“Nice” girls can play too

One athlete’s experience with being told she’s not good enough to play, and realizing one coach’s opinion shouldn’t be the final say in an athlete’s success.

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I’ve heard them all. “You’re too nice. Not aggressive enough. Not vocal enough.” These sayings are what coaches have been using to define me since I began playing competitive sports at age nine. For most of my time as an athlete I accepted the fact that coaches never saw me as a strong candidate for higher athletics, and assumed that it was just my fate to not become a successful athlete beyond club sports at a young age. Despite knowing that this criticism was just one view of my personality, it stuck with me, and eventually brought me to lose the love of sports that I’ve had since I was five.

Coaches always focus on the weaknesses of a team to help them improve, but the weaknesses my coaches were focusing on were traits I couldn’t change. Being reserved is who I am, and despite my quiet nature, I knew I still possessed the talent to succeed. But I was overshadowed, and did not understand why coaches were convinced my nice personality was an automatic trait that would make me an inferior player on the court.

For many years I struggled with trying to change my personality so I would stand out to coaches. I felt the need to prove I could be loud and aggressive to be considered “good” and be accepted by coaches in order to continue my athletic career. Despite trying my hardest, I never became the vocal athlete coaches were looking for. This failure on my part continued to handicap me throughout junior high and high school sports, until I decided that this criticism would continue to hurt me no matter how hard I tried to change, and that there was nothing I could do to about it.

I was torn. I never wanted to give up sports, but I felt that quitting was what all my past coaches had expected me to do. I was rarely told I was talented, and when I was it was by coaches who never showed me that they wholeheartedly believed in me. I told my parents on multiple occasions that I was feeling this way, but every time the only response I got was, “You know how talented you are,” or “You’ll just have to work that much harder to prove to them you can do it.” I always felt my parents were obligated to say those things, but looking back now I understand that they were right. So then what is it that everyone else can see that my coaches can’t?

The assumption my coaches had surrounding my success continued to take away my self confidence, until the criticism I faced led to my decision to quit. It was hard to explain, but I just knew deep down it was what I had to do. But then I took a year off, and realized just how wrong I had been. I had made a mistake, based on one opinion of myself. Despite the doubts I had, I realized the only fact that truly mattered in this moment was that I missed sports. I didn’t care if I was on varsity or if I was on the sophomore team; the only thing I really cared about was playing.

With this realization came my acceptance. I was reserved, but I wouldn’t let my quiet nature affect how successful I was in sports. I didn’t care that coaches thought I was too quiet to play, because I personally knew it didn’t matter; even if they couldn’t see past it, I could. I would continue to fight for the opportunity to play, and would work on ignoring criticism concerning things that I could not change. This realization has helped me become more confident in sports, and helped me learn how to work around my nice, quiet nature on and off the court. I have also learned that there is not one way an athlete should act to be successful; there is not one perfect mold for an athlete, and coaches should not hold the assumption that all athletes are alike. Through this criticism I learned that success is based on effort, not someone else’s opinions.

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