An Open Letter to NCAA Athletes: Top 10 Things I’ve Learned As An Athlete That Will Serve You + Help You Through This
To all the senior collegiate athletes who just had their lives upended — this one’s for you.
Life is looking a little different these days, and while I can’t say that I’ve been in your exact situation, I’m utterly heartbroken for you. As a former NCAA Division 1 Track and Field athlete, I know the commitments and sacrifices that you’ve made to get to your level and the joy that comes from competing and laying it all on the line. You’re where you are because you wanted to be the best version of yourself on the field or court — and you made it happen. You’ve spent years dedicating yourself to your sport and to the opportunity that comes with competing at the highest level. The time required in and of itself is more than a part-time job. The grueling practices, sore muscles, frustration, and injuries never outweighed your dedication, drive, or love of the game.
I can only imagine that the unexpected loss of your senior season hits hard. Really hard. The immediate need to pack up, head home, and leave what you love — your sport, your people, your life as you know it. Some of you might be struggling with being home, sheltering-in-place, and adjusting to life without your teammates and your final competitive season. Some of you are missing out on school records, championships, and titles. Some of you are numb, some are anxious, some are upset, and some are completely devastated. I know that sports have had a significant impact on your life, and I can imagine having all of it cut short so suddenly has been a loss of monumental proportions.
The unknown of it all can be scary, especially coming from the structured world you were probably used to as an athlete. You’ve had daily practice and classes and competitions on the weekends to keep you focused and centered. And you’ve probably been used to living in close quarters with some of your teammates, spending far more time with them than you have with your family over the past few years.
And now that things are changing, no one really knows what’s going to happen or how long it’s going to last. I wish I could tell you how it turns out, but I can’t. Instead, I can encourage you, talk with you, listen, and give advice from the things I’ve learned. I’ve always been a firm believer in the life lessons that sports provide, and you all have some incredible skill sets you’ve acquired. Now more than ever, it’s time to tap into those. You see, they’re so ingrained in you, you might not even know they’re there — or at least you how to translate them when they’re not related to sports. In this season, I’m focused on helping you take your winning mentality from the field into life. To set you up for success and get you to continue using those skills while you’re transitioning out of college sports and into the real world during this confusing and unprecedented time. Here are the things I’ve learned as an athlete that have served me well that I want to pass along to you.
1 – CONTROL WHAT YOU CAN
This is probably my favorite foundational lesson that came from my college coach. She emphasized controlling what you can. Being an indoor and outdoor sport, we had our fair share of weather to battle, whether it was rain, sleet, wind, or high altitude — even hosting championships in 108 degrees. Man, that was brutal! We obviously could never control the weather, but we could be prepared as best as possible. Plenty of sweats, rain gear or Gatorade and water — whatever was needed. And before we even got there, it was our training and taking care of ourselves and trusting the process that would best serve us when the competition time came. But the central importance of this was a shift in perspective and how you deal with the obstacles in your path. You can’t control the rain or the heat, so don’t waste any energy and effort worrying about them! Focus on what you can manage and make the best of the situation. Another coach once told me to make my own sunshine. And I loved that. I remember it so vividly. It was in the middle of a downpour, and I had on my plastic poncho while I was warming up to compete. I ended up winning the Oregon Invite in the freezing rain with a PR that day. I came to play while everyone else was worried about the weather. Take advantage of those opportunities, focus on the good, and maximize it.
For me now, this means that joy is a choice, as is my energy, outlook, perspective, attitude, and how I show up for others. Those are things I am completely in control of regardless of the situation, no matter how much I hate it or wish the circumstances of my life were different. My response is what’s important. I’m actively looking for solutions to the problem and not causing more of them. I’m not adding stress to myself worrying about things that could or couldn’t happen. I’m continually looking for the silver lining and the good in things. I’m still in control of my goals and dreams and the effort I put into them. While the world is in limbo, what were your goals after graduation? How can you take action towards them now? Is it researching? Connecting with people? Finding a virtual community? Taking an online course in your favorite hobby? It may not feel like it, but you have so much more control than you realize. My goal at the end of this is to come out stronger and more knowledgeable. I realize my situation isn’t the same as yours, but I haven’t binged any shows on Netflix or Prime. I haven’t changed my daily routine or eating habits. If anything, I’ve given myself more structure because I’m best when I’m structured, and I know that about myself. In all honesty, you probably are too.
