3 Things I Had to Unlearn as a Former Division 1 Athlete
On a recent scroll through Instagram, I came across a post that made me do a double take. With her 426K followers, Victoria Garrick Browne, Real Pod podcast host and founder of The Hidden Opponent (a non-profit organization advocating for mental health awareness, education and support for student-athletes) shared a non-descript workout video with a voice-over explaining three things she’s trying to unlearn from her time as a top-tier collegiate volleyball player.
If you’ve never donned a uniform or laced up for game day, you’d probably have kept on scrolling. But for me, a former Division 1 soccer player, it struck an invisible chord.
Though my experience was rewarding, it also came with its own set of mental and emotional baggage. Inspired by Browne to do some personal reflection, here are three things I, too, had to unlearn as a former D1 athlete.
The Secret Value of Being a ‘No Person’
1. Fitness Doesn’t Have to Be “All or Nothing”
Before the start of each season, I’d have three main goals: get fit, stay fit and don’t get injured. As preseason picked up, so did the conditioning, along with two-a-days and the dreaded beep test (if you know, you know). If we weren’t training or traveling for game day, we were watching film, scouting teams, testing new formations or lifting with the strength coach. Even days off were filled with ice baths, shake-out runs and visits to the athletic trainers for rehab and recovery. Though the off-season offered some respite, the training never truly stopped. And in the years to come, that “all or nothing” mentality stuck to me like glue.
Post-college, I struggled to find balance in my fitness routine. If I wasn’t in the gym for multiple hours a week, logging miles on the treadmill and time at the weight rack, each workout felt like a failure. As my career and social life took over, my free time fell short, and the anxiety I felt in the gym soon morphed into the opposite extreme: complete indifference. If I can’t go all out, why bother? I’d go through varying periods of obsessiveness and disinterest, booking a new workout class every day until I’d eventually get burnt out and stop altogether.
This physical rollercoaster left me feeling fatigued and guilt-ridden. Though I still struggle at times, I’ve since learned that this all-or-nothing attitude isn’t healthy or realistic. Exercise is supposed to be fun, and a good workout routine consists of whatever brings you joy and stability. Now, I live for a 20-minute sweat sesh, and you bet I count walking the dog as cardio. I may not be as fit as I once was, but, honestly, who cares? Staying active has always helped me be the best version of myself, and in finding this balance, I was able to rediscover why I started playing sports to begin with.
2. I’m No Longer an Athlete, But I Can Still Be a Goldfish
My sense of self-worth has always been influenced by my accomplishments (cringe, I know), but back in the day, when I was part of a team, that burden felt infinitely lighter. Through our wins and losses, the team mentality allowed me to build a mental buffer so that I could learn from my mistakes without dwelling on the past. In the words of Ted Lasso, I was a goldfish with a ten-second memory, neither the good nor the bad stuck around for too long.
Post-grad, without a team, I found myself absorbing every experience like a sponge. As I shouldered the highs and lows of life alone—both personal and professional—my internal confidence meter yo-yo’ed up and down, and I was left feeling frustrated and insecure as I tried to keep up.
Sports aside, I think anyone can benefit from adopting this mentality, and though it’s still a work in progress for me, I’m learning how to manage it with my new favorite teammate (hello, husband). Sure, I may no longer be an athlete, but who says I can’t still be a goldfish?
3. You Are So Much More Than the Imposter Syndrome You Feel
Fun fact: I was a walk-on, meaning instead of getting recruited in high school, I cold-emailed the coach and tried out mid-season. When I finally got the call that I’d made the team, I was overjoyed. But soon thereafter, the imposter syndrome set in.
For the next four years, I was constantly in performance mode, tirelessly working to prove to my coaches, my teammates and, at times, even myself, that I deserved to be there. With nothing to lose and so much to gain, I dove into the experience headfirst. But as the pressure to succeed intensified, my once-shiny confidence began to crack, and I inevitably let doubt creep in and take over.
Looking back, this experience turned out to be just one of many times I’d grapple with imposter syndrome. But what I’ve realized now, many years later, is that it doesn’t need to define me. I am so much more than the uncertainty I feel, and if I’ve worked hard enough to enter the proverbial room, I deserve a seat at the table.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been defined by my status as an athlete. But when that title went away, so did my sense of self. Playing soccer in college gave me more than I ever could have asked for, but it also left me with some unhealthy habits I couldn’t quite shake. If you’re in the same boat, I’ll lend you my life jacket, because as Browne sums up at the end of her video, we are athletes, and athletes were made to do hard things.
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