Inside the mind, body, and soul of the Female Student Athlete
Written by Chelsea Penfield // Illustrated by Miranda Tulcewicz
Confronting the high’s and low’s of what female athletes face on a daily basis.
It’s hard to describe the collegiate female athlete in simple terms, however, she is an enigma nonetheless. Whatever the sport may be, an athlete making it to the collegiate level is an accomplishment which is generally inspired by something that comes from within. That fire and grit is something she takes with her throughout her journey of life. With all the empowerment that sports bring to female athletes, it can also bring insecurities such as the changing of the body, the affected body image and trying to keep up with the expectations of what a woman is “supposed to” exemplify during competition.
From a very young developmental age, sports can empower and inspire young women. They bring confidence in the craft, and allows her to transcend what she learns from sports to everyday activities. At a young age, playing a sport could be described simply as just fun and games, but as she grows older, it moves into something of fierce competition. That competitiveness isn’t something that stops when she leaves the gym. Sports aren’t necessarily something you can pick up and drop off whenever is convenient for you. No - they are all encompassing. At the collegiate level, these feelings are only heightened. From practice to game play, not putting forth the best effort isn’t an option, and not getting the results you strive for leaves you restless for your next opportunity. Ultimately, these emotions can take a toll. With the constant thoughts of sports and academics on the mind, breakdowns are almost inevitable; at times it's tough, but the reward is so much greater.
Most collegiate sports require their girls to lift two to three times a week on top of a tiring practice schedule. As women, our bodies are ever-changing; that’s a fact. However, with the influence of a strenuous routine, the body's muscles begin to grow in different ways. Parts of the upper and lower body begin to bulge, and in the blink of an eye, you look and feel like a different person. Part of it is empowering; you can look in the mirror and feel confident that your hard work is paying off. However, it doesn’t always feel that way. Sometimes, the eyes only see what needs to be improved. In the weight room, it’s not about getting in and getting out. No, it’s about working out your muscles so they can get stronger and perform better in competition. Some girls are dominant in the weight room, naturally out squatting their teammates with pure organic strength. That girl with the natural ability to lift heavier weights only pushes her teammates to work harder themselves. Inherently, that’s what sports do: they push each other from one limit to another.
Inherently, that’s what sports do: they push each other from one limit to another.
Mentally, playing a collegiate sport has its ups and downs. The overall experience is an extremely unique opportunity that most people don’t get to have in their lifetime. For that, we are incredibly thankful for what sports bring. Staying mentally tough in all aspects of college life from academics, sports, and social interactions can be difficult. Becoming overwhelmed academically can be easy. Traveling for matches is a part of playing a sport collegiately, and more often than not, we are expected to miss classes but keep up with the work on our own time. Getting mentally prepared for matches while still actively working to stay caught up on class material is a struggle in and of itself. At the collegiate level, we have to learn to balance both. Athletically, our sports can act as a relief as well as a stresser. The intensity, and most of all, the profound pressure we put on ourselves to perform at the highest possible level is something that comes with time, and some learn to handle it better than others. Typically, the pressure we put on ourselves turns into anxiety before games which can produce below average outcomes. It is the job of the athlete to turn that pressure into positive motivation that propels you to compete at the highest possible level.
Women often find themselves bringing out a different persona while playing sports. An image is typically affiliated with women to be feminine, nurturing and soft. However, sports bring out different characteristics. We don’t care what we look like, we care about the task at hand. We don’t focus on how we behave, it’s our natural inclination to be aggressive, and we certainly don’t focus on what people think of us. Our priorities are on our team and accomplishing our goals. It’s simply who we are. We don’t apologize for it. How could we? A woman’s identity shouldn’t be defined in simple terms. We are whatever it is we set out to be. In competition, we often look disheveled with our hair falling out of its ponytail and our sweat being absorbed into our jerseys. However, in a way, our sports are our sanctuary. The stereotypes of what we are “supposed to look like '' and the box that we “should” fit in can be demeaning, and refuses us the opportunity to unapologetically be who we are meant to be.
Personally, being a female athlete at the collegiate level is simply a dream come true. I know I can speak for a lot of young athletes when I say playing a Division I sport is something many young people strive to achieve, but very few succeed. The female collegiate athlete is someone who wakes up each morning with the attitude of prioritization and grit in all things she faces. Sports are empowering. They allow us to drift away and for a few hours be someone we can’t be outside of our sport. It’s an escape from reality and although at times it pulls on your feelings of doubt, anxiety, and anger, it is fulfilling nonetheless. Through all the hard work, and at times, pain, our sports uplift us in unimaginable ways.