A college athlete, her college coach, and the battle to regain her self-confidence.
“If you were a guy, you would never have this problem,” states my college coach.
Confidence. The one thing that I need.
It’s the key to success. At least, that is what they tell you. Always be bold. Superman position. Stand strong, and own your mistakes and successes.
“You don’t show emotion. How do I know you even care about succeeding in this sport?” yells my coach.
Crybaby. The one word I NEVER want to be called.
I am a DI athlete who has always strived to be the best at everything I do. It drives me. Whining, complaining and crying aren’t my thing, but now, neither is confidence. I’m trying to be confident during practice and competition. For me, that means not showing any signs of the discouragement I feel.
Throughout my three years as a DI athlete, I have gained and lost many things.
I have gained physical strength. And lost mental strength.
I have gained the status of a DI athlete. And lost confidence.
I am a female athlete coached by a predominately male staff, and I’m entering my senior year of college with less confidence than I had as a freshman in high school. I’ve lost my passion for my sport. But I am not a quitter—I am a competitor. I was a three-sport athlete in high school, and I never gave up. I was self-motivated; I did sports for me, and only me. But now, I have difficulty loving my sport every day. I compete to earn the status of a college student-athlete, now and forever.
I do it, because I do not give up.
I had the best coach prior to college. Let’s call him Bob. Bob had an individualistic style of coaching; he knew that every athlete was different, and it was his job to cater to that. This is why his athletes are almost always successful. Bob was a hard-ass, though. There is a huge difference between a tough coach, and a mentally abusive coach. Trust me.
I need someone to be in my face, to yell at me and push me to limits I never knew I could reach. I loved it when Bob pushed me, because I knew someone else besides myself believed in me, and therefore I could do it. That’s what a tough coach does. I respond well when I am getting yelled at—to the point that Bob would purposely try to make me mad before a competition, because then I would perform better.
Sometimes I felt that Bob was harder on me than some of my other teammates, but I always assumed it was because he knew I was tough. I took it as a compliment. It took me years to trust him, but I did, and by age 14, I was at peak mental toughness.
That is not the case now.
My college coach makes me doubt myself and feel mentally weak, to the point where, despite being in top physical condition, I feel physically weak too. At the age of 20, I am struggling. As an athlete, admitting your flaws is hard enough, but accepting them is even harder. Forget sharing them with others, especially when this is what you hear on a daily basis:
“When I was an athlete, my boys and I never had issues like you do. We knew what we were doing, and we knew we were going to do it great.”
“Why do women have such confidence issues? It must be in their blood.”
“Stop acting like a girl. Go out there and perform with confidence.”
My college coach undermines my ability in front of others. Worst of all, he belittles me as a person. He doesn’t like to be wrong. He always says that, “You know yourself better than I do, so communicate what you need.” I’ve communicated for over three years that all I need is for him to believe in me, with zero response.
Last season, my coach would leave me during events. He constantly cussed at me, and shook his head while I was competing. Meanwhile my teammates ranked me high in confidence on our group evaluations, and were starting to make comments about my coach’s behavior.
I battled constant fights with myself trying to understand what was going on. I met with a sports psychiatrist, leadership developers, and the other resources my athletic department had to offer. All parties felt there needed to be a mediation between my coach and I. My coach blamed everything on “miscommunication.”
Having others get involved was embarrassing. I was a tough athlete who was now vulnerable.
At this point, I decided to take a different turn on this confidence ordeal. It felt like it was my fault that no solution was working; I had to take ownership and figure it out. So, I started showing zero emotion. I didn’t let others affect me, including my coach and his comments. I left my baggage at practice, and didn’t carry it throughout my everyday life.
For this short period, I heard nothing about confidence.
But wait…there is always something. Now, I didn’t care. According to my coach, I was a “blank wall.”
“You don’t care about your sport.”
This wasn’t the case. I cared. In fact, I cared so much that it consumed me, but I felt I had to hide everything I was feeling, because I had to show confidence. Apparently, displaying a monotone attitude was not how to do this.
I finally gave up. I stopped going to meetings. I stopped asking for help.
Now, here we are. I am beginning my last year of college, and I am still here for a reason: to finish what I started, my way, by showing confidence the way I know how to.
Three years ago, I wish someone had told me that getting worse in college is undoubtedly possible. Even though you are entering the next level of competition, that doesn’t mean that you are going to hit that next level of performance. It doesn’t mean that 14-year-old you couldn’t put up a fight against—and maybe even beat—21-year-old you.
It is all very possible.
Three years ago, I wish someone had told me that all I needed was to believe in myself. Your coaches are there to improve your skill in the sport. Simple, that’s it. The minute that they jump in with emotional topics, you have to jump out.
The hard work of being a DI athlete is going to be emotionally exhausting, but don’t make it worse for yourself. Learn which comments from your coaches to take home with you, and which ones to leave behind. Drop your mental baggage at the door of your house, and pick it back up on your way back to practice.
Learn to breathe. But most importantly of all: learn how to ask for help.
Us athletes are supposed to be these big, tough, strong competitors who never need help, when sometimes we need it more than anyone.
Let people help you. Let people listen.
It upsets me that I haven’t peaked in college. It upsets me that I feel as if I’ve lost mental toughness, because of how my coach talks to me.
I refuse to end my athletic career this way.
I will remember that my accomplishments shine more than anything else. I will walk away from my athletic career remembering the good. What happens in the past will stay there—including my relationships with coaches.
I will remember that I have learned more from my experiences than from one particular coach.
I will remember that I am tough, and I will carry this skill with me through my career and life after school. My ability to persevere when things are difficult is remarkable, and learning not to let negative behavior affect me has been a blessing.
At the end of it all, I may even thank my college coach for his behavior, because it has shown me that I can finish strong, no matter how emotionally exhausted and weak I feel.
I won’t quit.
I will be successful for the same reason I started my sport—because of myself.