’t good enough. 

Letting go was the best thing I could have done for myself this semester. I truly miss playing, but I love the opportunities that have opened up for me. I am now a lab TA, a tutor, volunteering in various clubs, meeting more people, and spending time with my roommates. I can go home on the weekends, go on trips, and go abroad! My whole demeanor changed. I did not know I could be this happy. I was so afraid of moving out of my comfort zone. If I stayed with it and stayed on the team, I would probably have lost my mind completely, and would never have had any of these opportunities that I have now. What especially helped was that my coaches were not disappointed in me, but supportive. They knew that my well-being and my happiness was far more important than being a college athlete. I also learned my sport doesn’t define me. It is a part of me, and I will always love playing. The environment I was in at school was not healthy for me. 

My advice to the person who is afraid of letting go, just do it. I was afraid of leaving my comfort zone and now I am the happiest I have been in a long time. I knew I wasn’t going to be a professional athlete after college, and I would have regretted leaving the door closed on all the opportunities I have now. There will be a tomorrow and something new to try. It may take a few days to find it, but you will. It will be tough at first, so don’t be afraid to cry. It may seem like the end of the world, but it’s not. You just need to keep moving forward.