Thursday, June 15, 2017

A Retired Athlete's Club Volleyball Appreciation Post

C-Fed's 17 Mizuno team winning match point at the Semi-Finals of JVA
About six years ago, one of my favorite volleyball coaches passed away from Myelodysplastic Syndrome, a disease of the bone marrow and blood.

Although it may seem overly convenient to speak fondly of an individual who is no longer with us, I would argue these as uncontested facts. Anyone who has seen this woman play or coach, or witnessed any of the passion her former player's compete would see the fire, competitiveness, and volleyball IQ she instilled in all of us. It's been nearly 10 years since I've played for her, and the memories from that year, along with my time at Sports Performance helped shape me into the player and individual I developed into today.

Chris Fedrico, or C-Fed as the volleyball community would call her, was my coach my junior year at Sports Performance Volleyball Club. Undeniably our season could be seen as a success, as we won the JVA National Championships, but so many other things defined that season that only those within the club would understand.

Her death falls around the same month as our AAU National Championship in Orlando Florida. Which brings back good memories of exploring Disney, sharing a house with my teammates, and playing against some of the best teams in North America. Also, usually underperforming and disappointing ourselves, coaches, and parents- but those memories are not nearly as strong as the team bonding with our team and coaches each year.

17 Mizuno Team at Universal during AAUs

This particular team where she was my coach was Sports Performance 17 Mizuno (Zuno as C-Fed would shortly re-name us), and we had a lot of uphill battles. We were sandwiched between two outstanding age levels in our program, with some of the greatest players I've competed with. In fact, some are still playing today overseas or at the Olympic level, and so our club director Rick Butler made the decision to make some changes early on that were quite uncommon. To my knowledge, before or after us, there was never a true 17s team that would compete at Sports Performance, but rather combine us with the talented athletes the year ahead of us, Rick and Cheryl decided to take a big risk and make a new standalone 17s team.

For those of you who don't understand volleyball, I won't go into too much detail, but we also had a new offense was created with C-Fed, Rick Butler, and Cheryl Butler that I still have a hard time explaining. Rick is the club director, and coached many of us on 18 Elite, C-Fed was presented this opportunity to "try something new", and Cheryl was probably the one who put all the puzzle pieces together, as she was a coach that a core group of us had for our 14s and 15s year, and our setter for 3 years. This offense was a 5-1, with our exceptional setter running the offense from the middle, and our 4 undersized outside hitters playing both outside and right side with no true base position. We only had one middle, and our setter had to learn to become a middle for blocking purposes.  C-Fed would regularly jump-in during practices, create free-ball plays where our libero would run "fake" attacks in the front-row, and acted as our spokesperson for recruiting in the year that the majority of us made our college decisions. She was a truly selfless coach, that had a huge impact on all of the players she touched or competed against.

Team Bonding at Owls in December with Zuno

Furthermore, she brought together a team that many of us had never played together before, which has many obstacles. While we had a core group from about 14s-16s playing together, we had 4 new additions to Sports Performance on our team. Although this may seem normal, as many people in the volleyball world know, Sports Performance has certain expectations that it's not always easy to understand and cope with.

If you haven't hard of Sports Performance before, there is a unique culture of commitment. As a Sports Performance player, I've been asked if many things are true, and if many things are not true. I'm sure I'm forgetting some, but here's a little Fact vs. Fiction-

  • We only are allowed to eat salads.  Fiction- but every year a team decides on team and personal sacrifices, a lot of times dietary to help our bodies perform at high and efficient levels, and share a sense of commitment. Examples include- candy, soda, fast food, white flour, etc..
  • We didn't leave tournaments until our last team was done.  Fact- Although we are required to stay to watch, we are not required to stay and cheer, so whenever you see a court full of Sports Performance teams, its genuine excitement for our peers. Some of my fondest memories were creating new cheers, and watching other teams achieve their goals that we understand all the behind the scenes work effort
  • We sleep there. Fiction- we spent a lot of time at the gym, and many naps have been taken in the senior locker room waiting for late night ride.
  • We have a weight room facility onsite. Fact- I'm forever grateful for the phenominal foundations and form I learned there at an early age. Our club directors welcomed athletes to come year round, and even athletes returning from college to use the facilities.
  • You can't go to prom. Fiction- Although only seniors are permitted to miss practice for Prom (shoutout to my teammates who helped do my hair in the locker room, brought perfume and got me out the door in 10 minutes after my junior year for a Friday night prom), the size of the program, and importance of Friday practices before Saturday tournaments was never a big deal. We chose to make these commitments at the beginning of the season, and there were never complaints on my teams.

