Disclaimer: The author wants to acknowledge that these are her personal experiences. The author would like to acknowledge that other people have other experiences and that no two people are the same.
Memories are something I often struggle with; being unable to pin-point experiences I had in my childhood that seem to remain so prominent in my older sister’s mind. Whether that is a fault of mine for not remembering or a gift my sister possesses for remembering the most obscure moments so clearly is unclear, yet the memories that I struggle less with remembering are often those that have left the greatest impact. For as long as I can remember I played soccer and although this period would have intertwined with the other childhood moments that remain somewhat blurry, the clarity of experiences I had on the soccer field speaks to its prominence and importance in my life.
Growing up, I prided myself on my athletic abilities, taking part in most sports in elementary school and filling extra-curricular hours with weekly soccer games and practices. Soccer was responsible for fostering some of my most vivid memories during my most formative years. I started playing soccer when I was three but technically at that time it was merely a chance for neighbourhood pre-k’s to get outdoors, learning the fundamentals of sports in the presence of fun and the absence of any real competition. Although my beginnings with soccer were not the most physically enjoyable, since I was unable to leave practice without a freshly scraped and bandaged knee, for my mental growth and development, it remained one of the most self-rewarding activities I can attribute to that time.
Outgrowing this eventually led to neighbourhood house league teams in the summer that most of us can remember being signed up for. I swear, the 90s and 2000s must have marked the beginnings of soccer as a necessary part of adolescence. By eight, I had moved on to play for my club’s rep team and was discovering that soccer was becoming less of an activity I did to fill my summers and more of a year-round commitment. Given my naturally competitive nature in sports, thanks to my dad, moving to higher levels and bigger leagues fulfilled that drive. Hence, grappling with my permanent place on the sidelines proved to be both physically and emotionally devastating.
By the time of my injury, I wasn’t playing for my original team anymore but had marked my place for two years with a new one. Although at first I was hesitant to join another team, tempted by the possibility of having more free time throughout the year with the absence of soccer in my schedule, I ultimately decided to try out, following in the footsteps of one of my closest friends from my former club. Unlike this period that allowed me to come to a decision on my own regarding my future with soccer, my untimely exit was the full result of my injury. For those unaware of the functions of an ACL, which believe me I only know because I tore it, it actually has a pretty important job, especially for those involved in sports and athletics. The ACL is a ligament in the center of our knees responsible for maintaining the balance and stability of our legs by holding the upper and lower sections of our leg together (orthoinfo.aaos.org). Although small tears can often heal on their own, suffering a complete tear as I did generally requires surgery and an intensive year-long recovery. Even after my recovery from surgery, my graduation from physio and the go-ahead from my doctor to play again, my first practice back after that year away I tore it again, causing a repetition of the same circle of events that occupied my previous year and creating an even greater distance between myself and my chances of ever getting back to soccer.
Psychologists have been citing the positive impacts of sports for decades, but the realities of leaving sports and the negative impact that it can have has, historically, remained unfocused. With more recent research examining the effects of withdrawing from sports, experiencing feelings of grief, a loss of identity and other mental factors are showing to be more common than not for both professional and amateur ex-athletes. For many former athletes, “they had to face the monumental challenge of losing an ‘all-encompassing identity – it’s how you relate to other people, it’s how you use your body, it’s your mental stimulation” (wbur.org). Whether I chose to or not, being an athlete became a large part of my identity, having grown from a hobby to a solidified source of confidence and individuality. Dealing with the reality of my sudden inability to handle the same activity I prided myself on throughout my youth and facing a heightened possibility of re-injury has added to my own grief. Although I believe any scenario of separating from soccer would prove to be challenging and definitely cause me to miss it at times, the abrupt end left me in a state of unfulfillment and with a newfound unfamiliarity with my past self.
When I began writing this article, I don’t think I truly realized how deeply affected I continue to be by my quick end with soccer. Although my identity as a soccer player is a distant part of myself, I continue to grapple with this given how present it still feels in my life. I think having reminisced on my journey with the sport was necessary but has reconfirmed the pain still felt from its absence. Although I value the qualities that I gained from playing soccer and still try to implement them into my life, the torn links between my present and my past self cause me to presume that once soccer is gone so are those qualities, given I am no longer capable of the things I prided myself on for so long. For me, it has become an ongoing mental recovery years after my physical recovery has finished.
Change is something we are all familiar with and are able to handle differently, depending on the effect it will have on our life. The changes in our identity and our understanding of who we truly are remain an intricate part of growing up, and something we have all experienced dealing with in high school and university. Although some change is positive or can grow to become so over time, it is just as common to not receive change well, especially when it brings about a loss of something important to you. Being able to deal with such instances takes time, believe me, but learning to cherish the past on its own rather than dwell over its absence is something I will continue to strive for in my life. While I was not able to split from soccer the way I had hoped, the memories I was able to make throughout my involvement will fortunately remain a reminder of who I was and will continue to be.
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