Remembering the Value of Athletics

Every so often, on a sunny Friday afternoon, I will find myself staring longingly out the window of O’Neill Library, overtaken by an unforeseen and unnameable sense of restlessness. This is not merely my desire to be outside in the sun or my rising excitement for the weekend. This is something that runs much deepersomething that floods my mind with a nostalgic yearning and my body with a fiery hunger for competitive movement.

Suddenly, I am 16 years old again, racing down a field of freshly cut grass. The air is cool and there is a brisk October breeze, but I do not feel it as it whips across my face, for I am focused solely on retrieving the ball from my opponent dressed in green. Somewhere in the bleachers, my Dad is on the edge of his seat, cheering me on, and I can vaguely distinguish my coach’s voice from the sidelines, shouting out a play, but these sounds dissolve into the wind.

My inner world is silent—a space of pure focus in which I can think of nothing but reclaiming the bright orange ball that lay just three feet beyond my stick. The desire for victory spreads through me like wildfire, turning my cheeks bright red and causing my heart to beat out of my chest. This overwhelming sensation of passion and tension connects me to each of my teammates, prompting us to ignore our aching legs and continue racing down the field. We will not give up until the ball is in the goal.

Given that a large portion of Boston College’s student body consists of former athletes, I am certain that I am not alone in experiencing these wistful flashes from the past.

There is something inexplicably valuable about the experience of playing sports in high school—a unique sense of pride, purpose, and connection which I have yet to experience in any other area of my life. Of course, there are countless other means through which we can achieve a sense of fulfillment, but there is nothing that compares to that rippling sense of freedom you felt when racing down the field or that burst of motivation you experienced when you saw your Dad’s eager face in the crowd.

Given that BC is a member of the NCAA Division I, many former high school athletes are left with no other option but to stop playing the sport they once loved. For some, this may be a blessing in disguise. However, for most, the sudden loss of discipline, competition, and team dynamics present a difficult transition.

For me personally, field hockey and softball served as outlets into which I could direct any pent up energy. Between the six-hour long school days and the impending stress of the college application process, sports provided me with an opportunity to release tension and to channel my competitive drive into something both positive and rewarding.

Though I no longer have to wake up at 7 a.m. for Sunday conditioning or endure tediously long bus rides on away game days, it turns out that the pressures of classes and extracurriculars are an inherent part of the college experience as well.

It is for this reason that I often find myself staring restlessly out the window of O’Neill Library, longing for that inexplicable feeling—that silent space of pure focus, that wildfire of blazing desire.

One of the beauty of athletic challenges is the fact that they are finite. Regardless of what your preferred sport is, at the end of any given game, a whistle will be blown or a buzzer will go off, indicating that time is up. You either walk off the field filled with a sense of accomplishment or flooded with disappointment.

Whether you succeeded or not, however, you can be sure that the game is over. The challenge to defend the ball, score the basket, or beat your opponent down the field no longer exists—until the next game, that is, when you yourself decide to re-enter the competitive domain.

We cannot simply “walk off the field” in other areas of our life, nor line up to peacefully shake hands with our personal “opponents”—whether that be an exam you scored poorly on last week or an argument you had with a friend. In the game of life, challenges have far greater magnitude. We do not experience them in the form of a backdoor cut, a burst down the field, or thirty seconds on the clock. There is no buzzer to free us from the race of reality.

In illuminating all of this, I do not mean to undermine the college experience in any way. There is so much joy to be found in other aspects of life outside of sports. If one is truly keen on continuing their sport, there are always intramurals and club teams as well. More often than not, however, people seem to find that without their high school teammates alongside them, their coach on the sidelines, and their dad’s eager face in the crowd, the experience is just not the same.

Nonetheless, the situation is not hopeless. That competitive energy that once propelled us down the field can be channeled into a desire to do the best we can during midterm week. That feeling of rapport we had with our teammates can be redirected into the relationships we forge at BC. That overwhelming sensation of passion and tension we felt when we got up to bat in the bottom of the seventh inning can help us to think fast when we step up to the plate of a job opportunity.

Truth be told, these aspects of life can never truly replicate the experience of high school sports, but that’s okay. Perhaps sports are supposed to remain a sacred part of our treasured pasts. After all, some of the most the most frequently quoted words from the the Bible are, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).

It may be that the best thing we can do, in the present, is simply look back upon those times fondly, with gratitude for the seasons that shaped us into who we are today.

Featured Image by Zoe Fanning / Heights Editor