Finally, probably the most common misconception I've had is: Sports Performance doesn't let players have fun.

This was always the one most puzzling to me, as it's though they are implying I had no choice of where I played volleyball. Although I'd agree, the commitment to excellence the program demands is not a good fit for the casual player, but if you wanted to play at a high level, receive an elite level of coaching, and win national championships, I'd have a hard time finding a better program.

I understand I am extremely biased, but just looking at the stats:
  •  the Sports Performance website shows regularly 30-40 athletes going onto play on at the college level each year (with the majority receiving full scholarships), going to 267 Colleges and Universities over the years
  • At the 2016 Olympics, 3 or the 24 Olympians were Sports Performance Alumni (Kelsey Robinson, Kelly Murphy, Thomas Jaeschke)
  • 43 Sports Performance Alumni have been name to the AVCA Division 1 All-American Teams
  • 83 AAU/JVA/USAV National Championships (Girls and Boys)
What these stats don't show, are the stats that I'm curious about that say a lot more about the program than the above:
  • How many hours I've spent in dance parties in vans and lockerrooms
  • How many bridesmaids and maids of honor have been former Sports Performance Teammates
  • How many hours coaches spend outside of practice watching film on the team and opponents, brainstorming new lineups, communicating with college coaches, and working other jobs
  • How many hours after our Sports Performance careers former teammates have spent visiting others
  • How many college coaches, athletic trainers, and weight room staff appreciated the work ethic we shared with our collegiate teammates.
  • The number of alumni coaches have met for lunches and dinners to catch-up on our lives.
  • The number of alumni Rick and Cheryl have connected for job or networking opportunities

As another group of girls are packing for AAUs, please enjoy every minute with teammates and coaches that will impact your lives for the years to come. The bond you'll have with these teammates is like nothing else, and these people will be your Sports Performance family for life. And  finally, make sure you set two alarms the morning of your flight, and know which Chicago airport you are flying out of so you're not running through the airport with Rick Butler 10 minutes before you take-off.

18s year with Rick Butler and Joe Jablonski at AAUs. I did get on the plane.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

What I wish I knew before I committed to play a sport in college

Today marks my 8 year anniversary from when I verbally committed to attend volleyball at the University of North Carolina. My 4.5 years there were full of many great memories, but now that I have a sister who turns 17 years old next month, it's pretty crazy to think we make one of the most important decisions of our life at such a young age. At seventeen I was one of the later of my teammates to commit, with many of them making their decision at 14 or 15 years old. While I do not regret my decision, I do regret not going into my college career with the right mindset, and these are a few of the highlights that I wish someone would have told me.

1. Understand your Priorities. Luckily, I think this is the main thing that helped me have a successful time in my college career. Looking back at old e-mails turning down schools, my immature teenage gave  "silly" reasons- they didn't have a football team, was afraid Hawaii would have a tsunami, or I was worried how I would look in orange cotton spandex. My list of "must-haves":

  • Scholarship
  • Strong basketball or football school
  • Strong undergraduate Business School (sorry dook)
  • I would hopefully start the majority of my career
  • We wouldn't totally suck.
 A lot of my friends or former teammates transferred, and I think a lot of it was not knowing their priorities- some transferred to be closer to home, while others wanted to compete for a national championships. There is no "right" top priority, but understanding them will help have a better chance at happiness.

2. Playing a sport in college is a job. 40+ hours a week of practice, rehab, film, travel, and competition is more than I currently work at my full time job. Add to these hours class, study hall, and the occasional group project- it's hard to understand how it's physically possible to eat or sleep when you are a student-athlete. Non-athletes may see us walking around campus at night in cool Nike sweats, however the reality is that we've probably been up since 5 a.m., haven't showered, and are taking a slightly longer route back to our car/scooter/dorm to avoid the hill on campus because everything hurts and we just want to go to bed but have a midterm tomorrow we need to study for. If you don't absolutely love the sport, I wouldn't recommend being a walk-on, and the money from a full or partial scholarship sometimes seems like a steal compared to the stress and pain you wake up with some days.

3. Everyone wants to quit sometimes. I was lucky enough to be on a full ride scholarship, and understood the above struggles were worth every penny of graduating without student loans. However, that doesn't mean it didn't drive me crazy. One of the Carolina Volleyball Core Covenants was that we don't whine. The truth is everyone is unhappy sometimes, so focusing on all the soreness, long days, and playing-time drama 99% of the time won't make your situation any better, rather just make you more frustrated.

