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A Letter To My Younger Athletic Self

With track season rapidly approaching I've been thinking a lot about how I want to talk to and coach my athletes this year. The majority of the athlets that I coach are high school aged boys and girls, and I am more aware than ever of the social pressures they recieve on a day to day basis to look a certain way, or to be a certain type of person. Over the years, I've seen this affect performances more often than I can count, and it really breaks my heart.


It's been over a decade since I was a high school athlete so the pressures I felt came less from social media and more from in person encounters, but they're not so different from what my athletes (especially my female athletes) navigate daily. For practice, I decided to start by addressing my younger athletic self.

 

Dear Sonya,

I want to start off by saying that you're juggling a lot of things that many of your peers don't have to juggle. You're a student, you're an athlete for your school, you're an athlete for a club team, you work at a restaurant afterschool and on the weekends, and somewhere in between all of that you find time to hang out with your friends. You're juggling all of these commitments and relationships and you're doing a really good job of it.


Throughout the 4 years of high school athletics you're going to experience a lot of highs and lows from your sport. Relish the highs; remember the feeling and what it took to achieve it. Remind yourself daily that your lows do not define your progress. Progress is not linear and there will be more lows than there will be highs. You'll need the memories of your high points to keep you dedicated and focused. You are a great athlete.



There will be so many people who try to steer you away from what you want out of your athletic career. The shocking part is that it's going to come from the people who care about you the most, and it's going to be hard to navigate because they'll say it with a tone of understanding and care. Friends will be stunned by your strong figure and comment that you look gross or boyish, you'll be called a dike more times than you can count because you play sports that are dominated by boys and you're just as strong as the boys around you, your boyfriend won't like the fact that you're bigger than he is. He'll even ask you to alter your dreams for his ego. High school boyfriends are not worth altering your dreams. Your own coaches will tell you that you're just not good enough for certain colleges to accept your marks and tell you to not even waste your time applying. I'm sad to say it, but one will convince you to give up on an event that got you into track in the first place and brought you so much joy. You'll never trust any coach the same again.


The noise is so loud, and it comes from all directions. It's hard to know which way to turn sometimes, but I'm here to tell you that you'll find people who have similar ambitions and who are just as dedicated to their sport as you. You'll even meet other women who love their physical strength and hunger for more just like you do. It's hard to feel it because of all the pressure from your peers and society, but you are beautiful and deserving of love. Hold the people close who make you feel accepted and encourage your dreams. Ditch the people in your life who don't. It's not entirely their fault, your confidence in your dreams makes them feel insecure about themselves, but it's not your responsibility to make them happy. It's completley okay to focus on yourself and what you want out of life without considering anyone elses desires for you.


You are going to go on to be a great athlete, but it's not going to happen in the steriotypical way that you think it should happen. It's going to be really really hard. You're going to work your ass off and have obstical after obstical thrown at you, but keep your mind on what you want and I promise you'll see the fruits of your labor. You're going to break numerous collegiate school records at a prestigous D1 school. And for the first time ever you're going to be truly happy with the people you call teammates and friends, because they're going to encourage and support you like you've never had before. Track is going to take you to places you've always dreamed of going. You just have to keep going.


For now, keep your head up and have tunnel vision on where you see yourself going. Hold your highs near your heart and do your best to block out the noise. Your day is coming.


Love you always,

Your Older Self

 

If you made it this far, thank you so much for reading! It means so much to have your support as a reader. If there is a young athlete in your life who you know would benefit from hearing these words please take a moment to send this to them.


As a young athlete it makes a world of difference to have examples of what is possible and to be told you CAN. More often than not youth athletes are told all the things they can't or will never do. Having even one person in their life tell them that their dreams are worth chasing can make all the difference.


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