Odd man out: The struggle of a non-athlete

Going into sophomore year, I made the difficult decision to stop playing soccer for WHS. After a rewarding season with my freshman friends, which I’d been looking forward to for the many years I spent watching my cousins pass through the Lady Blue Devils program, I realized that the all-consuming nature of high school sports wasn’t for me. While I don’t regret my choice, I wish I knew that it wouldn’t bring all of the positive changes I was hoping for. 

In my friend group of nine girls, I’m the only one who doesn’t play a high school sport. Six of my friends play soccer and three of them are team captains for their respective sports, all of which take place during the fall. Unfortunately, my attempts to have more free time and prioritize my mental health were met with the harsh reality that between the endless practices, games, psych parties and school, ultimately, my friends don’t have time for me. 

Of course, that’s not my friends’ fault and I don’t blame them for it. While I can’t speak for all WHS athletic programs, my experience as a non-athlete in a group of dedicated female players is that not playing sports in Westfield can really hurt your social life. 

Even though it has become routine over the past few years, I’m still not used to spending Friday and Saturday nights at home, doing homework or hanging out with my parents because all of my friends either have games or are out celebrating with their teammates. Despite knowing that I’m not on the team and therefore shouldn’t be invited, I’m often left feeling excluded.

One of my many reasons for quitting LBD was because I wanted my summers back. I didn’t want to feel like I had to choose between going on vacation with my family or simply having a leisurely day and going to “optional” weight-lifting and captain’s practices. I knew that taking time for myself would make me happier, but the guilt I felt after missing these sessions took a toll on me. I was never able to revive my summers, though, because certain things don’t have the same appeal when you have no one to do them with. That being said, I’ve learned to value my alone time and do things that I used to love, like reading for pleasure. 

It’s easy enough to suggest to someone in my position to make new friends or pick up some new hobbies. Regrettably, because of the large number of students who play sports for WHS and the tendency of students to segregate themselves based on what activities they take part in, it’s hard for people to cross these boundaries, especially later in their high school careers. 

As someone who participates in a breadth of extracurricular activities, like club soccer, which picks up at the end of the high school season, and Folio, the literary magazine at WHS, I’ve learned that almost nothing compares to the time commitment required by certain high school sports and the extent to which those sports can dominate your social life. After a full week of practices, a game or two and the psych parties that accompany them, my friends are expected to organize team-building exercises and be in constant contact with their coaches. With all of this on my plate, I wouldn’t have time to spare on my non-athlete friend either. 

With COVID-19, things have only gotten tougher. My LBD friends quarantined for two weeks in hopes of preserving their season, creating a bubble that has left me on the outside. The cancellation of fall sports due to the recent outbreak of the virus has resurrected the age-old divide between athletes and non-athletes, leaving someone like me, who knows how upset my friends are by the termination of their seasons but also understands the decision of the BOE, isolated, once again. 

As we all know, this is by no means a normal year. But the struggle that comes with being the only person in my friend group that doesn’t play high school sports is something I’ve experienced since the minute I left the program. Even if these circumstances are foreign to you, everyone knows what it’s like to feel excluded, whether it was done intentionally or not. 

Like I said, I don’t regret my decision and I don’t hold anything against my friends. Even when I have trouble sympathizing with their devotion to sports and their teams, I try to remember that not being able to understand their grind shouldn’t give me a reason to not respect it. Swearing off high school sports was definitely more difficult in the long run than I anticipated, and while three years later, I still struggle with the consequences, if given the opportunity, I’d make the same choice again.