4. You might have these coaches for 4 years. Before college in Club Volleyball, every year you'd have a new coach has you moved up an age bracket. At Carolina I was lucky enough to have a great coaching staff, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't test my coaches patience on numerous occations, and vice versa. On the opposite end of the spectrum, one of my favorite coaches I've ever had, the assistant coach who recruited me, ended up getting a great head coach opportunity and left in the middle of my career that broke my heart any more than any other guy I met in college did. Coaches can definitely make or break your career, so it's important to feel a great connection with all of them.

5. Making friends isn't easy. Go to college, they said. You'll make so many friends, they said. /sarcasm. Fall sport athletes have it particularly tough, while many of their peers are off making friends, we're starting our 40+ hour weeks right off the bat with very little time to socialize at all. I'd say 90% of my friends in college were athletes, just because they understood the lifestyle, and had similar weekend plans (sleep) as I did. While I am lucky my volleyball team did become family, it's hard to make genuine, lasting friendships without putting forth some effort.

6. It's okay to break up with your high school boyfriend. I dated a great guy in high school for 4 years. Although we tried to make it work long distance throughout freshman year, it was taking up too much of my energy in this already stressful time. Growing up, I thought I'd be engaged in college, married shortly after, and poppoing out babies by 25.  I will re-iterate what i said before: I don't think important life decisions should be made at 17, and I'm really glad we ended things when we did. In fact, I wish I would have stayed single throughout college because now I know relationships really shouldn't take that much effort. Side note; here's a list I wrote of 25 things you should know how to do before turning 25, (shocker, having a baby was not on the list).

7. The Freshman 15 is real, and it seems like 50. And no, it's not the good ol' muscle weighs more than fat trick your friends may try to tell you to soften the blow when your jeans don't fit. I wish I could blame breaking up with a boyfriend for my dates with Ben and Jerry's, but that wouldn't be fair to the two men who kept me company nearly every Friday night freshman year. I will, however, 100% blame my unlimited meal plan in the dining hall, what seemed like endless team meals while traveling, and my scale conveniently not fitting in my suitcase for the trip down to NC.

8. How hard it would be to stay in touch with home. Most of my friends played sports in college as well, so they were all spread out, really busy, and trained throughout summer with our teams. As the oldest sibling, my brothers and sisters did a LOT of growing up in the four years I was gone, and unfortunately I missed a lot of it. Although my family and friends from home are still some of my closest relationships, going across the country to go to school makes it hard for you to see friends or family and vice versa, and unless you get in a weekly habit of reaching out, weeks may turn to months, which unfortunately turn to years.

9. There's a big difference in the North and the South. Probably similar to the differences in Canada and Mexico. I remember my first Carolina Football game where I went straight from practice. I was still sweaty in shorts and a t-shirt, only to be surrounded in the stands with girls in polka dot dresses, hair curled to perfection, and pearls. I remember my endless attempt to explain the plural of "you guys" is "you guyses" and eventually did succumb to using "y'all" on occasion. I remember learning to take tarhole as a compliment, and how to hate dook, even though I didn't grow up in the rivalry. Every school is going to have it's own culture, and it's important to get a good understanding of it before you commit to spend the next 4 years of your life there. Not everyone will "get" you, and that's okay, but I do suggest you know what you're signing up for.

10. Embrace your college experience. Odds are YOUR college experience will be different from the Animal House college experience you see in movies. This is especially true as a college athlete, where the partying and sleeping-in lifestyle isn't possible. Although it may not be as stereotypical "crazy" I guarantee memories of locker-room dance-offs, bus-rides with friends, and competing at the college level will make some equally memorable occasions. From crazy roommates and constant soreness, to surviving early morning lifting after late night studying- I promise you it won't be easy, but if you can survive  you'll have one of the most unique, gratifying, and amazing experience that only the elite few are able to experience.

Monday, November 2, 2015

25 Things You Should Know How To Do Before You Turn 25

Today officially marks my quarter life-crisis, and I can only hope my next quarter decade can compare to my life so far. Too often I see bucket-list articles with amazing adventures on them, wondering how those people got to be so lucky. It's easy to compare your mediocre life to the one you see of others your age and get jealous, but the truth is even I'm jealous of the life it appears I'm living on social media. Too often people post about their adorable kid or dog, but how often do they post the pile of poo that seems to always be in that one corner of the house? People post about all the amazing vacations they are taking, but how often are they posting about the balance of their student loans? While you're buying the newest Apple product, sitting near the beach with a Margarita, or shopping on Michigan Avenue, it's pretty evident that the phrase "Money can't buy happiness" is complete bull, however these are some of the major successes I've accomplished in my life, which I'd like to think mean more than the number of likes I get on my instagram photos.