At the end of the day, controlling what you can relies heavily on your perspective and attitude. You can choose to see difficult situations as opportunities instead of challenges. What does this look like for you? Are you catching yourself when negative or anxious thoughts come to mind? Are you able to recognize them and turn them into a positive?
2 – PERSPECTIVE IS EVERYTHING
Henry Ford once said that “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.” This quote applies to not only the way you look at and think about things but also the actions you take because of your thoughts and perspectives. It’s incredible how much your actions mimic your thoughts. That’s why your mindset is the most important thing. Your perspective and outlook on life come from your mindset and the standards and values you’ve set for yourself. Mindset and perspective are vitally important because all of your decisions will stem from these two traits. You’ve probably seen a defeated mindset before. You already know when you’ve beaten an opponent, and the game hasn’t even started. There’s a look on their face that shows the slightest bit of fear or hesitation, and you immediately know you can take advantage of their doubts. They’ve already lost in their mind, and it’ll be that much easier to actually do it during the game.
I know that perspective is essentially just a point of view. Still, I’ve always viewed perspective as having a more in-depth understanding of a situation that simply being a point of view. It’s not just looking at the face-value of something, but also involves moving beyond the surface to look at the backstory. It knows you can’t change what happened and chooses to positively move forward.
Chooses. That’s the first keyword. And positively is the next keyword.
You get to choose how you view the circumstances that happen to you and what you do with them. How you let them affect you. Your perspective will either better you or set you back. It will allow your struggle to become your story or your self-sabotage. I know when I think about it like that, I never want to actively choose something that will set me back. I’ve always had an optimistic and realistic outlook on life, but sometimes it’s difficult to see the good in something. When difficult or unexpected situations arise, I have to ask myself, “What’s the lesson in this?” and “What good can come from it?” You’re probably all wondering that question right now. Sometimes you’ll see the reason immediately, and sometimes you won’t see it for years. But either way, you have to choose how you move forward. You might not realize it during your pain and heartache, but your current struggles can positively help someone in the future if you let go of “why” it happened to you and replace it with the thought that it happened “for” you. Your story can save someone else when you let go of your ego and the idea that it’s all about you and transition it into how your experience can serve someone else.
When you have the right perspective, you’ll have less anxiety, worry, and fear because you’ll be focused on doing what you can and showing up positively among all of the doubt and negativity around you.
As we eventually move on from this pandemic, we’re going to be starting a new chapter as a society and as a world. We’ll all be beginners again. Not the veteran athlete that showed up, but the rookie who might not have a clue. And it’s hard sometimes because as competitive athletes, we want to be the best and there’s a streak of perfectionism in all high achievers. I get it. No one likes to show up and have a rough day or the worst competition after all of the practice and hard work that’s gone into it. Just knowing that you haven’t put forth your best effort or performance is frustrating. And I wholeheartedly understand that. I’ve routinely proclaimed to hate running my entire life (yes, even as a track athlete). I didn’t think I could race anything over 200m and had the excuses and self-doubt to back it up. So I signed up for a half marathon to prove to myself that I could do something I never thought I could do. It was a mental challenge to change my mindset. As a competitor, though, maybe I never thought I could run a half marathon because, to me, if I signed up, it would mean I RAN the entire course. That I actually had a good mile time for all thirteen miles. That I’d somehow be expected to keep up with runners that have been doing this for years just because I ran track (long jump and triple jump!) in college. That somehow if I did something I had never done before, I would still need to be great at it. But I don’t. I’ve never done it. And I’ve changed my mindset to know that I have to put in my best EFFORT, but if that means walking at some points, that’s perfectly fine. I gave myself space to not be perfect. To not be amazing. I just want to cross the finish line! I don’t care what time it takes because this is more of a mental victory to me than a physical one. But it’s that shift in mindset to allow me the ability to be a beginner.
