How Sports Continue to Save My Life
Written by Coach Angel Zaragoza
As the world around us continuously diversifies, so do our stories and backgrounds. Some grew up around people who pushed them to be the best version of themselves, others were not so lucky. Some of us grew up surrounded by people and things that were not very uplifting, but destructive in nature; such as gangs, drugs, alcohol, etc. As a kid, I learned from a very young age that one’s own actions can either make you or break you. This was the moment when I decided that sports would be my savior.
Since I could remember, I was always a playful and physically active child. Playing Freeze-Tag and Street-Ball with some of the kids around my neighborhood led to my love of the sport Football. Entering the scary and exciting new world of middle school, the opportunity to play for the school's small flag football team presented itself to me. This was the kickstart to my salvation. While some middle school students followed a gang, I followed a sports team. While other kids were introduced to drugs, I was introduced to cleats. It wasn’t long until I decided that this sport, the sport of football, would be the thing I would devote my life to in order to become the best version of myself.
The summer before starting high school, I decided to ask my mom to let me play tackle football for the school. Again, I knew that being in a sport would move me away from the bad influences that surrounded me. Like many mothers who get asked this question, she at first hesitates, but seeing the sad “puppy eyes’’ on my face, she finally agrees. Later that week, my mom drove me to school to meet the head junior varsity coach. It was then and there that my first ever major team practice started.
It wasn't until later that year that I realized there were certain standards athletes needed to oblige. For example, athletes couldn’t get into school trouble that would get them suspended, athletes needed to maintain a certain grade point average (G.P.A.) in order to remain on the team, and athletes needed to attend every mandatory practice to get better at their skills. Breaking any of these standards meant you were to get kicked off the team regardless of your position.
Middle school sports taught me to stay out of trouble and keep away from bad influences, high school sports taught me to maintain good grades and be at every practice. With my experience and desire to be part of something bigger than myself, I learned to be the best student-athlete I could be. Not only for the sake of my team, but also for the sake of becoming the best version of myself. I learned to say no to gangs and avoid confrontation with gang members. I learned to say no to drugs and alcohol because I knew it would hinder my performance during practice and games. I learned to keep my G.P.A. above 3.5 to be awarded “Scholar-Athlete of the Year” each year of high school and for each sport I played. It was these experiences that led me to be the person I am today.
Many of us played sports in our middle school, high school, and college days. What comes after all this is over? Some fortunate athletes get to live their dream and play at the professional level, but like many, reality kicks in and adult life begins; careers, marriage, children, but the story shouldn’t end there. Are you not an athlete simply because you are not on a team or play a sport? What about the athlete inside you? What about the athlete inside all of us? Do you just give up this “athlete mentality” simply because you are off the field/court? Well, I’m here to tell you that no matter what stage of your life you are in, life itself is a sport. Treat everyday as if you were living by those standards that allowed you to be in your sport; stay out of trouble, work hard, and be present. Find things you can work towards like a 5k, Spartan Race, or Deadlift personal record, in order to keep yourself engaged and excited. Participate in new activities to keep you learning and growing. William S. Burroughs once said, “The moment you stop growing, you start dying.” Keep pushing to be the best athlete you can be in this sport we all call LIFE. If you do, you will learn as I do that no matter the circumstances, keeping your inner athlete alive can continuously save your life physically, mentally, and spiritually.
Coach Angel Zaragoza B.S., C.S.C.S