25 Things to Know Before Turning 25

1. How to set up your own health insurance. Maybe this is number one since open enrollment for my company started Friday, but this is something that I did for the first time when I got married and I'm sure many of my friends are in a similar situation. Not only have I gotten burned by not realizing a flexible spending account is use it or lose it, AND learned the hard way the difference between asking if a doctors takes your insurance versus being in-network, I've seen not understanding the basics can cost you thousands. Before I was married I was on my parent's health insurance, and my knowledge was that I had to carry a card to the doctors- this was a reality check for me that hopefully you can learn from this warning.

2. How to do laundry. Hopefully this task can be checked off from college- but one of my friends regularly would forget to add detergent to their laundry, and would question why their "clean" clothes smelled like heated up sweat. PS Tide Pods are still my go-to in fact to avoid this- I think all young 20 year olds can agree that all laundry we do is set to the Cold cycle, but there are actually reasons for the other cycle options you can now explore.

3. How to keep in touch. Most of my friends and family members have moved at least once, and many of the one's I'm closest to are far away. You've probably discovered the hard way, about how easy it is to lose touch with people that used to be so important to you. It's as easy as setting an alarm in your phone every Saturday to text an old friend or a family member just to see how they're doing.

4. How to save your money. Saving Accounts will maybe get you .01% return on your money. That means for every $100 you save, you'll get a penny. But let's say you did the same thing invested in the stock market, assuming a pretty conservative 5% increase, you'll notice a $50 difference over 5 years. This may not seem a lot, but the limit for an IRA each year is around $5500, so multiply that $100 initial investment by 55 instead, you'll get nearly $3,000 more. If you keep this money in for longer than 5 years, the power of compounding interest will be even more evident.

Below is from Andy Kiersz at Business Insider showing the difference of saving at 25 vs. 35. I'm the Blue Line, Emily, and my friend Dave doesn't start saving until he's more established at 35. We both contribute $200 a month, and assuming a 6% rate of return. Once we both retire, I would have contributed $96,000 over 40 years, and David would have contributed $72,000 over 30 years.
 saving at 25 vs saving at 35 continued saving prettier

So even though I only started 10 years earlier, I will have almost twice as much as Dave in retirement.

This same graph shows how much you need to save each month to reach $1 million dollars at age 65. Not so hard to be a millionaire if we start now....

monthly savings chart new

5. How to house hunt. Whether you want to buy right now or not, it's good to be informed. Many places in the country, it's not economically a good idea to buy a house ever for various reasons, and it's good to learn about the real estate in your area. Even if you're not ready for a house in the foreseeable future and have decided to rent, there are many good questions you should know to ask- including parking restrictions, pet rules, what utilities are included, etc...

6. How to master one dish. As someone who has lived alone for many years and finally mastered the concept of grocery shopping and cooking for one, a great skill to have is how to cook one great meal. I recommend stuffed shells or chili- which are both relatively easy, crowd pleasers, and reheat well.

7. How to take care of your car. Although I'll admit I will never be changing my own oil, knowing how to jump-start a car and change a flat has come in handy multiple times.

8. How to find good deals shopping. My new obsession is Poshmark where I can buy new and gently used clothing, and sell things that I have no use for. I really wish I found out about this before I was married, or I wouldn't have 5 nice white dresses I will probably never wear again. (This is mostly female clothes and accessories, but there are a few male postings). I've gotten a few Nike shorts with tags on them for $10. Install the app and sign Up with code PSIJS and get $5 off your first order!

9. How to give back. From starving kids, dogs that are going to be killed in a shelter, to medical research- I find it hard to believe that there's not one cause that you can get behind.

10.  How to ask for a raise. No different than you used to study for a test in school, you should research salary negotiation tips. These tips are great if you've been at the same job for a year+, or are looking to switch jobs and negotiate a new starting salary.

11. How to check your body. As a former athlete, annual physical check-ups were required so I always knew if my heart rate and blood pressure was normal. Although things like going to the Dentist and Doctor seem like a no brainier, it's hard to make time for those things. Knowing when something is right without having to go to the doctor will save you money, and worry from searching conditions on WebMD.

