Finding Meaning Beyond Sports

Finding Meaning Beyond Sports

Day 23 in quarantine: it’s getting crazy.

Never did I think I’d see the day with an Easter egg hunt over FaceTime with my parents.

Never did I think I’d see the day with no French manicure on my nails.

Never did I think I’d see the day having the time to re-read economics textbooks from college.

Never did I think I’d see the day going for 20 walks in the park to get out of the prison of my house.

Never did I think I’d see the day zig-zagging the sidewalk to avoid humans and keep a six-foot distance.

And never did I think I’d see the day running a workout over Zoom with Ace of Base background music, while correcting deceleration technique and the three-step back pedal.

On one end of the spectrum, I’m accepting, in fact, welcoming of the ‘new normal.’

For one, I’m highly introverted, and a shy, home body at heart.

Truthfully, life ain’t that much different. I don’t go out. I don’t party. I don’t go to bars.

It’s just business as usual in the comfort of my abode, and the added bonus of getting more time with my cat.

Too, on the other end, I’m devastated to be legally shackled to my home – not to see loved ones, friends, nor my young athletes in person.

I oscillate between being perfectly content, yet totally upset.

I go back and forth between going about my life as a coach and investing in my IRA, yet preparing for a barter free-for-all system and investing in a camper and survival tools for a real-life Burning Man.

Though my emotions are polarizing, I’m oddly calm about the whole situation.

It’s a weird place to be, you know, boiling with extreme emotions, while keeping composure like a boss.

Yes, I’m going through gut wrenching anxiety like the rest of the world, but also, enjoying the journey, in fact, finding levity in it all.

Alas, it makes sense.

I’ve been training for this day my entire life.

Without knowing, I’ve been preparing for adversity slapping me across the face, the economy crashing, and the world coming to an end.

The sense of calm and composure I feel now is what has been instilled in me from years of playing soccer.

To stay focused in the face of danger.

To maintain tenacity when doubt creeps in.

To hold true to a purpose when all confidence is lost.

To find meaning when uncertainty hovers.

To go into tackles without the fear of getting pushed down.

To outrun an opponent when mental fatigue kicks in.

Beyond wins, losses, championships, and accolades, sports have a deeper meaning beneath the surface.

It’s easy to get trapped on the conveyor belt of producing, scoring, winning or even more extreme, being sold as a commodity, and analyzed as a statistic at the elite level.

It’s easy to forget who you are in this organized system that thrives on wins, losses, rankings, evaluation sheets, egos and power.

It’s easy to lose sight of why you play the beautiful game in the first place.

It’s easy to be seen as one-dimensional, and not as the beautiful, multi-talented human you are in other aspects.

But now?

We are in a global pandemic.

Sports are canceled, and we have no clue when they will resume. It could be a month, two months, several months from now.

Can you take a step back, slow down, and reflect on what sports mean to you?

Do you miss your teammates?

Do you miss the pasta dinners?

Do you miss the locker room hype?

Do you miss the travel to DisneyWorld?

Do you miss the adrenaline rush, sense of accomplishment and liberation that flows inside of you when you run conditioning?

Shifting the conversation to training hard, it does matter, with or without sports.

Last night, I had a thought provoking one-on-one video meeting with one of my high school female soccer players, who I have known since age 10.

I asked her, “knowing your Fall soccer season could be canceled, would you still train as hard as you are now this Summer?”

She answered back with conviction, “absolutely.”

I was blown away and asked her to expound why.

She said she feels confident, driven, and focused when she’s working out, setting goals, and accomplishing them.

She feels in her purpose when she sees what feats of strength her body is capable of.

She feels like she is doing something tremendously powerful for her body, soul and mind.

In a world now that oozes uncertainty and fear, she felt in her happy  place training like a high level athlete.

With that said, the athletes with an insatiable desire for the game are going to be the ones training now.

Of course, I understand the people with emergencies and life or death situations going on. 

But everyone else?

