15 Oct How Female Athletes Can Become Victors, Not Victims
The best way to move into a victor mindset, is to take inventory of one’s life. The first step for female athletes to live empowered lives is to cultivate deep self-awareness and get intimate with personal shortcomings and weaknesses. Though it is scary and downright stomach knotting to come face to face with everyone’s darkness, it is the only way to move toward the light. Too many girls are overstimulated, over-distracted, and over-trained. It is no wonder they fail to recover and take care of their bodies and minds. They are so out of touch with how they are feeling and what they need. They refuse to sit down and take inventory of their lives because it is hard and takes time, births feelings of discomfort, even shame. Instead of doing the tough self-evaluation in silence, they resort to the noise – the pills, the quick fixes, the ice bags, the dopamine hits, the rapid pleasures, the glowing screens and they ignore their underlying issues.
Though it feels icky at first, taking inventory is what sets female athletes free, and they can use it as a tool for a lifetime when they work in high performing jobs, become wives, and mothers. I always tell my athletes, “Health is wealth.” Being in good physical and mental health allows girls to live more purposeful, meaningful, joyful, and adventure filled lives.
I compiled an inventory list called “The 7 Gems” of lifestyle components that effect both mental and physical health, and I implore all female athletes to utilize this list weekly to see where they are thriving and where they are lacking:
4. Physical Health
5. Mental Health
Gem #1: Purpose
“What is the meaning of life?”
This was the first question on my Buddhism exam at Johns Hopkins University. It’s a deep question that jolted my entire being and left me staring at the classroom ceiling in disbelief. I struggled for an answer.
‘What IS the meaning of life?’ I asked myself as I twirled my pen in between my jittery fingertips. I felt uneasy. I was worried about how to articulate my answer because of nervousness over my final grade. My graduating GPA depended on my ability to give a meaningful answer to this question. Truthfully, I could not tell if I was anxious about my grade, the big question, or both. I took a deep breath as I retracted in my chair, closed my eyes, and moved into a mini meditation. Our professor taught us when we did not have an answer for anything, to meditate. As I focused on my breathing, I moved into the depths of my consciousness and swam through the corners of my heart. Within a few minutes, an answer birthed from my being.
The meaning of life is to accept suffering, but not be attached to it, nor defined by it. Humans are here to find joy in the richness of life – the ups, downs, twists, turns, highs and lows – and to pursue their highest purpose, to serve themselves and cultivate the healthiest version of them, so they can serve their community and inspire younger generations. It is to fight for what is meaningful to them and uplifts all of humanity through health, happiness and purpose. The meaning of life is to find meaning.
That was my answer to the question on my final exam. That was the answer that ooze out of my heart. That was the answer that felt genuine. And I still stand by this answer today in my coaching career in female sports and my human experience in life. Everything I do today – taking care of my health, staying strong, eating well – is all for serving youth and inspiring their future. I am intentional with how I live my life because I know young girls are observing and trying to emulate everything I do. They watch adults and see their actions and if their purpose aligns with them.
Finding purpose is the foundation to everything humans do, and it is the backbone to serving themselves as well as their community.
It is the most crucial and the other gems cannot function without it. Purpose is the meaning attached to one’s sport and life and is what lights a fire within the soul to keep going, even when things get hard. I cannot tell anyone what their purpose should be, as it is unique to one’s emotions. The first question to ask is this: “why am I playing my sport?” I have asked this numerous times to my female athletes, and they give me answers like “it is fun” or “it is something to do” or “it is good to be around friends.” While these reasons are a great start, they’re not enough. Deeper emotions need to be attached to the pursuit of one’s sport, and it is this meaning that guides girls through catastrophe and dial in on every gem relentlessly.
