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  • Katie Ryan

Thoughts of a Competitive Athlete

"All or Nothing" Mindset

As a high school and college athlete, I had very unhealthy thinking patterns. I often found myself engaging in what we call, "all-or-nothing" thinking. Many of my thoughts consisted of, "If I don't measure up to this (*impossible*) standard, that means I'm a failure. I didn't exactly set myself up for success, did I? In fact, I feel stressed just reading that.

Cut-Throat Athlete Culture

The athlete culture can truly be so cut-throat. There's the pressure to perform well AND thrive in all other domains of life. Picture this in your mind...

  • You have a huge game this week, but you also have four major assignments due and two tests that you also need to study for...because you can't continue to participate in athletics unless you're doing well academically.

  • You're not feeling well? Well, too bad...because you can't afford to miss practice today. That would result in being ineligible to play in the game tomorrow.

  • You also have a tournament this weekend where college recruiters will be present, so you definitely can't afford to have an "off" game.

  • To top it all off, you're having a conflict with a friend or family member, and you're unsure of how to resolve it. Plus, you're emotionally drained at this point.

Do we feel overwhelmed yet???

It took me a very long time to realize that this kind of thought process was learned from a variety of sources growing up. I also realized that it was causing my mental health to deteriorate. Truly, the anxiety and stress I felt was consuming me to the point where I felt like it was impossible to "do it all". I wasn't prioritizing what really mattered. I wasn't giving myself any grace. I wasn't aware that there were other ways of navigating the challenges that were in front of me.

I notice this type of thinking still pops up from time to time in my adult life, even though I have retired from competitive sports. I've had to work hard in my own therapy to unlearn it and replace it with thinking patterns that are essential to my everyday functioning and my overall wellbeing. There doesn't have to be one way of thinking...and more importantly, you don't have to feel whatever it is you're feeling in isolation.

From one (former) athlete to another...I understand. You're not alone.

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