And I think this is so important as we translate into the world outside of sports. We have to be careful to not let perfectionism rule the day. Because if we do, we’ll quickly find ourselves in analysis paralysis where you feel like you’re not ready, that you’re not good enough or you don’t want to put out anything less than your best and what you’re capable of, and you’ll remain stagnant for months or maybe years. That you somehow have to be at the same level as everyone who has been doing it for years. That you won’t even start because so many people are already doing it. Perfectionism will get you nowhere except to the land of the frustrated. You have to realize that putting in the work and gaining progress is so much more valuable and essential than ever trying to be perfect. Remember how you didn’t necessarily see the results of your hard work every day at practice? But over the months and years, you knew your efforts paid off? You saw your growth, and you knew the work was worth it. It’s so important to remember this as you’re starting something new and especially now when things are so uncertain. Give yourself the grace to be a beginner and figure out how you can see obstacles and challenges as opportunities for growth that will serve you in the long run.
3 – CHALLENGE YOURSELF
You are not afraid of hard work. If you were, you wouldn’t be a college athlete. Sports are all about challenging yourself. Becoming a better version of yourself than the day or year before. You’ve done it most of your life. Your goal was always to win the game and ultimately win the championship at the end of the season. That’s what you worked your ass off for – day in and day out. It was hard, and it was rough, and you were sore, and you might’ve been injured along the way, but you came back, and you fought because you’re not afraid of hard work. You were up for the challenge! It didn’t matter how exhausted you were each day, or even after every season, you still put in the daily and off-season work and came back ready to play harder than before because you knew what you were working for and what it would mean.
There’s a desire and drive that makes you want to continue no matter how difficult it gets— no matter how much you can’t raise your arms above your waist or how it’s easier to fall onto the toilet instead of using your quads to sit down. You not only like it, but you also need it to continually grow. To break your own records and crush your own limits. You love the thrill of the accomplishment because it means you’ve won a personal battle. And you’ll always need to challenge yourself to become the best version of yourself in everything you do. It might seem difficult at the moment, but you’ll need to find something to do that lights an inner fire, inspires you and makes you want to push forward no matter how rough the going gets. Because it’s already tough and it may get tougher, we don’t know.
But we already know you’re not afraid of putting in the work! Repeat after me, “I can do hard things!” Now say it again and actually believe it. Because if we’re being honest, sometimes all you’ll want to do is give up or run and hide. To take cover and believe it’s better to forget it than face it. But you’ve made it this far. Through all of the ups and downs, the unexpected turns, curveballs, injuries, and all the things you didn’t plan on — like your final season being cut short. You’ve already proven it to yourself time and time again that you’re capable of overcoming obstacles because you wouldn’t have gotten to where you are otherwise. There is a drive and a fire inside of you that motivates you to reach your goal, and as shitty as it might be, your timeline and expectations may need to be adjusted. This kind of pandemic has obviously never happened before. Still, it honestly might not be the hardest thing you’ve gone through in life, either. It’s a giant detour and a significant disappointment, but you have so much promise and so much to accomplish ahead of you! Once the shock has worn off a bit, figure out your ultimate “why,” what your end goal is now, and what you need to do to get there. Literally, draw yourself a roadmap with your goal at the end and break down action steps you’ll need to get there along the way.
There’s a lot more that gets wrapped into this, but if you end up no longer being in competitive sports, you’re gonna need to find a way to continually challenge yourself. Whether mentally or physically (preferably both), but you’ve got to do something. You’re wired for it, and the lack of it will eventually drive you crazy. Over the past few years, I’ve stopped drinking Dr. Pepper (my 3-4x/day daily vice — and it’s been seven years without it!), did a 40-day eating challenge, rode a bike 30 miles down the hilly and steep Central California coast for charity, and trained to run a half marathon (entirely more mental for me than physical!). This won’t last forever, and it’ll help immensely when you’re already prepared for your next steps.