12. How to dress yourself properly. This isn't a problem just for toddlers- I'm still surprised how many men don't know how to correctly tie their tie, and women who don't realize the importance of wearing their actual bra size. This goes into knowing what's appropriate for a job interview, so make sure you've got a good idea of the difference between business professional vs. business casual attire.

13. How to be an awesome aunt or uncle. If you're like the majority of my friends and can not yet answer if they're responsible enough to care for another human every remaining second of their lives, then pick a niece, nephew, cousin, or neighbor and spend some time (and money for real bonus points) making a kid happy.

14. How to tell if you're happy in a relationship, or just afraid of being alone. With engagements happening basically every weekend at this age of our lives, it's easy to feel like you need to settle down. While there's nothing wrong with settling down, there is something wrong with settling, and 25 is a pretty good age to meet mature people who's goals align with yours.

15. How to break up in person. Although it seems like an obvious no-brainer, none of my break-ups have been in person. Although not always possible due to distance, most of my break-ups have simply because I was mad, left, and then broke up with them. Not only is this not really respectful, it's not the best way to have closure and sometimes leads you to opening doors that should have remained closed.

16. How to vote. Hopefully you realize that the real world is an intimidating place, and the things you used to learn about in Government class in high school are actually extremely relevant to you and your loved ones. Maybe you always thought you were a Republican because your family was, but now it's time to realize what you actually believe. Take this really easy quiz and it'll show you which candidate your views align with.

17. How to check your credit score. You get a FREE copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies annually from or call at 1-877-322-8228. If you haven't had it checked this year, call now and check for any errors so you can dispute them within 30 days of receiving your report.

18. How to set up a retirement account. There's a huge difference between Roth and Traditional, and you could be missing out of thousands of dollars the company WANTS to give you by not understanding the company's 401k match. There's thousands of cheap websites to set up IRAs with easy investment strategies that have been created based on what year you'll retire.

19. How to say no. I used to always make plans, only to cancel them last minute when I realized I had too much on my plate. I also always gave people the benefit of the doubt, and would treat them how I'd like to be treated. The past few years especially I've realized how damaging it is to allow toxic individuals to take up your time and energy. If people are not taking your life in a happier, positive direction, you don't owe it to anyone to keep them in your life, no matter who they are to you.

20. How to throw a party. Whether it's as simple as a fantasy draft, or as elaborate as a wedding, it's a good idea to start learning some basic etiquette rules on sending invitations and planning, while also making sure guests are having a good time.

21. How to be a good guest. As someone who threw a wedding, I now understand the importance of being a good guest. Returning RSVPs on time and not getting completely sloshed for fancier events, or just showing up on time and not only talking to those you know- not only will you save your friends from a headache, you'll actually enjoy the event a lot more as well.

22. How to budget and pay your bills. Now that you probably have multiple credit cards and loans, it's a good idea to find a way to get organized. I input my data on and it allows me to receive text notifications when I have a bill coming up, or have unusual spending in a certain category like food or shopping. I also recommend this book by Dave Ramsey for some finance tips. I love his views on saving and debt; smartest $14 bucks you'll ever spend.

23. How to stay in shape. I'm part of the 95% of the world that the only six pack I'll ever have is in the fridge, but I've realized the importance of maintaining my fitness after my athletic career ended. One of my old teammates (who has the other kind of six pack) pointed me in the direction of a great challenging but time efficient workouts, along with a shake I now take at breakfast and my life has dramatically changed for the better. Not only is it easier to wake up, but it's easier to go to bed- and I'm getting some of my athlete tone back. Be on the lookout for some Retired Athlete Workout Blog posts in the future, or feel free to e-mail me  if you'd like to join one of our monthly Accountability/Challenge Groups!

24. How to clean. I've touched on laundry already, but just general things that either your dorm or a roommate took care of. I've learned the hard way it's much easier to complete these tasks in moderation instead of letting everything pile up (quite literally) and trying to tackle it at once. Not only learning which cleaners are used for what, but hopefully the number of working professional clothes you have now rival your sweat collection- and having some sort of organization for that.

