As adults we have the ability to see the big picture. We know that our decisions, actions, and behaviors will play a role in our future lives. We may not know the size of the role, or the type of role, but we are able to foresee the possibility of an impact. We’ve earned that perspective.
As an adult myself I am often surprised by the reality of that impact once the future arrives in my present. Especially for those past decisions that have made a significant impact on my current present. Even with a decent amount of life experience under my belt it’s hard to understand how my future self will cope. It’s hard to empathize with the struggles that haven’t happened yet; it’s hard to feel the pride in the victories that are yet to come. When the future arrives in my present the reality feels more overwhelming than I originally imagined. Time and time again I am surprised that decisions and circumstances that felt so small can seep so deeply into so many different facets of my life.
As hard as it can be for adults to take into consideration how our present selves can impact our future selves, for children, it’s even harder. They haven’t had enough time to understand the big picture. They are still trying to figure out how to function as a human. The present is overwhelming enough as it is; they don’t have the resources to consider the future.
When I was a freshman in high school I had earned a spot on the varsity softball team. I had hopes of playing in college and this was an exciting stepping stone to one day meet that goal. Towards the end of my sophomore season I started to feel a pain in my throwing shoulder. It progressively got worse as the season went on, and by the time tournament ball was well under way I knew something was wrong. My heart was dedicated to my teammates and my eyes were fixated on my dreams of playing in college. Through the lens of my young perspective admitting I was hurt would only disappoint my coach and crush my collegiate dreams. I kept playing without complaint until midway through my Junior season of high school ball. The pain was constant and I had lost significant strength. Being a pitcher, the change in my performance was obvious. I finally had to admit what I had been dealing with. It turns out I had frayed the labrum in my shoulder and I would need surgery to rivet it back onto the bone. Due to the timing of the surgery and the length of the recovery process I lost out on my biggest recruiting season. I was angry, broken hearted, and defeated. These emotions served as my motivation to make it back on the mound for my senior high school season. I raced through the recovery process, fought through the pain, and started my senior season alongside my teammates. The next year I ended up playing for the local Junior College team. My dedication to the sport and my teammates continued; I allowed my coach to over use me on the mound even though I knew it wasn’t best for my shoulder. It didn’t matter to me. My teammates and our performance mattered to me. I would have done anything to contribute to our success, even if it meant sacrificing my health. Finally, in my junior year, I made it to the big leagues; I finished my collegiate career playing for a Division II state school.
I may have achieved my goal of playing collegiate softball but my shoulder was never the same. To this day I deal with ache’s, pains, losses in strength and mobility. There are activities and experiences I avoid because I know it will cause pain to my shoulder. Simple things like shopping – moving hanging clothes across a rod, holding my cell phone up to my ear to have a phone conversation, or cradling a baby all irritate my shoulder.
Dedicated athletes, especially young dedicated athletes, are near sighted. Their whole word is in the present. It’s hard for them to fathom their life after sports. In their eyes that life doesn’t matter unless they perform right now. Is that dedication to the sport, their teammates, and their dreams beautiful? Absolutely, without question. Is it also concerning? I think so. Especially when you take into consideration injuries that affect the brain, like concussions. I feel lucky that my injury was simply to my arm, and not something as sacred as my brain.
The culture of competitive sports often puts the success of the team before the health of the athlete, or even the coach. Those who miss practices or competitions to heal their bodies are often portrayed as weak or less dedicated. It’s almost as if sport forces us to ask our bodies for forgiveness rather than permission. We take less preventative measures because we don’t want to miss out on the present. This culture of pushing our bodies to the limit is so deeply rooted in our hearts as athletes. If you play through the pain you are elite, you are dedicated, you are tough. You are tough. This seems to be the ultimate compliment an athlete can receive.
I still struggle to listen to my body when it comes to competitive situations. I still push myself farther than I should. It’s easier for me to see the big picture for others. I can help my athletes make healthy decisions; I can help my friends make healthy decisions. For myself, however, it’s a different story. I am still influenced by the athlete mentality; I still am deeply committed to prove my worth. To prove my dedication, my abilities, my toughness.
Was it all worth it? That’s a question I still can’t answer. As most athletes say; I wouldn’t change my decision, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. It’s baffling isn’t it? Even in hindsight, knowing the consequences, we still choose our sports career over everything. It is an extremely influential culture.
When I began to write this I wasn’t sure where I was I going to end up. I wasn’t sure if there was going to be an answer or a final message. I guess it brought me to awareness. Everything starts with awareness. As coaches, parents of athletes, and athletic directors we need to be aware of how influential the culture of sport is in our athletes lives. How influential we are in our athletes lives. Athletes themselves need to recognize how influential sport is in their lives. How much it’s socialized into them. Sport makes a life long impact. The lessons athletes absorb and the things they learn to value are deeply rooted in the soul of who they become. We need to always be aware of their future selves. We need to be aware of the imprints we are leaving on their hearts and in their paths.