4 – CONSISTENCY IS KEY
You’ve heard it a million times, and by now, you know it’s more than true. Success doesn’t come from what you do every once in a while, it comes from what you do consistently. You won’t always see the results day-in and day-out, but you will over time. You know you have to be consistent in your training to continue leveling up your skills. This means your habits and routines are critical to your success, especially when no one’s telling you what to do or holding you accountable. Your morning routines, workouts, eating, sleep, how you communicate, how you show up for relationships — it’s all on you. What you do daily determines where you’ll go. You must be consistent in your habits to follow through and achieve your goals regardless of if they’re on the court or not. Your daily habits are really the secret to success.
I’m trying my best to keep my habits and routines the same during this season when so much around me has shifted — getting up at the same time, working out at the same time, eating the same kind of breakfast, lunches, and dinners, and making sure I get good sleep. I’m a notorious night-owl but have been working on going to bed at a decent time because I know how important sleep is. Our son Jackson is two years old and helps keep us on a routine because lunch, nap time, dinner, bath, and bed are all staying the same for him. He has no idea what’s going on, and I need to keep things as normal as possible for him — in routine and attitude! There’s obviously a lot more that we have to be flexible with having him home, but it’s just as good for me as it is for him.
We love to cook, but sometimes life just gets busy, and it’s easier to grab something (healthy-ish) on the go. Staying in right now means I just need to be better at planning the dinner menu– and we’ve done really well at it. We didn’t buy anything at the store this weekend that we normally wouldn’t. No extra junk food, no extra snacks, no “comfort food.” Staying healthy starts with what you put in your body! And drinking water! That’s all still in your control to choose!
5 – THE ABILITY TO ADAPT
Let’s face it — things don’t always go the way you plan, and unfortunately, you’re living through that right now. But throughout your sports career, you’ve learned how to deal with loss, frustration, coaching changes, injuries, and unexpected situations year-in and year-out. Maybe you almost qualified for semi-finals but didn’t. Or maybe you made it to the championships and were runner-up. Or maybe you tore your hamstring a few weeks into the season. Or your coaches moved, and new ones came in. Or your position changed, or new players came in and changed the dynamic. You’ve been there before in one scenario or another. You’ve probably never thought of it this way, but you’ve fought through more challenges and obstacles than most people. Sometimes it was a slight deviation, and other times you’ve been completely derailed. Besides getting benched, redshirted, academic probation, sickness, or family emergencies, injuries are the most common thing to occur when you least expect them — sometimes, there’s not even any warning letting you know to back off. All of a sudden, your season is down the drain while you’re rehabbing that torn hamstring and desperately wanting to get back on the field. You may have lived something similar. You can’t control these injuries or even foresee them coming, and it requires a new perspective for getting through the season while watching your teammates compete. And there’s no way to determine what’s up ahead. But you didn’t give up. You adjusted to your new circumstances because you knew you had to. It wasn’t even a question. You most likely hated that you got put in that situation, but you also came to terms with it and began making arrangements for a new structure. You’ve made it through one hundred percent of all the bad and the hard days where you felt like you couldn’t go on. Because at the end of the day, champions know their ability to adapt determines their longevity in the game. Maybe it was more practice on a specific thing, or maybe it was more rehab. You had an original plan, but now it has to be flexible. Maybe it comes at a later date now. Maybe that means taking a fifth year to finish your athletic eligibility, even if you’re graduating academically. Maybe you’ll be stronger and more mentally prepared when it does. The goal is still the same, but the way you’re getting there has changed.
Champions know that there are variables in any situation — unfair calls, home-team refs, and they need to rise above them. They realize the things they can’t control and focus on the things they can. They are adapting all the time and innately hold themselves to a higher standard. In their responses, actions, and overall in life. Their ability to adapt gives them an advantage, and they’re not afraid to deal with loss, or obstacles or challenges because they see these things as lessons, detours and setbacks, not end-alls. It might seem like the end, but it’s not because champions inevitably rise above.