25. How to embrace growing up. When I was 18, the iPhone was first introduced, and I thought this was the coolest thing ever. This phone topped all other phones, and had so many cool features. Now after seeing the iPhone 6, this iPhone 6 seems like a complete joke, and that's pretty spot on to how I see my 18 year-old self now. Most people after they turn 21 don't really see aging as something that is good. Certain experiences like going to college, being awesome at a sport, or the feeling of starting a new romance may never happen again, leading to a feeling of it's all downhill from here. The truth is aging is not like it. You get to find new things to be good at and different ways to spend your time rather than clinging desperately onto the glory days. You may not be able to afford a trip to the Olympics, or even Europe for that matter, but hopefully you can enjoy the upgrades you've had in life so far.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Athletes and Eating Disorders- Retired Athlete Problems

Throughout my athletic career I'd go straight to practice from class, quickly changing in a bathroom or in the car so I wouldn't be late. When I was 15, my volleyball club would track our weight and body fat percentages on a weekly basis before practice, which means Mondays were extra tight on time. One Monday traffic was particularly bad, and I ran into the bathroom to change in the farthest handicapped stall and saw some poor sick girl puking in the toilet. I felt for her, because coming to practice sick was a pretty regular occurrence. You were expected to be praticing unless you were contageious, and even then you'd have to sit on the side and watch. I quickly changed, weighed in, and went on with practice. I was about 10-20% heavier than the rest of my slender team, so needless to say this wasn't one of my favorite activities, but figured as long as my volleyball skills were also 10-20% better than those smaller than me, the two would cancel out and I'd be okay.

After practice I went up to my friend, and asked how she was feeling and asked how long she'd been sick since she was looking extra rough. When she replied "About 2 years" my heart sank, and in that moment looking into her sad and empty eyes, I knew she was suffering much more than just the flu. Remember, I was 15 years old, and if I could go back in time and tell her all the right things to say, I would have. But all I did was give her a hug and said I'm sorry, and spent the rest of the year looking around wondering who else was suffering silently.

The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) reports that about 5-10% of women are diagnosed with some form of an eating disorder, and suggests 19-30% of female college students could be diagnosed with one. How the media portrays beauty is not helping, and athletes participating in weight-class sports (like wrestling, rowing, horse-racing) and aesthetic sports (gymnastics, swimming, volleyball) have significantly higher rates of diagnosed eating disorders than non-weight dependent sports. From these two categories, 33% of male athletes are impacted by eating disorders, and up to 62% of females exhibit these habits according to NEDA. In sports where uniforms are revealing- like track, gymnastics, and volleyball the fact that people are watching in these body hugging outfits are not ignored. I'd like to think of myself as a confident individual, in fact I can proudly say I won't wear makeup for dates, class, work etc... but you better believe if we were playing on ESPNU I'd be throwing on some eyeliner and blush, just because the world is mean.

Throughout my athletic career I've had coaches get on me about my weight, and when I worked my ass off (literally) to lose the weight, was then questioned if I was doing it healthy. I've had coaches comment on what my teammates were eating, while these same teammates a few weeks later would be ordering food at team meals just to throw it away without the coaches noticing. 

Reading articles of athletes who suffer from eating disorders often blame something a coach has said, or the pressures mentioned before. They blame being told their body fat percentages and having it compared with teammates, and it's easy to blame coaches for putting so much emphasis on tracking athlete's weight. However I don't blame the coaches. Should they be more aware on the impact of their words? Probably. But no different than offering a silent hug when I was 15, when I'd witness a teammate throwing out food, or even bragging about how much weight they'd loss, I'd always be at a loss for words in my 20s. Why should coaches be responsible for MY friends? Why do I allow my teammates to hide these things from my teammates and coaches, while others discuss their issues while never confronting the individual. 

Teammates are supposed to be there for you and hold you accountable. I would get on my teammate if they skipped a summer workout, but why is it not as easy for me to get on them about skipping a meal? If someone's physical injury is preventing them from performing I have no issues telling them to go in early for rehab to get it taken care of, but I never considered my teammate's mental injury and telling them to go in and get help. It was my teammates, not my coaches, who I count on to have my back. My teammates are the ones I'm still in contact with today, and there's no reason for a teammate to sit silently and watch a teammate in pain. 

