Finding a balance: the role of sports

High school sports are supposed to be fun. There’s nothing better than being part of a community and team, and the school spirit and competitive atmosphere you get from wearing OPRF on the front of your jersey.

But it can be difficult to find a balance between playing your sport and actually having fun with it, especially when there’s so much pressure to get good grades and get into college. Now that I’m on the other side of the admissions process, I can see how important it is to prioritize mental health during times of high stress in order to prevent burnout and injuries, and to actually enjoy my sport.

At OPRF, it’s easy to get caught up in comparing yourself to others because everyone around you is also striving for excellence. But don’t put too much pressure on yourself to live up to other people’s standards because everyone is different. There were times during my sophomore and junior years when I packed my schedule with numerous clubs and activities on top of playing soccer to bolster my extracurricular list. At the end of the day, I was left feeling like I put 50 percent into everything because I was exhausted and had too much on my plate, which ultimately led to me not enjoying playing soccer any more.

I know many athletes feel the same way: burned out.

From my experience, packing your schedule with activities that you’re not passionate about will only hurt you. It’s better to show commitment to a sport for a long period of time instead of having all of these activities on your list but nothing to show for it. Additionally, the Common App only allows for 10 activities anyway, so make sure those 10 activities are things you like to do and stay committed to those.

Burnout is real. The key to fixing it is to admit that it’s there and give yourself the break you need. This can look different for many athletes and can include: playing your sport recreationally, talking to a supportive coach/mentor or just taking a break altogether. When I was playing soccer, I saw a huge difference in my performance from when I wanted to be at practice versus when I felt that I needed to be at practice. All in all, it’s important to be decisive and make the call to step back. If your mind isn’t on the same wavelength as your body, it’ll send signals to stop. Last year, I tore my ACL because I couldn’t admit that I needed a break.

Most of my college application was about the sport I did in high school. However, when I decided not to play in college, I thought all of those years were a waste of time. But they’re 100 percent worth it. Throughout my four years playing soccer for my club and the high school, I’ve made some of my best friends, learned how to deal with adversity from having to recover from two ACL surgeries and practiced how to advocate for myself. These are skills that I’m going to take further than college into the rest of my life.

If you think you want to continue playing sports in college but don’t want the constant pressure and high intensity, most schools offer club sports. From my experience, not knowing whether I wanted to play in college was paralyzing, and it would’ve relieved some pressure if I knew more about the club sport option. So really think about what you want out of your college experience because playing a sport for fun in college might bring back your love for the sport.

Ultimately, the key to balance is to decide what you want out of your sport and if you want to continue to do it in college. I thought I did, but setting such high expectations for myself made me lose my love for soccer. Now that I’ve finished my last season for OPRF, I wish I could go back and tell myself to enjoy it while it lasts.