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Sports Takes: Validation, Perseverance, and Back Pain pt1

(Hi! This is future me from late June, and a short disclaimer: all of these stories and strategies are just what worked for me, not suggested by a psychologist or anything.)

Sports are tough. Mentally, physically, emotionally, even spiritually, I guess. I would know; I've been in and out of sports for as long as I can remember. It started off with dance and basketball, and then I dropped the basketball and picked up volleyball, and then I dropped the dance and just stuck with volleyball. If you know anything about club or AAU sports, you know that they're extremely time-consuming, physically and mentally taxing, and outrageously expensive. I've played a year of AAU basketball, and around five or six years of club volleyball. In fact, I just quit volleyball this year. But if there was one thing that I did learn from club volleyball, it was definitely how to deal with all the pressure, time management challenges, politics, and general challenges that came with playing an intensive sport.

I think a lot of the values that I learned playing sports can be applied in real life, too. For example, one of the biggest first lessons that I learned not just in volleyball, but in basketball and dance too, was to not take things too personally. And I mean this in every sense of the word; coaches and teachers are there to help you become better at whatever it is you're doing, and no matter how much your parents pester you about how you don't shoot enough threes or go full out or swing hard enough, deep down they just want you to get better. Now this one I struggled with for quite a bit of time. Depending on the coach you have, the intensity level changes. Depending on the parents you have, the intensity level also changes. I've witnessed this not only from my own parents but also from the parents of my teammates and peers. (I've found that volleyball definitely has the most vigorous and political parents).

Outside the court or the studio, people will say things to you that you can’t always take personally. Just like you, other people lose themselves in the heat of the moment, slip up, and say something they don't mean. I know that it's easier said than done to just walk off those comments, but it really is a necessary life skill that I've found extremely useful. Obviously, this doesn't mean disregarding everything everybody says but knowing what constructive criticism is as opposed to just insult. For example, one time during a club practice for volleyball, one of the coaches who was directing that Saturday practice told us that in order to actually be good volleyball players, we'd all have to lose 15 pounds at least. Personally, I wouldn't take that and run, but remarks like that can be extremely hurtful and detrimental to certain minds, so that's definitely something to look out for. Also, keep in mind that sometimes things just do not work out. I've had to leave my fair share of teams for various issues, and it's important to know when to quit. That's a skill that's going to turn out differently for everybody, but it's an important one to have, even off the court.

Another skill I learned from sports, particularly volleyball, was how to handle my emotions. I used to be all over the place; I would get so upset that sometimes I would cry after either we lost a game, or my coach switched my position on the court from like libero or something or I would just sit in a Stony silence, not willing to talk to anybody after a bad game. OK also keep in mind I was like 12, so give me a little break. Please. I think one way or another, no matter what we do, we are bound to change from our 12-year-old mindset- hopefully. I took the liberty of expediting this process by trying out a whole bunch of different ways to keep myself cool, calm, and collected. unfortunately, I can't say there's a certain way that universally works for everybody, but I felt that as I actively tried to keep in touch with what I was feeling during intense moments, like losing clutch points or forgetting a part of a routine, I found myself not only able to appear calm but also feel calm. Honestly, appearing calm for me was the first step. I know it's stupid, but I just took a deep breath, thought about the fact that I loved the sport, or maybe like a puppy or something I don't know, and realized that it wasn't necessary to be so desperately upset about an outcome that I will probably forget about in a week. This shift in mindset did not happen overnight, and I am definitely not saying that feeling upset over sports is invalid, because it definitely is. But I was just a train wreck of tears, so I knew something had to change. Even today, I sometimes still find myself getting upset over a point or a visually impaired ref or a lost game, but now that I am more in touch with myself, I can still feel those emotions, but react in a more rational way. Just like the last life skill I talked about, this one definitely applies off the court.

For example, when I was in 7th grade, I was wrongfully accused of academic cheating on a science test. I won't go into heavy detail because that's beside the point, but let the record show that I was actually not cheating. But anyhow, my science teacher demanded the paper from my hands and started raising her voice at me calling me and another boy out in front of the entire class. internally, of course, I was freaking out. But not externally. Honestly, I think my lack of tears really convinced her that I had actually cheated, which I guess backfired. But after I got down to the office, I was able to calmly explain what had actually happened and was released back to class shortly after. I don't really know if that was a great story to match with taking control of your emotions, but it makes sense to me. The point of this story is that learning how to stay in touch with your own emotions and compartmentalize when necessary, will leave you regretting a lot less.

Part 2 coming soon, this one was a long one!

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