During these past few months we have all learned what it is like to live in a world without sports. Fans and players at all levels had mostly no warning that the sports they loved so much would cease in almost the blink of an eye. For a unique perspective, I looked to high school students, specifically senior athletes. Just starting a new step into the rest of their lives, they are missing out on finishing dreams that have played out in their heads for a lifetime.
An open, anonymous poll was posted for any senior athlete to fill out, to be able to tell me their personal thoughts on what sports and their cancellations meant to them. I received an overwhelming amount of responses and was truly touched by the words they shared with me. Now, in a way to honor their thoughts and feelings, I wanted to pass some of their words onto you.
When asked, what do sports mean to you, and what have they done for you? These were some of their responses:
Sports taught one student-athlete how to overcome adversity:
“I have learned how to overcome obstacles through playing soccer. I’ve fought back from a surgery, I’ve dealt with mental and emotional adversity, and through all of that I’ve had the sport I love to teach me to grow and help me to become a stronger, healthier, more resilient athlete and person in general.”
Other athletes offered that athletic programs provided a safe haven, and an opportunity to get away from the pressures in their lives:
“Sports have always been a place for me to get away from anything going on at school or at home. It’s a way for me to relieve stress and take out a lot of my anger. Sports are my safe space where I can truly be myself.”
“It has shaped me as a person and has gotten my mind off things especially because I suffered with self-love and depression.”
“Sports have taught me so much about myself and who I can become. They taught me to know when it is time to move on and how to become a leader. Running has impacted my life tremendously throughout my high school seasons. It’s an escape for me to go to when I feel like everything is spinning in my life.”
Finally, for others sports provided avenues for personal growth and life lessons:
“Softball for me was something that made me open up more as a person and that it’s OK to let people in. It always made me more confident as a person and a player combined because, yes, you have to work as a team, but you have to be confident in yourself that you can do it.”
“I’ve learned a lot about myself from sports and I’ve learned that what I thought were my limits, are just setbacks that I can get through.”
We don’t give these kids enough credit. They are pushed to be team captains and to be leaders off the field, all to build their resumes to reach the next level. When was the last time that high school students have had the chance to reflect on what those things meant to them, other than being an application filler?
Recently there has been a trend of “Sports Greatest What Ifs”, highlighting games on the world’s biggest stages that would have been different if not for one element going awry. These quotes highlight the absolute biggest sports “what ifs” that will travel with these athletes for a lifetime. Having a starting lineup of 11 seniors poised and ready to finally beat their arch rivals, being brave enough to pick up a lacrosse stick for the very first time and trying something new your last year of high school, using your grandma’s golf clubs to play on varsity one last time, diving for a state title, and most of all getting a proper goodbye with the sport you have lived and breathed all this time are dreams that left without even a warning.
To the class of 2020, and to those who coached them, taught them, raised them, and played alongside them, you have something far greater than sports to be proud of. Your understanding of the situation, and depth of your personal answers shows that these games aren’t your only accomplishments.
“Being the class of 2020, it was always the joke that we saw the future with 20/20 vision, however none of us saw this coming. Although we are forever changed by this experience, our futures are brighter than we could have ever seen with perfect vision.”
You have grown with these sports providing you lesson after lesson, and at the time those lessons sometimes felt like a kick in the gut. But those moments brought you here, to right now. As you stand at what seems like the largest crossroad of your life, you are allowed to be upset, you are allowed to feel any way you want to about the ending of your seasons, but you have demonstrated true poise and knowledge that you have a chance to build upon what these sports have given you, and make something even greater out of it.
You are a group that will go down in history for something completely out of your hands. One of my favorite responses, although short and sweet, holds the key to a big lesson to take from all of this, “I’m gonna play forever, this is just a hiccup...”. The sports you have played in the past will never look the same, but I challenge you to take that new perspective and never stop playing.
“I am sad but I look back and smile at the successes I’ve had with my team, and all of the things I’ve been able to accomplish. Just because the virus took my last season DOESN’T mean it took my love for the game.”