I was thinking about this the other day. It’s ingrained in our head as elite athletes to “act tough.” From a physical standpoint it means, get hit, stand up; emotionally it means, get cut/don’t play, put a smile on your face and act like all is well in the world. For me personally, its meant breaking my arm in a game, coming off, and quietly piping up that I thought I needed to go to the hospital, getting smashed in the face with a frozen ball last year in minus 15 weather in Norway (ok I automatically balled like a baby for 2 seconds before forcing myself to laugh it off), and other assorted moments of acting tough, when all I wanted to do was curl into a ball and have my emotions match my physical pain.

Emotionally, I can’t even describe the amount of bathroom stall doors I have cried behind, over one disappointment or another, only to dab my face with a wet towel, put on a big face, and act like everything is fine, in front of my team. From that standpoint, again maybe because its been programmed into my head, I’m a believer in always having a good attitude and not drawing negative energy to oneself in a team setting, even when things aren’t going your way. Don’t show that you’re upset over anything, ever.

Of course when you have always been programmed to act tough, it’s also hard to negotiate, what is worth showing emotion for and when it’s appropriate.

As I mentioned in one of my previous blog posts, I feel like for me at least, soccer is a metaphor for life. And I guess at the end of the day, I think the point of both soccer and of life is growth. Being able to look back and feel like you’ve taken a little step forward every day.

Physically, as I might have mentioned, I smashed heads with someone the first day that I came to CT. Instead of perhaps taking the day off and icing, I proceeded to ice it up a bit, throw a bandage on it, and follow it up with a speed and agility sessions and 2 hours of pick up a few hours later (complete with a header…awesome). The next day, pretty much the same thing. It’s now been 2.5 weeks and I have a bump and a scar on my forehead, and neither, seem to be going anywhere.

It probably sounds weird to say, but I don’t really care about the scar. I gave up on my modeling career ages ago (I know, you’re all shocked to hear). It’s the bump that I am now concerned about, mostly because I am a defender, and heading the ball, is a big part of what I do. I haven’t dealt with this before, and am now worried that it’s going to swell every time I go back to heading. I realize with things like this that the early stages are crucial, and so now I am kicking myself at how far “acting tough” and just getting on with it, has gotten me, as every morning I wake up, touch my forehead and the bump is still there.

Because of this habit I have to take soccer and apply it to life, this whole acting tough habit hasn’t gotten me very far in the life department as well. Just like in soccer, how we have coaches or situations that reinforce something, in my life, I have had people and situations from a life standpoint that have made me the way I am.

To be blunt, and at the risk of letting you fine blog readers get to understand me too well, my Mom was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis when I was six. I decided showing my emotions of being sad/confused etc was not what I wanted to do, after throwing a temper tantrum at Sports Day when I was seven, because she wasn’t physically able to be in the Mother Daughter wheelbarrow contest with me. Although I would like to give mad props at this point to Linda Bodi’s mom, who jumped in and said she would take my Mom’s place, I saw how getting upset, upset my poor mom who had no control over the situation, and at the ripe age of seven, I decided that acting tough was my MO, because I didn’t need to add anymore burden to her life, from an already crappy diagnosis.

As a side note, my Mom is a hero in her own right, and has been a life long example to me, that no matter what life throws at you, you can choose to turn it into a positive. She’s the first person that will say to me (from her wheelchair), when some bad news or other comes through the phone or TV, “Ciara, you know, we are just so lucky to have what we do”. But I’ll save the amazingness that is my mother for another day.

But that seven year old’s decision to act tough, still resonates with me today. It’s the habit of acting tough, and that’s why its grip on me feels so strong, familiar, and my default action. Because that’s what it is. A habit. It is something that has become a part of who I am through repeated action through the years. But life is about growth, and I don’t think this strategy is working for me anymore.

Just like acting tough on the field, if you stick around long enough, past the person dusting themselves off and getting back up, at some point the injury becomes obvious. In my life, the people that are closest to me, deal with me acting tough, and then see me crack. The two sides are so incredibly different, that when juxtaposed, it almost doesn’t make sense that someone that is acting so tough is actually so sensitive and weak. I’m yelling, but all I want is a hug. And I’ll get a hug, and I’ll probably be stubborn and still act tough, but the question for me, is still why even act tough in the first place? Where is it getting me?

Is it really giving someone else an advantage to show your vulnerability on or off the field? Is it possible to break old habits and change a component of who you’ve essentially trained yourself to be over the years? Doesn’t it take a lot less energy to just put out there how you’re feeling, deal with it, show weakness, gain strength and then move on?

I’m starting to think so. And if I have any doubt about how far acting tough gets a person, I can just look in the mirror and stare at this bump on my forehead.


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