6 – FAILURE LEADS TO SUCCESS
Failure is literally what got you to where you are. You failed over and over and over. You know you’d never win a championship overnight. You had to put in the work. And trying new things to continually get better means you’re constantly failing. You might not have ever thought of it like that because, in your mind, you were just practicing to get better. Which you were. There are hundreds of practices, games, and training hours put in behind the scenes, but each prepares you for your goal, which means there are thousands of failures on your way to success. Among those practices were so many times you didn’t get it right. You didn’t figure it out. And during meets or games or matches, there were plenty of times where you fell, you screwed up, or you missed the shot. All on your way to becoming better. All of those attempts were the stepping stones to your success– to getting it right. Even in the pros, you’re considered a Hall of Fame hitter if you’re batting average is above .300… that’s 3 out of 10. That’s literally failing by all other standards. And yet in sports, it’s not. And because we know that failure leads to success, we also know that determination and perseverance are the main components of failing your way to success.
When you’re a baby learning to walk, you didn’t give up the first, second, or tenth time you tried and fell. It wasn’t even an option. You just kept trying. It would be ridiculous if you decided it wasn’t for you! As we grow up, we think that by the time we’re an adult, we should have figured out how to do things and that if we don’t succeed the first or second time, we need to move on to something else. But how are you supposed to be great at something you just started?! You have to be ok with being bad at something new. To give yourself grace and time to learn. All of these failures are the stepping stones to your success. Don’t quit a few steps in!
Before I ran track, I was a competitive Level 10 gymnast. I began gymnastics at three and a half years old, and honestly, I don’t remember much about those first couple years except that I loved it and couldn’t wait for practice. As I got older and more experienced, I realized I loved the challenge, learning new skills, and the opportunity to perform to the best of my ability. Throughout those 13 years and Levels 5, 6, 8, 9, and 10, the skills got harder, trickier, and downright scary. There was a healthy fear of the skills and my ability required to continually out-perform the previous routine, competition, or year. There were plenty of times when I couldn’t figure out a new skill, regardless of how many attempts were made. And in gymnastics, when you can’t figure something out, it typically means you’re falling. Either on your face, your stomach, your ass — you name it, but it’s most likely not your feet — and it could be from 4’ high off the balance beam, 7’ from the high bar or in the middle of your tumbling pass. Basically, like all gymnasts, I became an expert at falling. But one of the greatest lessons in gymnastics was perseverance. Late practices, double days, and make-up sessions for unfinished workouts became part of the routine when faced with the time-crunch of an impending competition season. I kept going because I knew I could do it — I just hadn’t quite figured out how to YET. And with enough repetition, effort, and correction from my coaches, it would literally just click one day and I would begin executing as I should. Once that’s figured out, I’m moving on to the next skill… just in time to start falling all over again.
As an athlete, your entire career is about taking risks, and the more determined you are, the more risks you’ll take. You know that your talents and abilities can’t stay the same —you can’t remain stagnant because you will inevitably get beaten. You can’t put yourself on the sidelines and expect to come through in the clutch. You’re constantly pushing yourself to run a little faster, play a little harder, swing a little better, and you’ll do whatever it takes to get yourself there. You’ll never know how great you could be if you don’t make that attempt.
You might not be failing right now, but you probably don’t feel like you’re winning either. And you might not even be sure what you should be determined about. Maybe it’s continuing to train and compete Open once we’re all able to again. Maybe it’s to connect with a team or agency that could sign you. Maybe it’s focusing on your post-grad plans. Maybe it’s time to try new things — things you didn’t have time for as an athlete and always wanted to do. Try something, anything. And if it doesn’t work out immediately, that’s ok. Just get back up and try again. There’s going to be a lot of uncertainty as you’re moving forward, but the most successful people always say their success came from getting back up, staying focused on their goal, and always pushing forward instead of quitting. They just didn’t quit. If there’s an idea or thought you keep having that will make yourself better and more prepared, go for it and be willing to stick it out through the failures– just like you did throughout your career.
