Two years ago, a soccer ball was blasted into the side of my head and knocked me to the ground. It left me with a concussion that not only took me out of soccer for six months, but also affected my day to day life. For months, it made me nauseous to even jog around the block or walk down a crowded hallway. I was in physical therapy, vision therapy and on a special learning plan at school. Even though the blow to my head could have altered my life completely, I pleaded with my parents to let me continue my soccer career.
It took two more minor concussions to make me realize it was not safe for me to play anymore. Looking back on my time playing soccer, I question why I kept playing. Why did I put the sport and my team ahead of my own health? I believe putting sports and competition before health is a common phenomena among athletes. Athletes at all levels push through pain and ignore warning signs from their bodies. This happens for many reasons, including pressure from family, coaches, teammates and even fans let alone the pressure one puts on them self, proving their strength and so called masculinity.
Players should do their best to ignore outside pressures and take care of their bodies because skills can be relearned but the damage from injury is irreversible. With my injury, I was not encouraged to return to soccer. Everyone around me wanted me to be safe and smart. I was told that I should probably stop playing the sport all together and my coach was afraid to put me back in the game, at the risk of another concussion. But, I was insistent. I had a deep desire to get back on the field as soon as possible. That feeling was strong enough to push through any discomfort to make it happen.
I, like many athletes, found myself ignoring signals from my body to slow down. Several studies published in the journal Pain done by researchers from Germany (Radcliffe) show that athletes have a higher tolerance for pain than people who do not exercise. Reasons cited are both physiological as well as mental. The culture of sports often builds “toughness” and teaches athletes how to cope with pain. Physically fit athletes often push their bodies to the limit in the quest to succeed in their sport ignoring the signals from their body.
My situation is unique because those around me were encouraging me to be safe and to care for my body. For many athletes, the situation is different. Instead of being told to stop, they are encouraged to ignore pain and rewarded when they do so. Coaches and even parents have been known to pressure athletes beyond normal healthy limits for the sake of competition, notoriety, or the prospect of college scholarships. Samantha O’Connell and Theo C. Manschreck’s “Playing through the pain: Psychiatric risks among athletes” suggests Some athletes continue to play with an injury to hold on to a paycheck or scholarship.
Some continue to play even though they no longer enjoy the sport to prevent letting down parents or coaches; others know no other way but to “tough it out. ” Supporters such as coaches, parents, or teammates may encourage athletes to play with injury, and sometimes provide medication to do so. (O’Connell and Manschreck 1). ANALYSIS At all levels, athletes want to impress their coaches. One way athletes do this is by pushing through pain to show their commitment to their team and sport. Athletes will sacrifice their bodies to display their selflessness.
Most coaches will not deny their best player time on the field if they say “I’m fine, put me back in the game. ” Even though the coach may be fully aware of the pain the player is in. Body Talk: Male Athletes Reflect on Sport, Injury, and Pain by Kevin Young, Phillip White, and William McTeer, reinforces the idea of why athletes, specifically male, play through pain and injury. “At both amateur and professional levels of competition, violence, pain, and injury are rationalized by players, coaches, and spectators.
Concomitantly, tolerance of risk and injury is reframed and legitimated as a means of impressing coaches (Faulkner, 1973)”(Young 176). The belief that pain is good and “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” justifies continuing to play despite pain and injury. Pain and injury are a key part of being an athlete. “Athletes play through pain at their own peril” by Jan Brogan, interviews Rajon Rondo, a NBA basketball player, who dislocated his elbow but continued to play even though playing could have made his injury worse.
Rondo says “part of what makes an athlete an athlete is the ability to play through pain. ’” (Brogan 1). This is true, all athletes have to play through pain. But what makes a great athletes is the ability to know when enough is enough. Athletes and coaches disregard pain too quickly. For many “… the risk of injury, and injury itself have come to be accepted as normal components of participation” (Young 175). This should no longer be the case. With modern medicine and all we know about the body, we should understand pain is not something that should be ignored.
Athletes expect to experience pain and injury. Risking the health of their body is praised by others. Later in Young’s article he shares that “it is common in male-defined sport that willingness to risk injury is at least as highly valued as the demonstration of pure skill. ” (Young 177). Not only is playing through pain praised but it is also seen as a way to show skill, this idea only fuels the athletes inclination to play with pain and injury. Athletes strive to be a master of their sport and if playing through pain shows mastery there is no stopping them. For most athletes the goal is to be the best.
To reach the goal of being a top athlete one must devote their life to the sport, this means having an identity that revolves around their sport. Many fear that if their identity will be lost if they stop playing to heal their body. This idea resonates most with my experience in sports, I was afraid of losing my identity. What and who would I be without soccer? This same fear keeps many athletes in the game, for fear that they are nothing without their physical skill. In Samantha O’Connell’s “Playing through the pain: Psychiatric risks among athletes”, she expresses, “To an athlete, injury can mean loss of identity.
Whereas most people become competent in many aspects of life, and develop support systems across multiple contexts, an athlete—particularly an extraordinarily talented one—may have focused only on his or her sport” (18). The fear of lost identity keeps many athletes on the field. Being an athlete is often not only part of self-identity, but also identity to their peers, families, and fans. I questioned how I would define myself, with the loss of soccer. What would I say when someone asked “Why don’t you play anymore? ” “Do you have any hobbies? ” Would they think I wasn’t good enough?
