Elite sports can be a truly wonderful experience. Not only does it sometimes mean free college tuition if you choose to pursue your sport in college, but it can also be an opportunity to travel around the country or world, gain a whole new family in your teammates, and, of course, the ability to compete at something that you love at a high level. But oftentimes the transition to the “real” world after being an elite athlete can leave both female and male athletes with a distorted view of their own body image.
Say you played a sport that required you to “make weight” – like wrestling or rowing. It’s no secret that athletes who participate in these sports, whether they are female or male, sometimes use not-so-healthy methods to make weight at the last minute. While this may not seem quite as problematic when you’re surrounded by teammates who are doing the same thing, you are then forced to break these bad habits once you are no longer a college athlete so that you can maintain a healthy lifestyle. Former gymnasts often alarmingly report that at the height of their careers, their BMI (body mass index) was at times so low that they were unable to regularly menstruate.
Even for sports who don’t require their athletes to make a target weight, so many of us remember having coaches who criticized our body types. Sometimes that meant being told that you were too thin and had to gain some muscle (by any means necessary), and other times it meant being told that you had to lose weight and tone up in an impossibly short period of time. Football players are often asked to consume massive amounts of unhealthy calories to “build mass” (which, to be real, is a questionable strategy from a medical perspective). Basketball players are physically compared to teammates or competitors that play the same position, and then pressured to completely alter their diets, lift less or more, up their protein intake using sometimes unsafe methods, or make some other drastic lifestyle change to bring about a quick result.
Sometimes coaches and trainers will relay information about an athlete’s physical condition in an indelicate way that ignores the fact that all bodies are different and not always replicable. And other times, we just make the mistake of comparing ourselves to the people around us instead of accepting what is right for us. All of this can leave elite athletes with a very confusing sense of what their bodies should look like, especially once they have left their sport. This is not to say that there isn’t some benefit to knowing what body composition will allow you to compete at the highest level. The problem is, most elite athletes are already highly critical and tough on themselves as it is, so having a coach or trainer tell them that their bodies needed to be “different” can push many athletes to the brink of low self-esteem and, at its worst, an unhealthy relationship with food that can reach eating-disorder severity.
Your unique body allowed you to excel in your sport and become an elite athlete. At the end of the day, that is reason enough to love your body and appreciate all that it has done for you so far! It’s hard to tell someone not to compare themselves to others, because we all do it. But in the moments when you feel yourself doing so, remember that you and your body cannot be replicated, and the physical and mental strength that you gained from elite sports will benefit you for the rest of your life.
You made it through all those endless sprint workouts, 6am lifts, and 3 hour practices, and you couldn’t have done it without the body you were given! Show it some love, and just give yourself a break.
#lovesquad #selflove #bodypositivity