Quitting: The ultimate shame for an athlete. The so-called ‘dirty word’ in sports. To some, being called a quitter is the worst title they could be given. No one wants to be labeled as “the weakling” or questioned on their ability to commit. No one ever wants to give up.
Succeeding in a sport is complicated. The ability to wake up and drag yourself out of bed at 5 a.m., believing in yourself when no one else seems to, and being able to persevere through countless hours of practice are the things that seemingly become harder as you get older. They say, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Well what does that say about quitters? That quitters aren’t tough? That quitters give up easily and don’t care? Sometimes, quitting a sport can be the healthiest thing an athlete can do.
There wasn’t a specific moment when I knew I was burnt out from competitive cheerleading. There wasn’t a certain day when I just gave up. It was cumulative. Blow after blow, my body was gradually deteriorating. It was the physical pain, the mental abuse from my coaches and the pressure to look and perform like everyone else. It was eating me away and the only way I felt I could stop it was to quit.
I found myself on my knees, my face pressed against the blue cheer mat. After not landing my standing tuck correctly, my cheer coach pushed me down on the floor, saying “that will teach you to pull up with your abs.” There would be times when he would tie a rubber band around my ankles to keep my feet together, or tape a pencil to the back of my knees so I wouldn’t bend them. He never said sorry.
As my mom drove out of the parking lot, I alternated between crying and screaming the words, “I never want to do this again.” After that day, I never competitively cheered again.
That wasn’t the first time I had wanted to quit competitive cheerleading. There were times when I came home at 10 p.m. from practice, and my legs were so exhausted that they quivered when I walked up the stairs. Or when I couldn’t write at school because my wrists felt like jelly from holding someone else’s body weight. Or when my coach would yell at my team after getting second place, saying we didn’t even deserve a trophy.
My competitive cheer coach stared at us, all 30 of us, with poofs in our hair and the sparkling red and black name across our chests and made us feel worthless. The hateful look in his eyes was enough to make goosebumps appear on my arms and make my knees shake with distress. He made us feel so useless that, eventually, we believed we were.
I contemplated quitting all the time. I contemplated it with my friends, with my family, with anyone who would listen to me. I thought more about what others would think about me for quitting than I did about why I wanted to quit. I felt weak. I couldn’t get the thought out of my mind that maybe this was a sign I would never be able to commit to anything.
I slowly realized I wasn’t the problem, but the sport itself and my coaches were the reasons behind my contemplations. Being in a sport should be something I enjoyed doing, something I looked forward to. It should be something I felt was worth my time, because as I grew up, I started realizing that everything I was doing was counting toward my future; so why was I doing something that I absolutely hated?
Say what you want about quitters. Tell me I will never amount to anything. Tell me I will never be in the Olympics or be on a Wheaties box. Think whatever you believe, but at least I can look back and realize I made the best decision for myself. I decided to invest my time in things I enjoyed doing, such as swimming, journalism and running. These are the things that make me feel important rather than worthless.
And if you ever contemplate quitting, always remember one thing: it’s not a black and white issue. It’s not always bad to quit, nor always good to suck it up and hang in there. The decision to leave a sport is a complicated one – one that took me awhile to decide. Make sure if you ever do quit something you love, it’s for something you love even more. Yourself.