The other day I got invited to a party. The text from my friend read, “if you aren’t busy Tuesday…” but I didn’t even finish reading. We are in the midst of the wonderful, warm summer months where life is carefree and takes a restful breath before the hiatus of August, especially for rising seniors like myself, but I knew even before finishing the text that I would have to begrudgingly decline the invitation. For a student-athlete, it is very rare to have a day where we aren’t busy, and Tuesday was no exception. With reluctant fingers, I typed, “Sorry, I have cross-country practice, but thanks anyways.”
The Reality Of School Sports
From an outsider’s perspective, playing sports may seem like a fun hobby that keeps you active and helps you make friends, and while it can be that, it is also much more. Through my three years as a student athlete I have come to learn that there is more pressure than anticipated when being part of a team.
During the school year, the cross-country team at my school practices six days a week from 4 p.m. to about 5:45 p.m. After that, most will get to their homes at around 6:15, shower, eat dinner till 7:00, and if it is a good day and no procrastination takes place, begin homework around that time. Unfortunately, I am human and procrastination does sometimes take hold of me, along with the piles of homework chaining me down both mentally and physically. You see, the time commitment that comes with being part of a school team can definitely cause stress, but the actual exercise wears your body down so much that when it is time to begin work, one is drained of energy. School work feels like an uncrossable path, let alone the responsibilities of other extracurriculars, but regardless, we persist with a fear of failure in mind.
I am nearing my last season on the cross-country team and I still feel somewhat guilty for missing practice from time to time. During junior year, I had to come to terms with the fact that in life there are going to be priorities, and often it cannot be that four mile run on the practice schedule. Many times I felt bad during track season when I was telling my coach I wouldn’t be making it that day. Should I have felt bad, even knowing that the reason I was missing was because of an intimidating precalculus test the next day and not a party? And even if it was a party, should I have felt bad then?
I have often asked myself, what would I be doing if I didn’t have this commitment every day? Usually I tell myself I would be working and saving up money for college, or joining the theater department at school, which has been a longtime interest of mine, or I’d be writing the book that has been in my Word drafts for about a year now. Being a student athlete means that sacrifices must be made, usually in the form of other activities that we could be doing. Nonetheless, as I near my last seasons on the cross country and track teams, I reflect on my times there and realize I wouldn’t change a thing.
The Light At The End Of The Tunnel
Everything in life is a balance. Juggling sports, school, friends, and family is a balance. I don’t allow cross-country to take the first place pedestal in my life. It shares that space with all the other aspects that make me who I am. High school isn’t around forever, so I try not to waste these short four years with just one priority. For me personally, doing well in school and doing well at running go hand in hand. Here is a universal truth I try to stick to: we can not excel at everything we do, but we can learn to try our best without putting too much pressure on ourselves.
But what about when we let that pressure slip onto our shoulders regardless? It is easy to feel scorn for our sports. When they take up so much of our lives, they also start to lose their appeal, lose the exhilaration they gave us when we first started. When that happens to me, I choose to focus on the better parts of doing the sport. The cross-country team has granted me my best friends, who are a support system like no other. It has also given me the values of teamwork and determination, and the skills of time management and goal setting. But most of all, I appreciate that cross-country gave me an outlet that I will be able to carry on with me even after I graduate. I know that when I say goodbye to this team, my running shoes will always be there waiting for me when I need the therapy of a four-mile run.
If you are thinking of joining a sport, I encourage you to do it, but know what you are getting into. It is not easy, but it is doable. Learn time management early on, but also know that it is okay to need a break from time to time. Student athletes are not superhuman, so on some days, that pedestal can not be taken up by all your commitments all at once. It will happen, and it will be okay. Sometimes “I’ll be there” is better for you than “sorry, I have cross-country practice.”