Sports must make girls feel a certain way – feel alive, feel powerful, feel present, feel joyful, feel strong, feel carefree, feel creative, feel liberated, feel vibrant. Whatever the feeling is, it must be what keeps everyone plowing through and consistent in their pursuits because the benefits outweigh the costs. The feelings of elation outweigh the feelings of defeat. The same goes for the other gems, like nutrition, for example. “Losing weight” or “looking good” isn’t enough to have a sustainable nutrition plan, nor are these reasons enough to keep fighting for healthier eating. Rather, “I feel lethargic and slow and not confident in myself when I am overweight” is more like it. The feeling attached to the goal gives more meaning and value to it, and humans thrive off meaning to keep the momentum going in sport and in life. They fight for what is meaningful to them and what ignites their soul to be their best version.
Soccer was immensely meaningful to me as a young female athlete, and it saved me from heading down a dark path. When I was in high school, I was a victim of physical and emotional abuse, and there were days I was so drained, I struggled to stay afloat and muster up the energy to get out of bed. Soccer, however, was the most meaningful activity in my life that was worth waking up for, and it was my escape during this time. When I was playing soccer, I felt alive and vibrant and in I was fully immersed in my creative state. I would go as far as to say, when I was also training and lifting weights, I had similar feelings of exuberance and joy. If I did not have soccer and physical training during this rock bottom time in my life, I would have gone deeper into my depression with nothing meaningful to work toward. Therefore, purpose is crucial – to give female athletes something so impactful to them that is worth fighting for.
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.
To stay calm and keep composure during duress.
Beyond wins, losses, championships, and accolades, sports have a deeper meaning beneath the surface.
It is 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 is easy to forget who you are in this organized system that thrives on wins, losses, rankings, evaluation sheets, egos and power.
It is easy to lose sight of why you play the beautiful game in the first place.
It is easy to lose sight of purpose.
I challenge all female athletes to not forget their purpose and give themselves a pat on the back for how far they’ve come.
One of my favorite quotes by Marcus Aurelius that speaks to this is, “Remind yourself what you have been through and what you have had the strength to endure.” Purpose gives us strength to endure a lifetime of ups and downs.
Now that everyone is clear on purpose, improving the other gems should be much easier. The benefits of nutrition, sleep, mental and physical health, leisure and relationships have already been discussed in previous chapters, so it is time to commit to a lifetime of taking inventory and improving oneself. The 7 gems are what equip female athletes to handle the adversities of life after sport. Can they apply this holistic approach day in and day out? Can they meditate and regulate their mental space after a harsh breakup? Can they nourish their bodies to fight sickness and disease? Can they exercise to prevent cognitive decline? Can they enjoy leisure and friends to avoid career burnout? Can they live out the healthiest version of themselves and inspire others to do the same?
Life is the ultimate sport, and it’s as exciting and fulfilling as the strength of one’s body and mind.
Gem #2: Relationships
As a teenager, hanging out with friends who were also serious about school and sports uplifted me to be the same. While I was a soccer star in high school, I also was a straight A student, and band nerd who was first chair clarinet all four years. However, I did not excel in these on my own. I immersed myself in a variety of friend groups – athletes, band kids, and theatre kids – who also wanted to master their crafts. These were the outcasts and not the “popular” kids, but being around such inspiring and creative energy made me a more well-rounded young woman. In high school, I never hung out with the “popular” crowd who partied on the weekends while their parents were out of town. I did not drink all through high school and prided myself for not succumbing to peer pressure and taking time away from my athletic and academic pursuits. I am grateful for choosing my friends wisely because I realized I truly am the average of the five people I spent the most time with.
Who a young female athlete hangs out with matters, and relationships will make or break how she shows up in the world and who she becomes as an athlete and human.Who a young female athlete hangs out with matters, and relationships will make or break how she shows up in the world and who she becomes as an athlete and human Click To Tweet
She needs to get clear if her squad is elevating her to the next level and inspiring her to be a healthier person. Is her friend group always drinking alcohol, or are they nourishing their bodies? Is her friend group taking sedentary and staring at screens, or are they active and getting outside? Is her friend group not studying, or are they getting together for study groups?
