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How Sports Taught Me To Not Back Down

I was small growing up, short with a little frame. I remember being in a soccer game playing forward against a defender who had about 6 inches of height on me and about 30 pounds (not totally unusual considering I no taller than 4’9” till I was 15). During the game I felt as if I was being thrown around like a rag doll every time we were one on one with the ball. I was exhausted. At times I felt defeated but I kept pushing back. So did she, she knew she was bigger than me and did everything she could to intimidate me, even shoving me when the play went the other way and the ref wasn’t looking. I kept taking a breath when I could, reminding myself not to be intimidated and to keep fighting. She overpowered me for the most of the game until a ball got kicked just outside the reach of her height and we were in a chase to the corner. Finally my counter move. I may have been small but I was also fast and I knew it would be my only chance. For all the intimidation and frustration I out ran her, got the ball to the corner, crossed it to the middle, where it would find my teammate and she would put in in the back of the net. Still to this day I am reminded of moments like that when I start to feel frustrated; then I take a deep breath, give myself a quick pep talk, and move in to a situation that is trying to intimidate with the belief that I can overcome it. 

Early in my career I worked with a basketball coach who loved to intimidate his players, his staff, and even the administration. He had grown accustomed to few people pushing back. He had not grown accustomed to a female athletic trainer on his sideline or really anyone who would stand up to him if it meant protecting the health of the athlete. One afternoon due to a concussion I had to pull one of his best athletes, he was heated, he decided to call me up, tell me I was “babying the kids, didn’t know what I was talking about and that I needed to stop acting like their mom.” I had done my best to play his game but I was done. I took a deep breath and told him “I will be their mom if that means protecting them from you” and hung up the phone. When I showed up at practice he stared me down. He made jokes to the healthy players about not getting injured and having to come see me. He waited until everything was quiet, and the athletes were all huddled near where I sat, and walked up to me and said “so are you going to apologize to me?” Here it was again, someone trying to ‘push me out of the way’.

It is amazing the things that playing sports can give to you. Things you never imagined that you gained from them, but looking back you realize that when your parents told you to be tough and stand your ground, that sports became a teacher of that lesson. These moments of intimidation haven’t been without anxiety or failure. And I don’t know that I have always handled them the right way. But playing sports, maybe playing sports and always being so small, gave me something; it gave me the confidence to believe in my ability to push back, to not be intimidated, and to stand my ground when necessary. That day on the basketball court when the coach moved to try and ‘put me in my place’, I simply counter moved with the unexpected. I looked him right in the eye with everyone around and replied “no I am not, do you plan to apologize to me?” I could see on his face that few had ever pushed back and in that moment he knew I would be different. It was the last big argument him and I ever got in and our relationship turned to one of trust and I believe mutual respect after that.

Now when I look back to that soccer field and being up against a seemingly unbeatable opponent or to the basketball court refusing to be intimidated it reminds me that the ability to push back and keep fighting started with a simple idea that grew from playing sports; I will not back down.