7 – MOVE YOUR BODY
As an athlete, this seems like a no brainer, right?! You should be moving your body every day. Not crazy workouts every day, but some sort of movement. Your body is a finely tuned machine and needs to be taken care of. But I remember when summer would roll around, and we’d have our workouts emailed to us — it wasn’t necessarily the first thing I was jumping up and down to do. I needed a break. We would have just finished the season, and some years, school was out before Regionals or Nationals.
It’s understandable to give yourself some space to deal with the shock of what’s happening, but don’t let that feeling linger where it becomes detrimental. Get back in the saddle. Even if that means taking the dog for a walk or run on some days, just get up and get going! Have a dance party! Get creative with your body strength workouts. I was supposed to run my first half marathon a couple weekends ago– which is a MAJOR deal for me– and it obviously got postponed. I was super bummed that I’d just trained for my first-ever half marathon and check that goal off my list, but completely understood the situation and knew I had ZERO control. There was absolutely nothing for me to be angry, upset, frustrated, or anxious about. That wouldn’t serve anyone. We’ll run when we can. ANNND, there have been times when athletes have trained their entire life for the Olympics, only to have them canceled! Even the fact they just postponed them to 2021 is unprecedented. Talk about heartbreaking! So although it was disappointing, my situation couldn’t even compare to that. It’s all about perspective.
In the meantime, I’ve put in 110 miles during training– all by mid-March!– and couldn’t be more proud of myself! This number would have literally been zero normally, so the fact that I made a commitment to do this was really about the journey to get to this goal. Staying consistent in my workouts is so important! You all know how much better you feel after a workout — especially one you didn’t want to do. You’re proud of yourself and feel like you accomplished something. When you move your body, you change your energy and your thoughts, which is a catalyst to change your actions. Moving your body will only make a positive impact on your mental and physical health — a win-win!
Now that we’re all quarantined and everyone is sheltering-in-place, everyone’s schedule is changing. I literally get out of bed every morning and immediately put workout clothes on. I know that if I’m in them, I’ll go — it’s motivating to be in them and makes me feel like I have to — like, I can’t take them off without them being sweaty, or I cheated myself. Make a commitment to yourself to stay the course. You’ve made it this far, and although it may feel like you have nowhere to go, you don’t necessarily know that for sure. What if we’re up and about in six weeks, and you could actually make the standard or time or distance required for your next event? I’m not saying that’s the case, but there may be something ahead that still requires your dedication. How mad at yourself would you be if you had the chance to do something incredible, but chose not to put in the work because it wasn’t guaranteed?! We don’t know what’s on the other side of this, but make a workout plan, get some accountability virtually with your teammates and get to sweating.
8 – HOW TO MAKE DECISIONS
Listening to your body is one of the best things you can do for yourself in sports. It literally tells you what to do. Feeling tight? Go stretch. Feeling tweaks in your muscles? Hit up the trainers and back off a bit. Have a dry mouth? You’re way past dehydrated and need to drink water. Your body tells you when you need to rest and recover, and you all know the difference between soreness that you can push through versus having a real problem. It’s up to you to have learned to listen to it over the years and make the right decisions to keep you at the top of your game. Otherwise, you’ve paid the price when you didn’t. It might seem strange, but this doesn’t change after sports, and the more you can be in tune with your body, the better. Your intuition and gut instinct will manifest itself as a physical response to the choices you’re trying to make if you learn to listen. Stay with me here.
Normally as graduation nears, there are a good amount of unknown and lots of decisions that will need to be made. And I know that a lot of times, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with options that it becomes paralyzing. I know right now, you may think you don’t have options, but you do. How are you going to use this time to benefit you? What can you do now to set yourself up for success when the time comes? You may have so many options, you have no idea what to do, where to start, or even what direction to head in. So you don’t do anything, which is actually the worst choice that could be made. It’s not going to help you at all, and you’ll just stay stuck in your rut and constantly be playing all of these ideas over and over in your head.
What should I do? What should I choose? Where should I go from here? How do I decide? You might be facing these same questions right now.