Early Warning Signs of Eating Disorders in Athletes
  • More frequent muscle strains, sprains, or fractures
  • Perfectionism
  • Preoccupation with one's food or other's foods
  • Frequent Weighing
  • Excess Exercising/Training more than the coach recommends
  • Avoidance of water or excessive water intake
  • Increased Isolation
  • Issues in School or Personal life
All I can encourage is to approach your teammate or athlete in a private, non-judgmental way and let them know you care and want to help. Katherine Beals, an associate professor of nutrition at Ball State University who also was a competitive athlete for 20 years has seen disordered eating firsthand in both teammates and competitors. Although directed at professionals, her book Disordered Eating Among Athletes : A Comprehensive Guide for Health Professionals is an easy read and goes way deeper than what was briefly touched on here. As long as the media continues to encourage athletes to look like the girl on the left vs. the right, we still have a long way to go. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

Why I Don't Miss Playing a Sport- The 10 Perks of Quitting a Sport

It's easy to look back at your glory days and remember times of laughter, winning, and no real-world responsibilities. Next time you look at your bank account and want to cry, just remember that those days weren't always that great.

Perks of Being a Retired Athlete

1. You're never sore. Sure, if you lift some weights, or sleep funny you may feel it the next day, but nothing can compare to being sore in places you didn't know existed after two-a-days. I don't have to think twice when I raise my arms to wash my hair or collapse when I sit on the toilet ever again.

2.You'll lost weight. All those days of telling yourself muscle weighs more than fat are actually proven to be true, and you can compare weight with non-athletes like normal without having to "round" your weight by 5-25 lbs.

3. This.

4.  Free time. Growing up playing a sport you, and all your non-athlete friends are pretty accustomed to never making solid plans. I can't really give much advice since I've yet to do anything productive with this time other than discover netflix, but I'll save that for later... 

5. No more Ice Baths. I will never forget the first 30 seconds slowly submerging yourself down into the ice bath. Even the toughest athletes have met their match vs. these guys, and it's nice to know the only standing body's of water in my future are hot tubs, warm baths, or oceans. I'll also include no more ice packs here, which means no more leaking in your car, bed, or class.

6. No more punishments. Sure, my credit score my get a ding if I pay a bill late- but that does not compare to the sinking feeling of the unknown when your coach tells you to get on the line. For this same reason is why you can now finally celebrate Tequila Tuesdays, Wine Wednesdays, Thirsty Thursdays, Fireball Fridays, etc... without fear of repercussion. 

7. You can date. With the amount of time you're either in the gym or out of town, you're basically a magnet for people who are emotionally unavailable or cheaters.

8. You can have a job. A definite double edge sword on this one, but sometimes it's nice to have an option to do something other than ask your parents to fund your Chipotle habit. And in the real world there are no "optional" meetings, practices, summer workouts you aren't paid for.

9. You can watch television. I feel like a whole new world has opened now that I can watch series of shows, netflix, live sporting events, etc... You can even watch the news and be able to pretend you are concerned about wordly-issues or who's running for President. 

10. Unbreakable bonds. Although these people were your teammates by fate, over time these are the people who have proved to be there through the ups and the downs, spending nearly waking moment together. Whether it's because they've seen you at your worst, grew to appreciate their sense of humor, or simply don't judge how much food you eat in a single sitting, they are officially your people for the rest of your life.  

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Suicide Prevention Month: Athletes and Suicide

As September comes to a close, so does Suicide Awareness Month, but should be in the spotlight year round.Sports, athletes, and poor mental health at first glance may seem like a game of "one of these things does not belong", as usually athletes appear to be stronger than an average person in both body and mind, but these people are often at higher risks at suicide due to added personal and external pressure athletes face.

Athlete and Suicide Facts

The facts, however, show that athletes are not immune to mental health issues. Just looking at a recent study of NCAA Athletes shows that the annual rate of suicide for male athletes was 1.35 per 100,000, and for female athletes it was 0.37 per 100,000. Among black athletes, the annual rate was 1.22 per 100,000, and among white athletes, the rate was 0.87 per 100,000 students. The highest rate of suicide occurred in football, with a rate of 2.25 instances of suicide per 100,000 athletes, which is partially explained by the result of head trauma. 

Generalizing these numbers, it's about 2 suicides per 200,000 athletes a year. A low estimate are that there are 460,000 NCAA Athletes competing each year. This means every year there will be approximately 4 student athletes who commit suicide each year. Over the 9 year study, there were 477 student-athlete deaths, and suicide represented 35 of these deaths, and the leading preventable cause of death during this time. This study doesn't include high school athletes or professional athletes, where in that case the number would likely be tripled. 

Preventable Disease

Often athletes are put on pedestals, basically local heroes, leading it to be difficult to accept their own personal struggles when everything would lead it to appear they are living the dream. However like mentioned previously, these deaths can be avoided with increased awareness, and removing the stigma of mental health. Nobody looks down on athletes when they have a ligament tear and have to take care of themselves or go to extra rehab, however as long as the cloud over mental health issues remain, student-athletes will not get the help they need as they try to ignore their problems.  

