MY BIGGEST REGRET : THINKING SPORTS WAS ALL THAT MATTERED

The other night on Twitter (you can follow me at @trevor_tierney), I asked people to send in any questions that they wanted me to answer on this blog. I received a bunch of great questions! I really want this to become a more interactive forum, so please feel free to use Facebook or Twitter as a way to send me questions or suggestions for blogs. It makes it a lot more fun for me and hopefully for you as well!

The question that really stood out to me the most and one that has been coming up in other conversations from previous blogs was from @NOCSAEApproved who wrote, "Any regrets from your playing days and how can players avoid getting caught-up in the 24/7/365 cycle of lacrosse?". This question was framed so perfectly to me because this is exactly why I write this blog. This is one of the greatest motivators for me creating the TIER website, so I am excited to reply!

My greatest regret from my playing days was tying my performance as a player to who I was as a person.
I thought my whole identity was based upon what I did on the field as an athlete, especially as a lacrosse player. I only felt good about myself if I was playing well. I only thought people liked me if I was a good athlete. I only thought I would be able to attract girls if I was a star athlete. I only thought that I would be happy if I was the best lacrosse goalie in the world. This became such a strong belief system for me that the only time I felt confident in myself and thought people liked me was when I had a football, hockey or lacrosse helmet on.

This mentality was obviously a terribly detrimental way to live. It led me to have no real self esteem. If you solely base your self value on how you perform in anything, then that means you do not know how to value yourself as a human being. It is very hard to have real confidence in yourself, when the way you look at yourself as a person is how well you played a sport! It turns into a roller coaster ride. One day you feel great and then the next you feel terrible. I remember that even when I had a bad warm-up or bad drill in practice, then that would affect the way that I felt about myself for the next day or so. It's an insane way to live!

With my focus so much on lacrosse as it was tied to my identity, it kept me from experiencing the world in a more full way. I was like a race horse with blinders on. I could only look forward and see what it would take for me to be a great lacrosse player. It kept me from pursuing other activities and interests that I had a passion for. It really was not until my mid twenties when I started to discover that I loved art and design, music, nature and various other interests and hobbies that I enjoy now.

Another way in which that mentality hurt my overall quality of life is that it separated me from other people. First off, I only would associate myself with other athletes and look down upon others who were not in the sports world. Looking back, the few people that I formed friendships with who were not devoted to athletics have turned out to be some of my greatest friends in my life. Also, since I had learned to become so ultra-competitive, I always was comparing myself to others. Sometimes, I felt better than someone else…other times, I felt worse. The only way we can connect with others though, is when we realize we are all equals. So, my relational style with others caused me to feel extremely lonely. It's kind of funny and sad at times. I remember getting back to my dorm room from games where we had thousands of people cheering for our teams at Princeton (over 30,000 in the Final Fours and championships) and I would feel extremely lonely.

Looking back, it makes me sad to realize that this was the way I lived for so long. My life has completely changed in the past seven years or so since I started seeing athletics as something that I DO in my life. Who I AM is a whole 'nother story! That's why I feel it is important for me to help youth lacrosse players and other athletes realize that there is a lot more to life than just trying to be a great athlete. If you just try to pursue that goal, it could lead to a very unhappy life. This is why you see a lot of professional athletes struggle after retirement or towards the end of their career. They may have been amazing athletes but they don't know anything about themselves and they don't know how to live. That's a tough place to be in!

So, here are a few suggestions for me to young athletes. If I could go back in time, these are the things that I would tell myself as a young athlete :

1. Be yourself! Don't try to fit in to the crowd or feel like you have to act like the people who are around you. People don't like you because you are good at a sport…people like and respect you when you are completely yourself.

2. Don't be so hard on yourself. Realize that some days you are going to play well in sports and other days you might not be so great. As long as you are trying your best, that is all that matters.

3. Stop focusing on wins and achievements. Those things will not make you happy in the end. Focus on working hard and seeing what lessons you learn from sports and can bring it your life.

4. Pursue other interests. What else do you like to do in your life? What else do you enjoy doing? What makes you feel good? What can you do for hours that makes you feel like only minutes have gone by? One day, your sports career will come to an end, no matter how good you are. You will be staring at the rest of your life and the world wondering who you are and what you want to do! Now is a better time than ever to figure that out.

5. Surround yourself with all types of different friends.
The athletic and lacrosse culture can sometimes pull you in the wrong directions and having a diverse group of friends can keep you grounded. Learn how other people look at the world so you can maintain perspective. Always remember that there are a lot of people out there who have no idea what lacrosse is nor do they care if you are great athlete or not! Those may be the people you can learn the most from.

6. If you don't feel good about yourself off the field, then talk about that with your parents, a teacher you look up to, or a counselor. It's important to appreciate yourself for all the great qualities that you have and we ALL have them! Sometimes it's hard for us to see that in ourselves.

7. Be wary of your ego getting overinflated or deflated. Just because you won a big game or played well, doesn't mean you are the MAN and can treat others as being below you. Just because you lost, does not mean you should lose all confidence in yourself as a person. Sometimes you play well, sometimes you don't. There is always another game and there is always the other parts of your life to play in. You are the same great person you were before that great or bad game!

There is part of me that wants to apologize for this being so "self-helpy", but I won't. It's important for young athletes to recognize that while sports can be an incredibly rewarding and educational experience, they are also not all there is to life. There may be a lot of young athletes who already know and understand this, and I applaud them for their maturity! But, if I can pass this message along to just one athlete, it makes me feel good and see that all the confusion that I went through as a young athlete, happened for a reason.