Hanging Up the Boots: Quitting Varsity Soccer

Gareth Jones, Guest Writer

After one season with the men’s varsity soccer team, I decided to quit. The winter break that followed my chaotic first semester gave me some space for quiet introspection, during which I reached the conclusion that soccer had introduced far more stress into my life than it had removed. As one would expect, choosing to cut the sport out of my life wasn’t easy. Being a soccer player was one of the key pillars that supported my self-image and I felt as if I could threaten the stability of my character by letting that support fall away. Nevertheless, I couldn’t shake the mental math that “less soccer equated to more happiness” for me, so I stopped.

As of writing this, a sports-free year has gone by. How do I feel? Well, pretty good. The hours I spent going to, and recovering from, practice during season have been replaced by a job in the Student Engagement Center, exercise (on my own terms) and homework. Instead of the grueling travel weekends spent on the bus, I socialize more and plan trips with my friends. Most importantly, I truly feel I can maximize my productivity without sacrificing mental or physical health. In that way, collegiate soccer was incredibly informative because it showed me the other side of a threshold where I can be stretched too thin.

There are definitely elements of the sport that I miss: playing a game of pick-up reminds me how fun soccer can be when I’m relaxed and happy, while working with a team to compete at a high level is an extremely rewarding experience. Curiously, my best semester GPA at Whitman came during the semester in season. Perhaps that was merely a reflection of the classes in which I was enrolled, but I would argue that there is a contagious work ethic that accompanies a spot on the varsity squad. I see that drive in my peers who are still playing and I find it profoundly inspiring.

One aspect that has helped with my transition is the gracious and accepting support I have received from other members of the team. Understandably, they didn’t necessarily agree with my choice to leave the team, but that didn’t influence the way they treated me after the fact. Every interaction I’ve had with an upperclassman on the team has been positive and I’m very honored to have a connection with those guys. My impression is that “seeing the big picture” is a quality shared by most of the athletic programs on campus. As a school, we take great pride in the academic success of our athletes, not just their performance on the field. When I felt that I couldn’t reconcile my time spent on soccer with life in the classroom, my opinion was heard and respected.

All in all, I am very content with my decision to quit. I feel healthy, relaxed and fortunate to have participated in such a great program. My advice to people who are uncertain about their sport? Choose to take pride in what makes you happy.