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The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

Joy and Pressure: The Balance of Teen Athletics

Senior Boys Varsity Soccer Captains Emilio Pineda and Antonio Giorgianni at the WIS versus Gonzaga College High School Boys Varsity Soccer game on Aug. 30. While exhilarating, competing against intense competition can place pressure on high school athletes. (Leonardo Sarzi Braga/International Dateline)

Alongside the competition on the field or the courts, there is an internal game in an athlete’s mind. Competing at the varsity high school level carries the weight of performing at a high level, while also trying to find a balance with enjoying the sport. 

Boys Varsity Soccer captains, seniors Emilio Pineda and Antonio Giorgianni, competed in the Potomac Valley Athletic Conference (PVAC) and District of Columbia State Athletic Association (DCSAA) tournaments this year, winning the PVAC banner but losing to Gonzaga College High School in the state semifinals. The team’s schedule was affected by the construction of WIS’s new science building, decreasing the number of times they practiced a week. Even with the construction challenges, infrequent practices and no home games, the expectation to perform at the same high level remained. 

“At WIS, especially at state tournaments or in big games, there is an expectation, or at least a pressure, to do well,”  Pineda said. “Now that we’re seniors, whether we lose or we do well, I feel like it’s on us. The pressure really does get to you sometimes.” 

Both seniors speak to how increasing pressure in a sport can make athletes question their involvement in the sport. “You look for it to be your escape,” Pineda said. “but if it’s not, it starts feeling like a job: you have to go to practice, you have to perform.”

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However, competing in sports can always can have its downsides. “Soccer isn’t always amazing,” Giorgianni said. “You lose games, you have bad practices, and you get into your own head.” 

One detriment of the different outcomes in sports is that athletics can transform into a source of stress rather than enjoyment.

“What happens to me a lot is that I go to soccer as something that is supposed to bring me joy and happiness, and relieve all the stress from the outside world, but if I lose a big game or have a bad practice or game it kind of hurts, probably even more than anything else that is going on in my life,” Giorgianni said. 

Sports can be an escape, but that does not remove the element of pressure. However, some athletes can use the pressure to their advantage or find a way to enjoy it. 

“That pressure of having to perform, the pressure of being in a state tournament and playing Jackson Reed on a Friday night in the state semifinals, that anxiety that goes into having to perform well is enjoyable for me,” Giorgianni said. 

Sophomore Camilla Ricci, who plays on the WIS Girls Varsity Volleyball team, agrees. 

“Playing volleyball is a super fun experience, I love the team, I love playing, [but] it’s super stressful because you don’t always have the time to do everything, especially when you have games,”  Ricci said. 

She also feels the pressure from competing on a school team in contrast to playing club volleyball. 

“I feel like for games, especially during the school season, it’s a lot more pressure because the games that you play have a lot more value on how your team is ranked, so you feel this pressure to perform better,”  Ricci said. 

Despite pressure from playing at the high school level, especially as captains, students often view their sport as a break from the pressures of school or social lives. 

“I always see soccer as my escape whenever things may not be going well at school, I get a bad grade one day or I am not on great terms with my friends or whatever it may be that’s in the back of my mind,” Giorgianni said.

Sophomore Cate Taylor, one of the two Girls Varsity Soccer captains and a club soccer player, also believes that sports can be extremely beneficial, regardless of pressure. 

“Every time I’m stressed for a test, when I go on the field, I don’t think about anything else,” Taylor said. “No matter what’s happening with friends, it just goes away, which is a really good outlet.”

Taylor has experienced multiple aspects of athletic pressure as both a player and captain. Similarly to Giorgianni, Taylor believes it is important to turn pressure into motivation. 

“Because it’s such a good outlet for me, those pressures end up being positive in a way because it’s pushing me to work in a good way,” she said. 

Not only is it important to utilize pressure, but it is also important to maintain a positive mentality to enjoy one’s sport and performance. “Be aware that sometimes it’s ok to not play your best, and you have to accept that,” Riccia said. “You can’t always play at 100 percent your best, and that’s not something you should be stressing about.” 

While individual athletes use their techniques, such as viewing pressure as a motivator, to create a balanced mindset, coaches also help reinforce positive mentalities and diminish negative ones. Coaches can implement building strong mentalities as part of their instruction instead of just focusing on pure physical skills. 

WIS Girls Varsity Volleyball coach Jon Tang completed his second season with the team this year. When it comes to his coaching, he emphasizes building a strong mindset towards mistakes and learning from them, rather than allowing them to crumble an athlete’s confidence. 

“I tell all my players it’s OK to make mistakes,” Tang said. “Nobody has a perfect performance. Mistakes are how we learn and get better… [having a good mindset] helps us overcome the pressure and anxiety.” 

The commonality between volleyball and soccer is the team component, which Tang believes is significant in developing confidence and camaraderie that is beneficial for mental health. 

“Mental toughness is not an easy thing to develop,” Tang said. However, having a team to rely on makes it easier, he says. 

Upper school math teacher and Boys Varsity Soccer coach Andrew Sopher compares the pressure of academics with sports. 

“I think the best comparison I can make is you’re going to have good tests and bad tests, it’s how you respond and how resilient you are to work through those moments of highs and lows,” Sopher said.

Both Sopher and Tang understand the pressures that go behind competing and hope their players understand that, at the end of the day, it is a game. 

“I think the best advice I would give, whether it’s as a coach or former high school athlete, would be to embrace the challenges but at the same time recognize that they’re just games,” Sopher said. He emphasizes that sports are there to be played, enjoy competition and build meaningful relations with teammates, not a direct reflection on who athletes are as individuals. 

While pressure in sports is common, many athletes find how to create a balance between the pressure and their love for the sport.

Pineda offers advice for athletes struggling with sports anxiety and pressure. “[With] sport anxiety, you have to notice and be conscious that it is a sport,” he said. “If you internalize it within yourself that you’re there to enjoy [and] you’re there to have fun, you will have a better time.”

By Elektra Gea-Sereti

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Elektra Gea-Sereti
Elektra Gea-Sereti, Opinions Editor
Hi my name is Elektra and I am a senior plus the Opinions editor. I have been at Dateline since 9th grade, and my opinion articles range from social media trends to movie reviews. While not being opinionated can be strenuous, I do write the occasional sports, features, and food article. Outside of Dateline, you can find me on the volleyball court, or debating people in Mock Trial. 

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