“Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me. Insisting on this story was a form of mind control, but for the most part, it worked. Fear begets fear. Power begets power. I willed myself to beget power. And it wasn’t long before I actually wasn’t afraid.” –Cheryl Strayed in WILD.
[THE PITCH] To me, fear is a twisted torch, simultaneously igniting the heart and scorching the soul as it leads the way.
In quite a few of my blogs, I’ve written about the role of stress in sports. In my world, stress is an underlying, smoldering fire of fear that, despite my attempts to ignore or even suffocate it, cannot be extinguished. But I am learning now that perhaps it is time to put down the hose.
So…what is there to fear in football?
To say that I fear failing would be too broad. Everyone fears failure on some level. Small failures are inevitable and so constant that they often go unnoticed. Some people fear simply ‘not being good enough’. Others have more specific fears, like missing an open net in the last minute of a final. These fears sit like the candles on my windowsill; if the room gets too hot, I can blow them out. These burns fade quickly, barely singeing the skin. But, I do not fear that I am not good ‘enough’ because the bar is always rising, and I cherish the climb. I do not fear missing the game winning shot because, I mean… how many times have I already done that?
My flammability comes from my vulnerability. In the same way the ball’s bounce is often out of my control and unpredictable, so is my future. As a female footballer in 2012, the circumstances of my professional world can change like a match struck in wind. It can catch… or it can fizzle. My career is at the mercy of a few coaches’ opinions. And so, I fear that there is nothing I can do to guarantee success. My wildfire burns from the outside in. I fear not being able to affect all of the outcomes, all of the time. I fear getting caught in the fire.
It started as a spark: a flicker of passion, the will to win. But over the years, fanned by frustration, it spread within me, like the wildfires fueled by the Santa Ana’s of home. Fear can be a great motivator, a power source, but left uncontrolled, it can burn ferociously, laying to ashes everything in its path. As a southern California girl, I expect fires. They are part of nature. But I do not accept them. As an athlete I have made my home in the middle of that combustible path. And over time I’ve learned that the best way to deal with fear is not to battle it- ‘fighting fire with fire’- but rather, to empower myself by tapping its energy and harnessing its forces. In the words of Mike Tyson ”…let it cook for me…and heat my house.”
Sometimes taking control means letting go. Like flickering flames, football’s precarious nature can be unnerving. There have been plenty of times in my career that I’ve felt that I have played a good game, but was unable to ignite my team and we lost. On the other hand, there have been times that I was not exactly smokin’ yet the ball ‘bounced off my shin guard’ and into the back of the net, yielding a win, and setting the crowd on fire. I am trying to embrace the unpredictable properties of this sport. They are, after all, what make it so hot! Great matches are like raging infernos as both spectators and players come ablaze in the heat of uncertainty. Fans erupt in response to great plays and players erupt in response to the fans. Can I thrive in this type of energy?
It does, however, take more than time to tame a fire. It takes patience, persistence, and, yes, power to tame my fears. A certain level of insecurity is good. I know that to play football the way I want, I have to use this fire for fuel. I’ve found that the harder I try and more determined I am, the more the game, with its frustrations and disappointments, heats-up my passion for playing. So, yes…fear may beget fear but from its embers…I will rise.
[Almost Off The Post!] A List Of Anonymous Footballers’ Secret Fears:
- “Someone pulling down my pants for double butt cheek exposure.” HEADLINE: Full Moon at Valhalla.
- “Lack of identity without football.” The youth player.
- “Getting picked last for the team.” The veteran player.
- “Finally getting my picture in the paper… but then accused of steroids. Who knew I had that many muscles in my neck?!?!”
- “The camera catches my finest snot rocket of the year.” CAPTION: Only one snot on frame.
- “Going down in a game like I just got shot… with a leg cramp.”
– Using ‘shutter’ when I mean ‘shudder’ in my blog. Called out again. J