Would it be weird to hang out with my friends who are all soccer players? I did not know how I would respond or who would I be without soccer in my life. Playing through pain not only benefits the team but it also known to build character. “In Athletes’ inclination to play through pain: A coping perspective”, by Thomas Deroche, Tim Woodman, Yannick Stephan, Britton Brewer, and Christine Le Scanff, acknowledge that “In a variety of sports, athletes maintain their ability and willingness to play through such pain as a demonstration of character building, as a way of gaining respect from others, and as a way of ttaining success”(Deroche et al. 1).
Playing through pain may give players positive character traits such as grit, tenacity, and the ability to persevere. Although these are positive traits, there are other ways to gain the ability to push through whatever obstacle one may be facing. Character building can be taught and done in way that does not harm the body. Not risking health does not mean that one cannot experience situations where their ability to be successful is tested. When an athlete steps out of a game because of injury they are often ridiculed and told to “get back out there”.
When teammates and coaches act this way athletes face personal fear of humiliation, not wanting to be looked down upon or perceived as weak. Zito Madu’s “Why do athletes play through injury” states “The shame stems from that terrible realization that you are weak. You have let down your teammates, your coach, the fans and, most importantly, yourself. You are not strong enough for your dreams”(Madu). The fear of letting down those surrounding them keeps many athletes on the field. Most people want to be seen as strong, physically and mentally, and continuing to play proves that.
It is part of sports culture to be macho and appear non-mortal compared to average people or non-athletes. “Suck it up. Tough it out. There is no “I” in team. These are a few of the messages athletes receive from coaches, teammates, and fans. There are norms, values, and expectations in every culture, including sports, that affect behavior and emotional expression. ” (O’Connell and Manschreck 16) Athletes are often viewed as “super-humans” by their fans and are held up to impossible ideals of fitness and mental strength. Ignoring one’s body takes a great deal of mental power because it is unnatural.
When asking athletes why they play through injury many had a similar response: if their injury was more serious, they would stop playing. CeAnn Romanaggi, a high school senior, has torn her meniscus three times, has had surgery on it twice and continues to play soccer four plus times a week with the torn meniscus. When asked why she continues to play despite the long term effects, she said “I don’t want to give in to the pain… and it’s not affecting me daily like a concussion might…. I mean I’d get use to it, but like it would be forcing me to stop rather than it being my own choice..
Like I wouldn’t want to stop because of my knee I’d rather stop because I wanted to be done playing” (Romanaggi). She feels that her continual knee injury isn’t as serious as many people may think and playing with pain has become her new normal. When asked if she thinks she would be done playing soccer if it wasn’t her knee but a concussion, she said she would stop playing because concussions are “much more serious”. Every athlete has their own idea of what is worth playing through while justifying their own injury.
When talking to highly competitive high school soccer player, Jessie Ray, she claims that she continues to play now, despite past injuries, for the same reasons as Romanaggi. Her injury was not as serious as she initially thought, and is not affecting her playing today. A difference between Ray and Romanaggi’s reasoning as to why they played while injured, are different. “I continued to play when I was injured because it was just such a stressful time like in the middle of my junior year for recruiting and I didn’t really know what else to do.
I didn’t know I had other options until I got more injured” (Ray). Unlike Romanaggi who continues to play because she doesn’t feel her injury is that serious, Ray felt like she didn’t have a choice. With her injury happening in prime recruitment time for college, she felt like she couldn’t risk losing those opportunities to take a break and heal from a head and neck injury. Ray feared she would lose all the hard work she would put in and was not ready to let go of her dream of playing Division 1 soccer.
The fear of lost opportunity keeps many athletes on the field. The drive to continue playing can also be for the money, whether it be a college scholarship or professional career salary. The money incentive can push athletes beyond their normal physical limits. Although there are outside pressures contributing to athletes continuing play, studies testing pain tolerance in athletes versus non-athletes, published in the journal Pain show athletes often have the ability to play through pain simply because they tend to have a higher pain tolerance than non-athletes.
According to “Athletes Show Higher Pain Tolerance” by Shawn Radcliffe, “Athletes, in fact, showed a higher tolerance for pain. Endurance athletes had a moderate pain tolerance, with similar scores across the board. Game athletes could withstand much more pain, although their scores were more varied. ” Also, when playing endorphins are released masking the pain or injury. “Understanding Our Natural Pain Relief System” by Ann West hypothesizes “Endorphins probably affect the psychological components involved in pain. Endorphins have been called “happiness peptides” because they sometimes cause euphoria. (50).
ANALYSIS Athletes and those who are apart of sports culture need to accept that injury is inevitable and that continuing to play is only going to make the injury worse. Accepting weakness and allowing the athlete to heal will not only be beneficial in the long run but in some cases may even improve and make the athlete stronger. Ray acknowledges that if she hadn’t taken the time to heal she won’t be where she is today, pursuing the dream of playing college ball. “I’m definitely happy that I took time off and that I know I wouldn’t be where I am now if I hadn’t. ”(Ray).
Deciding to step back and take the time to heal may have been one of Ray’s tougher choices in regards to soccer, but making the decision to take a break was the most beneficial choice she has made. Athletes and those surrounding athletes need to realize the benefits of making a full recovery. Experiencing injury and pain is a familiar theme in athletics. Yes, being able to push through pain may build character. But, every athlete should be aware of their personal tipping point. They need to know the difference between building character and destroying their health and physical body.
Defining the line between suffering pain and serious injury can be difficult, but is an important distinction. Athletes need to learn how much their body can take and when enough is enough. Coaches, parents, and teammates need to respect and help athletes when they face injury. By putting the athlete’s health before competition and the game will show athletes’ worth is not based solely on how they perform on the field. It will allow athletes to recover and hopefully not face health problems in the future. Our society needs to recognize that even the strongest athletes are not super-human.