There are a whole bunch of ideas when it comes to sorting through your options when trying to make a decision. And a lot of them say just pick something and run with it, see if it works. If it doesn’t pan out, try something else. That’s great, and it can totally work for some people. But that doesn’t help you actually go through HOW to make the decision. What questions to ask yourself and things to evaluate. And from everything I’ve been through, that’s always the question that comes up the most. Of course, I can pick something, make my pros and cons list, but what about that choice makes it the best one for me to try first?
The thing that I found that really works for me is asking myself, “Will I regret this if I don’t try it?” and “Is this a theme that keeps recurring?”
I personally never want to have a regretful “what if?” What if I had really tried that thing? How cool would that have been? How great would that have been? What kind of impact would that have made? Or what kind of legacy could I have left if I had just tried? You have to listen to that still, small voice that’s inside of you — it is your gut, your intuition. It is your subconscious telling you, “Hey, this is it. What if we tried this? What if we were able to make this work?” I always want to be able to say, “Well, tried it, totally sucked at it, so I’m trying something different.”
Take small steps if you need to because action is the best indicator of where you’ll go for the next step — adjust and move forward. What if I went on that trip? What if I did move to a new city? “What if” all these different things because the what-ifs you ask, in terms of the positive perspective and possibility, are the gold. The more you can think of those, the more you’ll be open to new ideas and trying new things. You’re not going to have the regret side of “what if I tried that?” because you already did, which is so awesome.
There are also times when the same theme keeps occurring in your life. The same thought keeps surfacing, and your heart lights up when you think about it. This is called a sign. If this keeps happening, give it a shot! Follow your gut. Listen to it. It is your guiding light.
Another version is to actually stand up, ask yourself the question out loud, and then notice your body’s physical response. Does your posture shrink? Do your shoulders slump? Does your body open up? Does your head raise a bit higher? Do your eyes get wider? Does your breath stop for a second? Notice these things because your body will actually tell you how it feels about it — that’s your gut and intuition manifesting as a physical response. It’s not quite the same as it was in sports, and it might not be as easy to identify in the beginning, but the more you look for it and think about it, the easier it will become to notice. Slow yourself down and notice what your body is trying to tell you to help you make decisions as you move forward.
9 – INVEST IN YOURSELF
Let’s face it — if you can’t figure yourself out, what good are you to help other people? In times like these, it’s easy to lose focus and let your self-care take a backseat. But you need to be even more proactive about it now. And since we’re being really honest, let’s not confuse this with being selfish. You need to fill your cup so it can overflow, and you can give to others around you, not pour your cup out on to others where you’re left high and dry. Make sense? It’s like when the oxygen masks deploy on a plane — you help yourself first and then the person next to you that needs it. If you’re too worried about helping everybody around you and yet don’t take care of yourself, you’re useless to everyone because there’s only so much you can do before you’re running out of air. The same is true in life. If you don’t give yourself an honest chance to regroup for sanity’s sake, you’ll run out of energy, be exhausted, overworked, and most likely irritable and cranky. And who needs that in their life? Instead, we need to realize there is a healthy boundary where you’re absolutely encouraged to take care of yourself first before committing to each and every person or activity just because you’re asked. Investing in yourself requires balance, motivation, and a plan that enables you to achieve greater opportunities and results.
Think back to when you first started sports. If you were obsessed with basketball, you would shoot hoops for hours just working on your shot and practicing free throws until you could hardly see outside anymore. If you loved baseball, you were pitching way past the point where someone would catch for you — isn’t that what nets and backstops are for? The same was true with soccer. You practiced your footwork and kicking those game-winning goals over and over and over. Why? Because you loved the sport. You wanted to become better. The best. You envisioned yourself winning games and championships and hoisting trophies over your head. You put in the work for yourself and invested in yourself before you even knew what that was. No one even had to tell you. The older you got, and the better you got, the more you wanted it too. And you kept investing time, effort, and energy into this thing that you loved. As your career progressed, you knew that you had to take care of yourself if you were going to be any good for the team. If you want to set the team up for success, you have to take care of yourself on and off the court. That’s what it has to be like in your life now if you want to get anywhere, so keep putting in the work to learn and grow.
