It’s hard for people that have never fallen in love with a sport to understand the loss when it comes time to find new passions. But everyone can understand the pain of losing something they adore and the never-ending need to explore the “what ifs” and the “I would haves.” As a previous youth, high school and collegiate athlete, it hasn’t been an easy transition into a life without a team, a coach, a practice schedule, and pregame jitters. So, I’ve decided to write a letter to my past and the future I never had to help both myself in coping and athletes or passionates everywhere who are in need of a little inspiration.
To My 14-year-old Self,
If only you knew the way things would play out. Trust me, you wouldn’t be dreading practice or arguing with your dad about how a high school social life is more important than a sport. You’d be working your butt off knowing that the competitive edge and team environment would once be gone without your say or acknowledgment. You should be enjoying practice instead of wishing you could go hang out at Starbucks or spending the evening at the movies.
Looking back on it in a few years, some of those practices will be the best times of your life. Love your teammates: cherish their friendship and their talents. They are your rocks and the only friends who will understand the demand of the sport and the pressure of getting a scholarship. There will come a day when no matter how badly you want to, no matter how hard you work, no matter how many braces you wear, you won’t be able to play anymore. And trust me, it’s going to hurt. It’s going to hurt very badly.
You’re going to want to visit every doctor in the country to reverse the damage that has been done, but it’s just not possible. Every night, you will go to bed wishing you still had your talents and a coach that appreciated them. You’re going to miss the soreness after a long tournament weekend, and you’re going to ache to feel the sensation of pride when your team wins an important game.
The field is a sanctuary—you’ll understand that once life actually begins to get stressful. You’ll need your safe zone and a scapegoat but you won’t have one. I wish you would put more time into one-on-one training and focus more heavily being a better player than you were yesterday. More than anything, I want you to cherish it more. I want you to love it more than anything else in the world. Make smart decisions. When it comes time to rehab, don’t skip it or make excuses for slacking off. I can promise you that one day you will regret every moment you took this sport and the talents you were given for granted. There’s a huge chance that if you work to the best of your abilities, you won’t have to write this letter in six years.
To the Athlete I Could Have Been,
For lack of a better phrase, I hate you. I’m jealous, angry and heartbroken that I’m not in your position. You have no idea how lucky you are to have your health and the ability to do what you love. Do you appreciate it? Do you work every single day to reach your full potential? I sure do hope so. Life isn’t always so fair. It’s a rollercoaster of unexpected turns and flips. You never know what could happen or how quickly it all could be taken away.
Be proactive. Take the necessary precautions to preserve your body. I hope you play every single day like it could be your last time on the field. I hope every sprint is faster than your last, every pass is more accurate than your previous and every decision is for the greater interest of your team. When you have the chance to go on an extra run or do an extra set of squats, do them. It’s amazing how much you want to work out and exert energy the second that you are no longer able to without pain or injuries. Most importantly, I hope you never lose the passion you have for the sport.
Today, without the ability to play, my passion is stronger than ever. I think once you mature and understand the blessing of being an athlete and having something like that to believe in and work for, the love for the game is at its peak. There’s nothing worse than being incapable of channeling that love and adoration for something I once didn’t appreciate. That’s what kills me most.
I wish more than anything in this world that I could be you. I’d give up all the free time, the hours of sleep and the social life for just one more minute on the field. Don’t give up on it. Work for as long as you can. Because once that chapter of your life is gone, there’s no turning back the pages.
Your future and present self with four ACL surgeries, one meniscus surgery and 0 more days of playing the beautiful game.