Don’t Judge an Athlete by Their Sport

The athlete — a person who is talented in sports or contests demanding physical endurance and ability. Seems pretty simple to me, but why is it that more than half the time when others find out I play college golf, they think less of me as an athlete? The best part about the conversation is explaining I also once played collegiate soccer for a season at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Suddenly, they reply, “Oh, so you must be a real athlete then.” I cringe at these constant comments, because many so often judge athleticism based on the sport athletes choose to play.

Sports require such a vast array of mental and physical skills, and I think we forget how each sport has their own specialties. Playing a season of college soccer pushed me to my limits physically. I had never been in such great shape in my life, and honestly probably will never be again, because I am never going to need to be able to run sprint after sprint for 90 minutes at a time. My favorite, and probably the only good thing, about ending my soccer career is the fact that I never have to run another beep test, or shuttle run, in my life. Thank goodness.

Playing competitive soccer for 15 years brought so many blessings. Soccer definitely pushes your body to the limit. You must have incredible cardiovascular endurance, powerful legs, swift, agile movements and great strength to battle over the ball. You form amazing bonds with your teammates over lifting sessions, two-a-day practice and stuffing your faces together after a hard day. The nice thing about soccer is you can usually make up for your mistakes and track a player down or make a play on offense, but if your mistake sparks a scoring opportunity for the opponent, you can suffer big time. It can be a cruel sport. You can outplay the other team, but one silly mistake or lucky shot allows them to score and you end up losing 1-0. Not many other sports allow such minimal scores to determine the outcome of a game.

I realized after my first season at UMSL my soccer career was coming to an end from constant pain in my knees and the fact that the school was not the right fit for me. I still managed to keep golfing in my free time and missed the competitive tournaments of this oddly satisfying, yet infuriating sport. I called the coach at Truman State University asking if it was still possible to come golf for him after I turned down the scholarship a year before, and thankfully he was more than willing to welcome me as a Bulldog. Even with all my years playing full soccer games, I don’t think I have ever been as exhausted as I am after a tournament round of golf.

The things most people don’t realize about golf is how mentally strong one has to be to succeed at this sport. We don’t need the power and explosiveness football players have. We don’t have non-stop meetings like they do. I honestly don’t think you could pay me to spend a season as a collegiate football player with the constant pressures they face. Basketball players are some of the most agile athletes along with hockey players. Every sport has such distinctive qualities about them, and it kills me hearing spectators talk about a sport like it takes no real skill. I’ve had my softball friends say they have had people call them “non-athletes,” too. I would love to see those people showcase their hand-eye coordination better than their softball and baseball friends. They possess such controlled power and tremendous strength, and people still judge them because of the sport they play.

Golf has taught me so much about life because of the mental toughness it has instilled in me. There are not many other sports that make you go to sleep knowing where you stand on the scoreboard. You can get done with your first day of 18 holes and could be leading the tournament, making the top 10, or right on the cut — which determines if you make it back the last two days or not. You have to go to sleep replaying every shot, knowing you’re going out the next morning having to defend your spot or battle to jump up the leader board against the same exact opponents and the same golf course. You must be in tip-top shape mentally and physically for seven hours each round to make the least mistakes. You must be tougher than your conditions — just like in any other outdoor sport. When I explain how tournaments work to those dismissing golf as a sport, you can see their eyes widen in shock. They say they had no idea golf was like that, making players carry their clubs for 3-4 days in a row. Well, we sure do. It’s not the type of golf you see people playing on the weekends.

Sports make us better people, pushing our limits. They make you hold yourself accountable, whether you are playing an individual or team sport. Each and every sport has distinctive attributes, and we should think of all athletes as athletes. Let’s keep an open mind and speak on experiences instead of assumptions.