Like most people at this time of the year, I have been thinking about my new year’s resolutions. Of course, I always resolve to change the usual: weight loss, exercise, healthy eating, debt reduction, spiritual disciplines, and productivity. But there is something else weighing on my mind that I would like to see addressed in the upcoming year.
Years ago, I played both basketball and softball. I excelled at these two activities, playing both during college. I even had many opportunities to play these sports in three different countries. During childhood, I loved playing anything involving athletics. It wasn’t unusual for me to spend hours shooting baskets, playing catch with my father, or throwing tennis balls against our shed. I fearlessly dove for baseballs and willingly sacrificed my body taking charges during competitive events.
However, things started changing as I progressed through high school. I began noticing that the thought of actually competing in basketball and softball games caused me to experience anxious feelings. I had no clue from where these new-found thoughts and feelings were coming. Every possible scenario of disaster bombarded my mind as I tried to play the games. For example, rapid thoughts about all the possible mistakes I could make filled my head as I waited for each pitch from my field position during softball games. Also, I would constantly worry that my knee would ‘give out’ as I played defense or dribbled a basketball during a game. Can you imagine how difficult it is to think about the game strategy when you are battling these persistent irrational thoughts?
In order to cope with this anxiety, I developed several rituals that helped me to think about the task at hand, rather than the possible failures. I thought that I could avoid certain disaster if I did little things the same way between each play. It wasn’t obvious, but I would mumble the same phrase over and over again under my breath. If I didn’t say it right, then I thought I would mess up or be injured. In softball, I would lick my index finger and wipe my shirt in a certain way. (Crazy and irrational, huh? At that time in my life, it wasn’t to me.)
I tell you all this because my anxiety became so great that I stopped playing any type of sport. The very activities I loved became sources of mental torment. After a year of playing Division I basketball, I quit and transferred to another college, never playing on a basketball team again. I played softball at my new school but soon found my anxiety growing worse everyday. The rituals that once gave me some solace became useless against the panic and dread that threatened to overtake me. Thus, I did not play my senior year of collegiate eligibility. Each time I quit these teams, I was told that I would regret my decision.
And honestly, I haven’t. It was wonderful not having to deal with overwhelming anxiety on a regular basis. I was tired and wanted peace. I don’t regret quitting the teams so that I could focus on my well-being during those years.
However, I do regret that I have allowed anxiety to continue to rule my life in this area until this very day. Even now, the thought of playing competitively stirs up anxious feelings. I regret refusing to play catch with my nephew or shooting basketballs with friends because I am fearful. I regret not participating in my graduate school’s intramural sports league while attending classes because I was afraid.
It’s been over ten years since I gave up the sports that I truly loved and enjoyed. My simple New Year’s resolution is to take the steps in confronting and overcoming this obstacle. I refuse to allow these irrational fears to continue ruling my life!
My resolution includes picking up my glove and playing a simple game of catch, playing pick-up basketball games with trusted friends, and maybe even joining a sports league.
May you all have a blessed New Year, and ask me to play catch or shoot some hoops with you if you see me around!