Photo credit ESPNW

The recent ivy league freshman, Madison Holleran, who committed suicide last year wrote in her note to her family, "I thought how unpleasant it is to be locked out, and I thought how it is worse perhaps to be locked in" and friends and family spoke how in the months leading up to her death she often spoke of her unhappiness and pressure she felt, and often discussed transferring. 

 A football player at Ohio State University wrote in his final note to his mother that his "head was messed up", and a former Chicago Bears safety's lone message in his note was requesting his brain be studied for possible damage. Shortly before junior Seau's death as well, he made a comment to his friends and family that he wanted his brain to go to science for the study of concussive injuries. 

What you can do

The goal of Suicide Prevention month is to help raise awareness and get others educated. When talking to teammates, friends, or family members try to pay attention. Usually they aren't looking for a fix, rather just looking to feel validated and not have their feelings minimized. Often those that appear to have so much going right for them feel guilty complaining and don't understand what they are feeling, and often there are "red flags" that survivor's family and friends only realize when it's too late.

Many schools require an ECG to prevent this sudden and preventable disease, but data shows the number of student athletes' death caused by cardiovascular disease is in fact lower than the amount of student athletes who commit suicide every year. It's pretty routine to have concussion screening to help prepare for a concussion, why not a similar mandatory screening for mental health at the beginning of the season as well? Once depression is treated as a real mental illness rather than a sign of weakness, these suicides will continue to happen. Some of the world's most influential, strong, and powerful leaders have suffered with depression, including Isaac Newton, Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Winston Churchill, and Beethoven.

Depression in Athletes Quick Facts

Who Suffers from Depression?

  • 20 Million People in US
  • People with family history of depression
  • 10% of those are under 18
  • Women are impacted twice as much as men

Symptoms of Depression

  • Constant sense of fatigue
  • Increased desire to sleep
  • Lack of concentration
  • Loss of appetite, changes in weight
  • Irritability
  • Low self-esteem
  • Low self-confidence
  • Hopelessness
  • Suicidal thoughts
Causes of Depression in Athletes
  • Genetic Predispositions
  • Injury
  • Over Training
  • Pressure by Coaches, teammates, self
  • Lack of Time
  • Feeling Overwhelmed

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Home, (bitter) Sweet, Home: Why visiting your old school sucks

My old university will always be home to me; however unlike past visits where I felt as if I was returning home, this time I left with a different feeling. This feeling can only be described as touring your childhood home where you no longer live, and feelings of nostalgia and sadness for days that once were follow you everywhere.

Every step I took on this campus was familiar. I knew exactly how long it would take to walk from the Pit to the Old Well, and the fastest route to get to Student Health. Memories of people watching in the quad, lunch dates with teammates, and even a few familiar teachers that most likely have no clue who you are anymore.

While I people watched this time, the feeling was different. It was as if myself and all my memories were just ghosts, as people were now living their own lives and making new memories. It was a feeling of returning to a childhood home, now inhabited by strangers as you notice all the changes that they have made. With every new turn on campus, a new memory would be brought back. Visiting my freshman dorm where more time was spent laughing than sleeping, the old weight room where probably just as many tears were shed as sweat. I couldn't help but feel jealous that these people still have time to write chapter of their book, and mine and all of my friends books were already complete.

I try to go back and visit a few times a year, so maybe I've always felt this way and it's now just hitting me my last friends' still remaining will also be graduating in May, but I think the hopeful thing is I can look back and have no regrets. Thinking about the things I regretted at the time, like not getting enough sleep before weights or not having the best luck dating, are things now have turned into all of my friends' favorite memories and things we can laugh at.

The first time I visited Carolina after I graduated it felt like I still belonged, and as if my new "home" was just a place I was visiting. I looked around and my family was still there, and everything was how I left it. The next few times the changes were evident, but I still felt at home. At my first alumni even this past weekend, I felt old, out of date, and like I was a true visitor, intruding on these students in a place that I no longer belonged.

Carolina will always be home, the people I met there will always be family, but things are different. Who would have thought that tripping over bricks or dodging scooters in the crosswalk would be things I would miss, but it's become evident that the beautiful campus isn't what made my experience what it was, rather all the people I made my memories with. It serves as a good reminder that going through the motions is never the answer, and although one chapter is over, another one is always beginning.