Farewell to soccer: struggles as a student athlete
You’ve probably seen us around campus, maybe we were wearing the big parka jackets or styling the Nike backpacks. For many of us, Gosman Athletic Center has become another home; somewhere where we have experienced our highest highs and lowest lows. Yes, I’m talking about Brandeis athletes.
This article isn’t an attempt to inspire some form of “school spirit.” I am not that naive. I’ll even admit that the judge mascot can be a little off-putting.
Those eyes… That gavel… It’s some serious nightmare fuel.
No, this article is addressing the mental health of student athletes across the Brandeis community. This is meant for the people who may have struggled in silence, and this is to let them know that they are not alone.
Brandeis is a Division III university, and we do not compete or practice at the same level as higher divisions. However, that doesn’t mean our commitment to the sport is inferior. Most of us have played our sports for our entire lives; it’s part of who we are, has taught us invaluable lessons, and has given us lifelong friendships. I know for myself, and many others, it has become an identity. I know I said I wouldn’t try to inspire any school spirit, but for a second I am going to hype up athletics, so please bear with me.
Brandeis is a part of the University Athletic Association. For those who don’t know what that is, it is one of the most competitive Division III leagues in the country. Teams in the league include University of Chicago, University of Rochester, Emory University, Washington University, New York University, Case Western University, and Carnegie Mellon University. Among all these universities, there have been 62 national championships. Since 2011, Brandeis has had 67 All-American athletes across all sports. To make a long story short, there are a lot of good athletes across these schools and many of them are right here at Brandeis.
Alright, I’m done with the Brandeis hype. Now, I’ll discuss all the good and bad that comes with this commitment. First off, the good stuff. Through four years of athletics here, (not really counting the pandemic interruption) I have had some of the best experiences of my life. I spent two pre-seasons in Vermont, basically going to summer camp before school started. I beat nationally ranked teams with some of my best friends. I traveled to different states and stayed in hotels, primarily eating Italian food. I shared amazing experiences with people who have totally different backgrounds than me. I grew as a player and a person, and I wouldn’t trade these memories for the world.
However, like anything, it wasn’t always an easy and fun ride. As any athlete knows, with every unbelievable victory there comes crushing defeat. There were days when I blamed myself for a loss or poor team performance — times when I couldn’t separate myself from me as the person and me as the player. There were days when I needed to do school work but I couldn’t actually do it. I would even sit in class and think about a single moment in a game and before I knew it, the class was over; spending hours thinking about a single moment that had already passed.
My competitiveness is what got me here, both figuratively and literally. It literally got me to play college athletics; I strived to be the best I could be, and I wanted to succeed at any cost. But it also brought me here: consumed by the thoughts of a single moment, unable to move on. It was a double edged sword, but it is a part of who I am, and I recognize that.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have some great people in my corner during my career. From friends and family to coaches, I’ve had people who are willing to do whatever is necessary to see me succeed. I am eternally grateful for this, but it also comes with a few caveats. If I had a nickel for every time I heard “just forget about the game” or “it’s easier to just move on,” I could probably pay off my student loans. I know they’re just trying to help, but the advice is pretty obvious. I’d love to “just forget about the game” or “move on,” but it’s easier said than done. I used to get frustrated at these people when they would try to help, so I buried my feelings.
This past year I was a captain for my team. Ever since I got to campus and played with the team, I knew I wanted to be a captain. Both my brothers were captains of their teams at college, and they were my role models. When I was named, I felt an immense amount of pride in myself. But, sometimes leadership can make you feel like you’re alone on an island. You’re expected to be consistent, stable, a pillar for the team to rely on. When you’re on the top, where does the top turn to? I buried these feelings again. It was easier to help others than help myself.
As captain, I tried to lead my team with love and compassion. While it isn’t very macho or tough, people recognize when someone is being genuine. I wanted to make sure that my teammates knew I was there for them anytime they needed, no matter the circumstances. I would tell my teammates that I care more about the person than the player. However, I was living in direct contrast with what I was saying; separating the player and person felt impossible to me.
Now, as I end my athletic career, I want to impart some wisdom on those who may feel similar struggles. First, you won’t be able to just forget a performance or move on — try to come to terms with it, though. Understand that it happened, but it isn’t who you are. Second, remember the people who are in your corner. They might not offer helpful advice all the time, but they are there for you, and most of the time they are willing to listen. If you feel like you need to talk to someone else, then try and find those people as well; sports psychologists, Brandeis resources, whoever. And finally, take a step back every now and then. Look at how far you have come. Play for the little kid that started, because that little kid would be so proud of you.
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