Professional Athlete: From the Female Perspective

woman jumping near body of water

I have struggled with understanding what it means to surrender in the moment. This has been especially apparent in my athletic training and performance. I had always interpreted a surrender as a black hole. If I was to give into the fact that I did poorly, and accept it, then I felt I was giving up. So I would fight the feeling, wherever it arose, or wallow in the feeling that I failed if I surrendered to it.

As a part of my athletic sponsorship at the beginning of this past year, I had talked to my sponsor about what my pitch was, trying to capture the essence of myself as a person, and athlete, and why my sport was so important to me. I tried to dive into what motivates me. And what I realized was that it was resistance. Unfortunately, with this as a key motivator, it has led to significant ups and significant downs prior to this season. If I failed at a competition, I would become immediately obsessed with what to do better, and criticize myself for what I did. I would avoid the thought of realizing that in the moment, I had failed. It characterized me as an athlete. It would carry from event to event, wallowing in the last as a failure. I just couldn’t move on. 

I started to realize that resistance just wasn’t going to get me anywhere. I got a back injury, then an elbow injury, then I wasn’t enjoying competing, and I wasn’t even able to celebrate the wins. When I started to think about it deeper, I realized this resistance was rooted in defying femininity, or what I had been taught it was to be feminine, and my childhood criticism of being too intense, too rigid, and being incapable of “going with the flow”.

When I was in college, and I became introduced to the sport, my male friends would be the ones that were asked to move equipment, setup blocks, sell and buy equipment, learn the trade, and were really the focus of entertainment in the sport. I was totally ok with this, dubbing it “perks of sexism” that they would do all the work and I could benefit from it. That’s how I was raised. However, I started to realize, I didn’t know how to train on my own, get equipment, or be independent. I wasn’t even strong enough in some cases, or thought I was, anyways. Realizing what a deficit I was in, I started to do my own equipment setup, build muscle to be able to move equipment around, and learn the trade for myself, I fulfilled my childhood need to rebel against the walls, expectations, and controls that others tried to place on me for who I am at face value – a woman. 

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I was actually internally fearful that I couldn’t do things on my own, that I was too dependent, and I wasn’t strong enough. It wasn’t about the limits others had placed on me, it was the limits I had learned to place on myself. Unfortunately, the resistance had ignited a push to do all of it at once, and it had caused me to go to an extreme. I became egotistical at the fact that I could do things on my own, ignoring the advice others gave me, thinking I could just win without putting in all the work it takes to do well, and turned down help I could’ve afforded with carrying equipment and ended up damaging some of my own from taking on too much. I became so focused on the fact that in my head I was so independent, and that I could inspire others to do the same if I was able to get through to them, instead of focusing on just doing well in the sport as a person, to inspire others to do the same thing. I was people-pleasing instead of focusing on fulfilling my inner spirit. The irony is, I was strong enough, determined enough, and capable enough to do all of it on my own the whole time.

As I became aware of my resistance, and lack of acceptance, I compare it to passion. Passion can be an empty feeling, a burning sensation that does not last and may not have any form of continuity. I tried to shift from a passion-based resistance guided motivation to consistency and competing from the heart. I started to accept that there are days when I’m not extremely passionate, and I don’t have this burning sensation to train and be amazing. And maybe there are reasons for that I have to accept. So I started to fail, and recognized the failure is ok. It’s an opportunity to learn, to understand the factors that may have caused it, and accept that failure once doesn’t mean failure all together. It can be a success, in of itself. 

My inner spirit has recognized that there are aspects of this that are positive, the training and the competing and the sport pushed me to do things I never knew I could do, and I had joy in knowing I could outdo my own expectations I had for myself. Beyond that, I could experience the outdoors, go on adventures and travel and meet new people, have a goal for my workouts, have an outlet for my intensity and need for physical movement, and learn to listen to my body and mind and build a sharp connection between the two of them. As I have accepted and surrendered to the moment at each competition or training session, and let myself have the space to do so, I have dialed in my understanding of myself, my capabilities, my body, and even further, my potential. I am able to enjoy the sport more, become distracted less, and fulfill my inner spirit.

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Published by Cleveland Emotional Health LLC Network of Private Practices

Catherine is a licensed mental health counselor located in Geneseo NY and the author of the mental health series Philosophical Processing Journals 1-5. Check out her author page on Amazon. See links below.

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