This will show who is in it for the deeper reasons.

This will show who truly loves working out.

This will show who wants to take care of themselves no matter what.

There’s a lot of negativity in the world and fear in the news, so will you rise above the noise?

Will you see that the alternative of waving the surrender flag isn’t the solution?

Still, working hard toward your goals matters.

Still, finding the light in the darkness, just like Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search For Meaning, is sometimes your most empowering and only choice.

Admittedly, the best place to get to as a coach is to share with your athletes the power of movement and love for the game, and for them to manifest it themselves without you nagging them.

For that reason, I’m proud of my female athletes for their efforts right now. They’re incredibly inspiring.

Although we are far apart, our motivation remains close.

I’d be remiss not to mention, they’re doing themselves a tremendous service mentally and emotionally.

Yes, performance.

Yes, improve 30-yard sprint times.

Yes, optimize fast twitch muscle fiber recruitment.

Yes, power development.

Yes, reduce chance of ACL.

Yes, bang out pull-ups.

But also, yes, improve mental health.

Yes, give kids a sense of purpose.

Yes, give them a sense of calm amidst the chaos.

Yes, give them meaning when sports are non-existent.

Yes, give them intrinsic motivation to take care of their physical and mental health.

Speaking of mental health, I’ve written openly about how Soccer Saved My Life, and it’s one thing the sport gave me that I’ll never forget.

It gave me meaning.

It gave me direction.

It gave me hope when all of it was lost.

It’s important to reflect on this: what does your sport bring to your life?

The mental skills to handle a worldwide crisis? The tenacity to take care of your strength amidst a crisis? The ability to double down on your goals and creative pursuits during a crisis?

And this doesn’t have to be COVID-19.

It could be whatever traumas you’re struggling with right now, or have dealt with for years.

What are you doing to keep your momentum and find the silver lining?

Too, it’s important to take sports out altogether and reflect on another layer of meaning in your life.

If sports were out of the picture forever, who would you be? What else lights you up? How else do you connect with and serve others?

If you like to bake cupcakes, do that.

If you like to make music, do that.

If you like to draw portraits, do that.

If you like to write fiction, do that.

If you like to listen to people’s problems, do that.

After all, you are a human with so much to offer the world. You have so many gems that sparkle and add value to others. Do more of those right now.

It’s the best time to check in with yourself as a young athlete – to reflect on what makes you amazing outside of sports, so if they do disappear one day, you’re living in your heart space, providing yourself your own fulfillment, as well as others.

And when sports do return, you’re grateful for their deeper meaning.

And I’m hopeful, they will return soon.

The kick-off whistle will blow again, don’t worry.

And you will make it out of this pandemic alive, and return back to the game with exuberance and energy, with a side of luscious orange slices at halftime.

But also remember: you’re a multi-dimensional human with so much treasure and talent to bring to yourself and to others outside of sports.

There will be that day when you play your last game, and all that is left to ask is, ‘who am I?’

  • Dwight Hornibrook
    Posted at 07:45h, 15 April Reply

    Thanks for sharing Erica, you offer some great advice. Any of us who have had our lives consumed by the beautiful game recognize the importance of being able to transition in and out of the game in every way. The only constant in life is change.. we are all going to face the time when physically our bodies won’t do what we want them to or what we used to be able to do.. the answers to transition and adapting to a pandemic start and end with the mind and soul….. the game is a gift.. love it, embrace the journey, take it all in…. love the people in the game but definitely don’t allow it to own your whole being.. l like the idea of challenging ourselves to learn something new about something other than soccer everyday and gain a new competency along the way… I’m taking piano lessons.. wow… challenging but love that challenge!!
    Thanks for all you are doing.. it’s a difficult time for all humanity.. all the best to you. Stay safe

    • erica
      Posted at 15:52h, 15 April Reply

      Dwight, of course. I was happy to write this piece and share my heart. I truly hope this article helps many during this time. All the best and stay safe!

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