Am I the only 49er fan in the world who hates the fact that their team is in the Super Bowl?
It’s not that I’m not thrilled, excited and proud that MY Niners are the best in their conference, and they are a juggernaut on defense and have a star-studded cast on offense – led by my sports boyfriend George Kittle.
It’s just that there is a little uninvited friend of mine who will be watching the game with me. They were there for every single game this year – and last year, and the years before, And way back in 1981. And it’s not just football. They were there when Madison Baumgarner took that legendary walk to the mound to pitch relief in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series, or during the improbable 2012 World Series and the torture of the 2010 Series.
My friend is Torture – it’s my anxiety. My Sports Anxiety.
It’s not like I was some athletic superstar who got the yips. I played high school softball and was a light-hitting infielder and back-up catcher. I was just proud to have made the team. But the anxiety of those games rivaled any AP or standardized test I ever took. My anxiety dream isn’t missing a college final, it’s playing high school softball.
And the funny part is I did not come from an athletic family who expected any trophies or All-League patches on my Letterman’s jacket. I didn’t even have one. “Just have fun,” my mom would say. Of course, she was the same woman who would head outside to pull weeds or prune roses during 49er and Giants games if the game was too tight. It seems she suffered from her own sports anxiety.
My friends don’t understand why I must leave the room at the end of the fourth quarter of a game or take a walk around my neighborhood during the last ½ inning of a World Series game. It’s the only way I can control my anxiety.
I used to drink it away. In fact, a decade ago I was actually a square on a Super Bowl pool – “What quarter would Peggy pass out?” Ouch. But it was usually late in the third if the Niners were playing. My anxiety would take over and I would just have to ESCAPE.
All laughing aside, sports anxiety is a very real thing, and we can see it climbing up the ladder of ages. As the New York Times reported, studies from the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS) have found that of the 40 million youths who participate in organized sports each year, 70% will drop out before the age of 13! When asked why the number one reason given is that they just don’t find it fun anymore. Factors like overly competitive coaches, parental pressure, burnout, and fear of losing can all contribute to a child’s decision to drop sports. Parents and coaches must remember to keep it fun! It is a competition, yes. But more important than winning the game is ensuring your kids get to play and be a part of a team. And not fear it.
We want to succeed. And we want to see our kids succeed. But sometimes when a child plays sports, parents have a habit of becoming overly invested in their participation. Unfortunately, this intense focus and pressure is not usually well-received and can lead to a result opposite of what parents wanted. Kids can become overwhelmed by their parents’ vicarious goals and ideals.
Yes, young – and old – parents can ease up on their kids, as can their coaches. Sports is sports – a game.
So, I need to take a chill pill -- non-narcotic and non-steroidal – that will help me not be so hard on myself for whatever reason, as well as on the poor Niners and Giants. This Sunday I will be surrounded by friends, I’ll be sober and wondering who will win the $20 pool and who is discreetly betting on Fan Duel and Draft Kings. I’ll be eating great food from a neighborhood of great home chefs, and my team will be playing for the national championship in the biggest game of the year.
And that’s what I have to focus in on when the TV is focusing on Taylor Swift: It’s just a game. And maybe my anxiety will pass out early and I’ll enjoy myself for once. But if it doesn’t, it will be okay to take that walk, or dive under the covers, or eat all the homemade ice cream available.
Taking care of myself is the real winner here. That you can bet on.