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Why I decided to stop playing

October 13, 2018

Snow was falling when I was first bewitched by sports in fifth grade. I was playing basketball with my friends outside. The thrill of pushing my body and the adrenaline of working with others to reach a common goal for the sake of fun was inspiring and addicting. I started playing basketball and participating in track and field in sixth grade, and I added volleyball to the mix a year later. I fell head over heels in love with the challenge of playing on a team, the beautiful ache of my muscles after practice and the rush of competition.

I continued to be a three-sport athlete into high school. I readily dedicated my time to the sports I was playing, and I treasure beyond words the experiences and lessons I learned. Sports forced me to be present in the moment, aware of everything going on around me. Sports saved me from the agonizing overthinking of social and academic stressors and relieved so much mental pressure. I was able to simply be in my body — a gift that gave me a rare confidence and enthusiasm.

But as varsity competition ramped up and the hours I spent playing and thinking about my sports began to eat into time for my schoolwork, it became less fun and more of an obligation. During high school, I was discovering new passions and interests, finding new outlets for my fascination with the world, and meeting new and amazing people with whom I desperately wanted to spend more time. I stopped looking forward to practice. The intense competitive mentality and the emotional strain of leading a team left me more stressed out than rejuvenated.

When my mom told me this summer “you don’t have to do volleyball,” my whole world opened up. Sports had become such an integral part of who I was that I couldn’t even imagine not playing. I felt terrible about letting down my team and terrified of who and what I was without sports. But after months of deliberation, I decided there was little gain in doing something I wasn’t excited about, and then I made the dreaded phone call to my coach.

Not playing is so much easier than I expected. I suddenly remembered what it was like to have free time. I filled up this time much faster than I expected with new and exciting activities and people. I had no idea how much I was missing while playing sports or how stressful the intense commitment was until I wasn’t living with it.

I wouldn’t trade my experience with sports for the world. The constant minor injuries and homework on late-night bus rides was worth every second of excitement and learning on the court and on the track. But committing to something stressful and no longer fun is just unhealthy. In sixth grade, playing sports was genuinely the best thing ever, and quitting when I did years later was also one of the best decisions I’ve made. Giving myself the space to change is incredibly difficult, but it feels fantastic and freeing.

Hannah Laga Abram is a senior at Santa Fe Waldorf School. Contact her at ceciliasycamore@gmail.com.

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