Gem #3: Nutrition
As young a soccer player, the fast-food drive through was our go-to during tournaments. Though it was a quick option when we were on a time crunch, it was not ideal because it left me feeling bogged down in between games. I used to order cookies n’ cream milkshakes, chicken nuggets, and French fries only to feel like a giant, greasy blob who was exhausted.
Eventually, I shifted my nutrition by consuming things that energized me and made me feel light, rather than weighed down. I opted for things like wraps, sandwiches and salads infused with protein and vegetables. Not only did my energy elevate, but so did my playing. Beyond my performance on the field, I felt more confident in my body when I was at school and felt like a vibrant, healthy young woman.
Gem #4: Physical Health
This one is the nucleus of what I do as a coach. Being in elite physical health is more than improved speed, improved agility, and injury resiliency. As the body ages, muscle mass, bone density, coordination, stability, and cognitive function can wane. With continued focus on physical health, female athletes can still succeed at the sport of life – to not fall when they live alone, to not suffer memory loss, to not stop enjoying leisure activities. I love sport performance and the science of exercise physiology and biomechanics, but I am the most fascinated with how all of this continues, and must be more amplified, as the female athlete rounds out her sports career.
Gem #5: Mental Health
Many believe self-care is about massages, pedicures, and escaping to a yoga retreat in the mountains. All they must do is escape, be alone, and treat themselves with peace and quite, then poof! The self-care box is checked, and things are better, right?
Unfortunately, adding luxury masks the negativity that is still in your life. You can get the deepest massage with beautiful rainfall music playing in the background, but as soon as you leave, you still go back to your toxic friends. You can go to that yoga retreat and be surrounded by peaceful souls and luscious nature, but as soon as you get home, you still go back to the stress of school.
These are quick fixes that everyone needs to be weary of, and ensure they are consistently working on their mental health. It is far more than self-care indulgences and opulent things. Instead of adding luxury, how about deleting negativity? Pure self-care is more about soothing one’s internal state by doing these daily things:
Not consuming fear from television and pop culture
Staying away from negative friends
Not getting involved in drama and gossip
Ending negative self-talk
Ignoring bullies and haters
Female athletes need to see themselves as so valuable that they do not make an ounce of time for the negativity.
Gem #6: Sleep
Without sleep, the other gems break down. Sleep regulates mood, motivation, energy and creativity, so if it is not of quality, relationships will suffer, sadness or emptiness kicks in, muscle recovery wanes, nutrition becomes fueled by sugar and cravings, leisure does not sound as exciting. It becomes a vicious cycle of poor overall health, so get to bed. And do so early.
Gem #7: Leisure
It is possible to burn out from something you love, so time needs to be made for other novel activities. These include things where nothing is at stake – money, status, statistics, or accolades. Leisure is when one is immersed in the present moment, and oozes out joy, peace, and playfulness. It could be something as simple as skateboarding on the boardwalk with friends, while smelling the fresh saltiness of the ocean. It could be attending a comedy show, and belly laughing so hard it is painful in the most enriching way possible. It could be writing a book and sharing impact with the world to propel people to happier, more morality driven lives.
Taking all of these gems into account, a female athlete will either serve her performance and life or hinder it. In fact, the biggest disasters for female athletes are these:
No resistance training
Two sports in same season
Getting poor sleep
Pushing through growing pains
Ignoring missed periods
Being deficient in iron, Vitamin D and calcium
Keeping toxic friendships
Being addicted to drama and suffering
Having a cluttered environment
Of course, this list could go on and on, but the onus is on the girl to decide what strengthens her, or what weakens her. Performance is far greater than speed times and pounds lifted. It is the ability to handle the challenges of life. All female athletes need to vow to themselves that they will commit to holistic performance so they be warriors in their sport, as well as be radiant in their lives.
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