Most parents seem to sign their children up for sports hoping that they’ll learn the importance of dedication, teamwork and responsibility, while “staying out of trouble.” Though these are realistic intentions, few people realize the true value of athletics. By picking up a tennis racquet, I wasn’t preparing myself for college athletics; I was preparing myself for life.
After nine years playing tennis and two playing for the University of Nebraska, I’ve come to recognize some of the most important things that I’ve learned over the years:
How to Handle Adversity
You may be strapped with homework, your coach is screaming at you and you’re running on four hours of sleep, but you still have to play tennis. Right? Well, I can tell you that the ones that choose not to don’t make it very far. So the answer is yes. Though being an athlete has its perks, the initial description I just gave is the life of an athlete. Something is bound to go wrong on a daily basis, but you have to keep picking yourself back up. You’re bound to forget about that day that your boyfriend wouldn’t speak to you, but you’re likely to regret the hours you spent worrying about it instead of giving yourself the chance to grow.
Choose the High Road
After you’ve played a sport at a certain level, you begin to see that hard work pays off. You’ve put in the hours and you’re now beginning to reap the rewards. So the next time you’re given a choice, you’re going to choose the harder path. Whether it’s doing sprints after practice, taking extra time to study for a test, or making amends with a friend even when you did nothing wrong, you understand what it means to take the difficult route. And you become a stronger, better person because of it.
How to Make Tough Choices
I’m ashamed to admit it, but when I was trying to choose which college to go to, I spent an entire evening crying on the couch. There I was, with several scholarship offers, bawling my eyes out. Most of my friends had had their “moment” where they “suddenly knew,” and I was distraught, simply waiting for mine.
But not everyone has that “moment.” In fact, I sometimes think it’s better if you don’t. I’m a realist and a planner. I had my pro-con lists down to every nitpicky detail, from strictly academics to which school had a Starbucks on campus. Though the lists may not have made my decision for me, they definitely guided me along the way. Not to mention, I conducted an extensive amount of research that I’m sure few student-athletes did.
But when it came down to it, the ability to make the decision was innate. I knew enough about myself, and the school, to make a decision I could live with. My friends were right about one thing, and that’s to treat it like any other relationship. It was the right combination of using my head and following my gut.
None of the benefits I just mentioned would be possible if it weren’t for one thing: self-reliance. This perfect combination of confidence and independence is what drives you to make tough decisions, run extra sprints and keep your head high. Throughout your entire life you’ll have people telling you 25 different ways to do something, but you have to stick to your guns. There is not one specific path to success, and it’s definitely not a straight line.
When Hemingway defined courage as grace under pressure, he hit the nail on the head. To me, this is the most important of them all. Being an athlete, you learn to handle high-stress situations, often when they are least convenient. You’re under the pressure of your coaches, professors and parents to do well, and it all begins to add up.
If I’m on the court, playing the #1 position for my team in a conference match against Northwestern, I can’t break down. It’s simply not an option. As an athlete, you understand when the situation is more important than your emotions. You understand the consequences and are able to register that it’s only temporary. To be able to evaluate all of these things in a matter of seconds can only be defined as one thing: grace under pressure.
I can’t imagine trying to summarize the lessons I’ve learned over hours of training on the court. Dedicating my life to athletics not only benefited my health and my college experiences, but also made me grow as a person.
Being an athlete forces you into the tight, uncomfortable crevices of life that most people aren’t familiar with. But in reality, everyone is pushed out of his or her comfort zone at some point in time. Athletes just face it earlier than most; sometimes earlier than they’re ready for. So the next time around, they’re more than prepared. Behind the braided ponytails, bruised shins and tired eyes, they’re becoming something bigger than themselves.