10 Nov The Purpose of Youth Sports
I was stripped away of my ego in 2013.
After I finished the pinnacle of my soccer career at Johns Hopkins University and graduated with a top 10 school degree, I found myself alone in a hammock in the middle of the Amazon jungle.
With nothing but my skin coated with bug spray, a flashlight in-hand, ripped clothes covering my mosquito bites, and staring into an abyss of black, I couldn’t help but feel like an insignificant particle floating through the universe.
It was night time and I had no choice but to sit with myself, reflect, and face my emotions. And there was no way I was turning the flashlight on to distract myself, because all I saw was a tarantula hovering over the net of my hammock, staring right at me with his swollen, red eyes.
So I turned the light off, cuddled under my hammock in the darkness, and surrendered to myself at the campsite.
As I lie there alone, I thought back to my college soccer career – scoring goals, being the leading scorer, breaking records, acquiring best female athlete awards and the all-embellishing achievements.
While I pondered, a concoction of contradictory feelings swirled through my mind: proud and happy, yet nonchalant and indifferent.
‘None of this mattered,’ I thought.
The latter feelings birthed a deep interrogation within me, and I reflected back to the one question I had on my Buddhism exam my senior year at Johns Hopkins:
What is the purpose of life?
Yes, that was the one question on my exam that made me feel precarious and vulnerable, like I was a moron floating on a canoe down anaconda infested waters.
‘What IS the purpose of life???’ I wondered.
As a 21-year-old girl, it was a profound question to be asked on a final exam.
But it was one that made me think deeply about the meaning of my soccer career, and now, the meaning I want to take throughout life as a coach to youth athletes.
As much as state championships, accolades, MVP awards, wins, rankings, and national titles matter, they don’t.
Perhaps you think this all sounds too “woo-woo spiritual hippie.” Perhaps you think I’m reading too many Russel Brand books on human consciousness. Or perhaps you think I’m eating too many grass-fed kale salads.
Ugh okay, I am.
But yo. The material world has its way of taking away from you, as much as it provides the illusion that it’s giving to you.
And you know what? I’ll be the last to share at a family party the immense amount of achievements in my athletic career. I’ll leave that to my mother.
And while I love sharing when my athletes work hard toward something – like a state title, a conference championship, a 200-pound deadlift, or a leading scorer award – these external rewards aren’t the end-all-be-all.
When we cling to these and allow them to define our identity, we miss the point of youth sports, as well as our purpose on this planet.
In fact, the stuff I don’t share on social media is locked away in the depths of my heart, never to be seen on social media – my athletes blossoming into amazing humans who are multi-dimensional, passionate, creative, caring, giving, and inspiring in all facets of life.
Generous volunteers in the community.
Passionate innovators in the workforce.
Pioneers in conscious content creation.
This is the stuff I grip onto dearly, and smile alone to myself in the corner of my living room. No tweet, Instagram post, or Facebook status can do my intense feelings of meaning as a coach justice. I’m so proud of my athletes for things far beyond wins, championships and accolades.
This isn’t to say the wins didn’t lead to exuberant parties and memorable nights out.
This isn’t to say the accolades didn’t give me a dopamine hit and provided me with swag on campus.
This isn’t to say conference championships didn’t lead to electric team bonding and connection.
But if there’s anything you get from this piece, it’s to accept that all of this is as fleeting as a cloud passing through the sky. Acknowledge it, but don’t try to hold onto it.
What you should hold onto, though, are the lessons and life skills birthed from playing sports.
Did you become more resilient? Did you become fearless? Did you ooze more confidence? Did you discover your creativity? Did you find your gems and talents? Did you find out how strong you really were?
That’s the purpose of youth sports: to find meaning that you can hold onto for a lifetime.
Personally, soccer gave me the gift of creativity, which is why it’s so easy for me to write thousands of blogs that inspire the world.
And I’m forever and always grateful the sport has given me meaning that beams light through my soul.
Soccer was merely a gateway to my other passions in life as a grown woman – writing, teaching, coaching, storytelling, and snowboarding. But also, it saved my life and dug me out of total self destruction.
As an almost 30-year-old now, I look back on my career not as a rolling list of accolades that stroked my ego, but as a enriching story of ups, downs, highs and lows that shaped me into the robust and resilient human I am now. I’m still out here, baby!
So if you’re struggling with what to do with your young child, just promise me you will encourage them to find joy in what they’re doing so that it carries meaning throughout a lifetime.
That’s the purpose of youth sports.