What is pressure and why do we put so much pressure on ourselves? Lately, there have been some tragic stories in the news about the pressure put on others and the pressure we put on ourselves that ends in tragedy, specifically in athletics and school. This pressure is something I have felt personally and understand what these people have gone through and can relate to the feelings of wanting it all to stop.
The recent death of the young collegiate athlete at UPenn and watching this video about Purple Hearts and DIFD made me want to share my story.
I grew up the star athlete in everything I did. I was the one on the team that people looked to if we were down by a goal or we were playing a tough team who was going to stop the best player. I played on the boy’s team from the time I was 5 till I was in 10th grade. I needed to be better than the boys to prove I deserved to be there or be playing over someone else’s son. In 8th grade, I played on the Varsity field hockey team at my high school. I had to perform to show that a 14-year-old girl is good enough to play against 17 and 18 year olds and prove I deserved to not only be there but be playing the entire game. That’s not all, I had to get good grades because none of the things I wanted would happen if I did poorly in school. I had to get Principles List every quarter to show I was just as smart as my older brother and not let anyone down. From about the age of 13 or so, the goal became to get on the Olympic team and go to a Division I college with a full scholarship for ice hockey or maybe even field hockey. As you can see…the statement, “I had to prove” and “not let anyone down” comes up a lot.
I think the hard part about pressure is that most of us embrace it. We take every challenge and overcome it to be the best. Failure wasn’t something that I ever was a part of very often growing up. Looking back, I did everything I could to be the best, I have State records for high school field hockey, Player of the year X 4, too many awards and wins to count but not a lot of hardship. I am not saying that everything came easy, I studied in the car every night as I drove an hour to and from practice and was on the ice rink in my backyard almost every night working on my shot, working with a strength and conditioning coach while everyone else was hanging out going to the movies but failing wasn’t an option.
I didn’t see my first glimpse of true failure until I was a Senior in high school and deciding on which college to go to. I had three choices: my top choice was to go to St. Lawrence with my best friend Tara and be the “package deal” we always dreamed of, Harvard or my “back up” RPI. After a lot of visits and talks with coaches some being just that a lot of talk, I didn’t get my dream. I didn’t go to college to play hockey with my best friend. They wanted her – not me. I wasn’t good enough for their team. Then came Harvard…was I good enough – maybe – but would I play, probably not. Why? I didn’t come from a family with a lot of money and I didn’t come from a prep school with a big name. You know how everyone talks about politics in sports – it is in every sport at every level. What was left? RPI. It wasn’t my top pick by any means. RPI was brand new to Division I, it was only 45 minutes away in a town I played all of my hockey in but I knew I would play and it was a scholarship, a free education and the burden or pressure of not having my parents have to pay for my college was lifted off my shoulders instantly. My decision was easy at that point.
I really couldn’t have asked for a better college hockey career. I made friends that will last a lifetime. I played on a team that may have not been the best but played hard and worked hard. We had our success as a team and I had my successes as an individual player, but not without pressure. Being a captain, being a 4.0 student, being the one everyone looked to, it was a lot. I always had to be “on” – there were no days off or else everyone would notice. I would be lying if I said it was never too much. Some days I would just go home from practice or come home from a game a cry in my room. How could I fix the team chemistry, how could I get Coach to change is ways about this one play, I have an exam tomorrow, I let the game winning goal scorer go by me, I missed the net too many times….the list goes on and on. Sometimes, I wanted it all to stop. I was tired…of being perfect.
At the end of my Senior year, I won the Sarah Devens award. This award is given as a joint award between the ECAC Hockey and Hockey East conferences to a women’s ice hockey player. The criteria for the Devens Award is for a player who demonstrates leadership and commitment both on and off the ice. Sarah’s story…
Her story from – Source:
At Dartmouth, Devens participated on three varsity teams: field hockey, ice hockey and lacrosse. She was named a captain of all three teams. She was considered by many teammates to be the best female athlete Dartmouth ever had. She was nicknamed “The Devil”, for her ability to outlast other athletes in exercise routines. In her sophomore year, she was the co-winner of the Class of ’76 Award at Dartmouth. As of the 2009-10 Dartmouth Big Green women’s ice hockey season, Devens ranked 23rd in all time scoring among Big Green women’s ice hockey players. 
In January 1995, Devens tried out for the United States National Women’s Hockey team in Lake Placid, New York but she did not make the team. In early July 1995, she returned from a field hockey camp in Maryland. Her goal was to qualify for the 1996 US Olympic Field Hockey team. Devens had made the U.S. “B” team and the result was that she was disappointed and depressed.
Devens expressed to teammates that she was exhausted and she wanted to take a break. In an interview with The Dartmouth school paper in the summer of 1994, Devens stated that she sometimes felt she was missing out on things by participating in three Division I sports. Lacrosse was her least favorite sport, but she felt obligated to continue. During the 1994-95 season, she was an All-America in Lacrosse.
On July 10, 1995, Devens invited her friend Maura Schneider to go mountain biking.  When Devens did not show, a different friend went to the Devens family home in Essex, Massachusetts and found her body. Devens took a .22-caliber rifle and killed herself with a shot to the chest. Devens was 21 years of age and scheduled to start her senior year in college.
I got to meet Sarah’s Dad the night I won the award. It was a difficult award to win knowing her story because that could have been me. The pressure I felt was much like hers – the feeling of being tired and just wanting it all to stop. It’s very scary to think back about some of my thoughts that I had during my time at RPI – as great as it looked on paper it was equally as challenging mentally and physically.
We are seeing more and more stories like this in the news – why? When kids or people are told to do everything perfect or else you will fail – it becomes an obsession that is not always good. So why did I just ramble on for this long…if you are someone who feels this way, don’t be afraid to reach out and get help. Tell someone. The biggest point I wanted to make though, is in this quote below. Everything may seem perfect about a person and that they have everything that they could want, but sometimes that’s the worst part of it all. Be careful what you say to others – for they are fighting a battle themselves.
I’ll end this post by saying after many years of “feeling the pressure” I have learned a lot and can say that I do still put pressure on myself but it is wanted to pressure. I love every minute of what I do and I don’t feel the need to prove anything to others but only to myself 🙂