Off the Board, Opinion

Filling the massive hole in my life left by 15 years of competitive sports

There are many different ways to cope with anxiety. Some go for runs, others meditate––I tryout for sports teams.

Until the fall of 2020, I was never an anxious person. Between the baseball diamond, the hockey rink, the gym, and the classroom, my day provided no break to dwell on my lack of social life or post-undergrad plans. Even in the odd moment where I mulled over my future, there was always one certainty I could look to for comfort––that I would play a sport in university. 

In my younger years, I thought I would play Division I hockey in the States, just like my dad did at Dartmouth. When I stopped taking hockey as seriously and began to focus on baseball in 10th grade, I transitioned to thinking about small Division III liberal arts schools in New York. In grade 11, I became more realistic and began considering my options to play at Canadian schools. But I was met with an unanticipated twist: Playing a male-dominated sport had become more of a chore than a pleasure. I no longer wanted to play baseball in university. 

Grade 12 was dedicated to making friends, playing on every sports team my school offered, and anticipating the day I would move into my dorm at McGill. But that day never came. Instead, I spent a year living at home, watching burnt-out professors through a screen and debating what school I would transfer to so I could play softball. 

No part of me wanted to play softball until the slowness of late 2020 settled in. The rise of COVID-19 cases and the inability to connect in person left me fearing what was to come when I moved out, with no team sport to ground myself in. I emailed the coach of the University of Toronto softball team, and explained how well I thought my baseball history and natural athleticism would transfer. He told me I had a spot on the team––provided I actually switched schools. Obviously, I didn’t. 

Shortly thereafter, I reached out to the McGill rowing coach, who happily told me they would be restarting their novice team once COVID-19 restrictions relaxed. I had only rowed for a few weeks when my dad thought that rowing crew was the solution to my post-quitting-the-sport-you-love anxiety. I never ended up trying out for the rowing team, but the comfort of knowing I had the option soothed me. 

In the weeks leading up to moving to Montreal for my second year, I had never been more anxious. My roommate went to Concordia and I had no idea how to find my place in a new city. So, naturally, I tried out for the women’s hockey team. 

I didn’t make it––an unsurprising result given I hadn’t played competitive hockey in three years––but it reminded me that the solution to my lack of belonging in my early months at McGill was to find a team. So, I joined the intramural free-agents Facebook group and made myself a hockey team filled with players who were much better than me. We won two mugs in the three seasons we played together. I also joined an intramural ultimate frisbee team organized by my cousin––we went on to win a mug in our first season together. 

It turned out winning wasn’t enough, and I found myself trying out for McGill’s golf team at the start of my third year and the ultimate frisbee team at the start of my fourth––both successful endeavours (what can I say). Clearly, there is something in trying out for a varsity sports team that calms my pre-fall-semester anxiety. If filling the void left by playing competitive sports for 15 years is something I’m forced to do for the rest of my life, trying out for a new varsity sports team every year really isn’t so bad. And now that I have realized how much I enjoy it, there is a world of opportunity for the impending varsity tryout leading into my final year at McGill––the real puzzle will be coming up with a new coping mechanism for when I graduate. 

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