I know we’re all currently stuck at home, but hello! We have the internet! With all of the technology today, you can easily find what you want to learn on the internet. There are a million podcasts for any possible genre that you’re interested in that can enable you to learn something new FOR FREE. It’s literally as simple as making the decision to find something you can do in your spare time — driving, working out, cleaning the house. You get the point. I listen to a ton of podcasts and then share them with my husband when I really love the episode. YouTube offers videos for just about everything as well, including a ton of “how-tos.” Rob will look up videos, so he knows how to fix something on my car or put together a new tool because, most likely, someone out there has done it and come across the same issue you’re having. And it’s all free to learn! There are classes and courses you can pay to take as well, but you can learn so many things — you just have to look for them! Believe me, you’ll never regret the investment you make in bettering yourself!
10 – CHOOSE FAITH OVER FEAR
Depending on your sport, there are some downright scary things you’ll be expected to do. Get crushed by a lineman in practice? Batter up to a 96mph fastball? Have a hockey puck hurled at you? Tumble on a 4″ beam? (Or do anything in gymnastics!) None of those things come naturally. You didn’t wake up one day and realize you could perform these amazing skills without any fear. Because it doesn’t matter how skilled you are, fear and self-doubt are authentic factors in sports. But if you’re going to be successful, you have to master it. To overcome it. To choose to believe that you can do it even when you don’t feel like it’s possible. So what do you do? You trust your training. You trust the process — the hours of practice that you put into learning your skill. You get out of your own way and let your training take over. Because we all know that fear and doubt will hold you back more than failure ever will. It’s debilitating. It’s crippling. And it’s a horrible place to stay, but you have the ability to change it.
As the basis for my life and decisions, faith plays the most crucial role in the ability to shift my mindset and perspective. It grounds me and gives me hope and peace over worry and fear. I know right now it might seem like your identity is shattered. You are living in an undefined time, but I want you to understand that YOU ARE NOT DEFINED BY YOUR SPORT. Read that again. You are not defined by your sport. Or your job. You are not defined by what you do or the sport you play. Yes, it is a significant part of your story, but your identity shouldn’t be wrapped up in that.
God’s plans and dreams for us are always bigger than ours. He has given you unique abilities and talents that are specifically for you. Not everyone has the ability to play sports, just like you might not have any skill in a chemistry lab. Everyone is wired differently and for a purpose. But He hasn’t just given you athletic abilities — He’s given you another gift — something that excites you and lights your heart on fire outside of the arena, court, or field. It might be helping people with fitness, building websites and coding SEO, writing novels, creating pharmaceutical answers that heal people, or growing a thriving floral nursery. There’s something in you that piques your curiosity and makes you feel alive. That is God-given. It’s wired into your DNA so you can grow into your ability and use it for good. For His good. And once you figure out your purpose and what you’re put on this earth for and begin doing it, you’ll finally find lifelong fulfillment. It’s faith over fear.
A Final Thought…
Although, it’s not ideal and I know there are plenty of struggles ahead, it’s a time to rest, reflect, look for joy, find gratitude, appreciate the little things, workout, read, cook, bake, create, meditate, pray, dream, and work on your goals. Because this will pass. And when that time comes, I’m hoping to say I learned something new, grew, and made more progress towards my long term vision and ultimately came out stronger. You may have noticed this throughout the letter, but all of these skills and traits are wholly intertwined. But you knew that already. Your mindset determines your outlook; your confidence is based on your perspective. You have an amazing foundation of strong skills to carry you through this trial and into the next phase of your life. Use them! Don’t sit back and let life happen to you. You haven’t done that a day in your athletic life, so don’t start now. You are strong. And capable. And immensely equipped for whatever you set your mind to!
Wishing health and safety to you and your family! In the meantime, let me know how you’re dealing with this and how I can help! Are there certain topics you want me to cover? Specific questions you have? Comment below and I’ll do a round-up for the next blog! I’ve got more coming for you!
Stay strong and take care!