Sports Girl Soccer Player

My Experience Playing a Competitive Sport in High School

Growing up I played a bunch of different sports, soccer always being my favourite. In grade seven, I decided to try out for a competitive soccer team with some of my friends. This was the beginning of my five years playing competitive soccer. At the start, I loved it. I was playing a sport I enjoyed with my friends and was extremely active. However, when I got into high school, this experience started to change for me. I quickly found that playing a competitive sport was too much for me to handle, and my physical and mental health deteriorated because of it. 

The first way it affected me mentally was the competitive nature and pressure that came with being part of the team. There was constant pressure to be in the absolute best shape possible and NEVER miss a practice. As my schoolwork got harder in high school, I quickly found myself falling behind and not having enough time to do everything. As a result, I began sleeping for around five hours a night, to ensure that all my homework was done after my two-hour practices almost every day of the week. I felt that this was my only choice because I did not want to let down my team by missing practice. This became exhausting for me and, as most people know, the less you sleep typically the worse your mental health is, which I experienced. I also began to focus on ensuring that I “looked fit," or whatever I imagined that being as my 15-year-old self, instead of prioritizing actually being healthy. There was also pressure that came with being surrounded by girls around my age, who were also constantly striving to be better and be as athletic as possible. I found I was constantly comparing myself to the girls looking to get recruited by universities, even though I never had a goal of playing soccer past high school.   

My physical health was also affected, despite being in probably the best shape of my life. One year, in the middle of the season, I tore a muscle above my knee. This injury led to me not being able to walk for a while, let alone play soccer. I began going to physical therapy and was instructed to take a couple of months off of any sports. However, as soon as I was able to run again, I started going back to practices, playing in games and eventually stopped going to physical therapy. I felt that I was letting my team down by not playing, especially because we were already short players, and I chose to prioritize not feeling guilty over my own health. This resulted in me still experiencing pain from the injury up to five years later. 

Eventually, as I became more aware of my needs, I ended up quitting soccer and quickly found myself doing better mentally and physically.  Looking back on the experience, I think one of the biggest contributing factors was not actual pressure coming from my coach or teammates, but the pressure I put on myself at a time when I wasn’t confident enough to do what was best for me. I think that if I had better coping mechanisms at the time, I would have had a very different experience. Despite some of the negative impacts it had on me, I am still thankful for the skills I gained from it and the friends I made. The biggest lesson I learned from this was that my mental and physical health should be prioritized over any pressure or doing things to make other people happy.