Tennis is a sport that requires an exponential amount of mental toughness.
Not only do techniques like keeping a steady swing race through your mind, but maintaining the mental attitude that you can outperform your opponent is also important. Winning a match requires intense perseverance; therefore a victory should be that much more rewarding.
As a former high school tennis player, I remember not only hating myself for the matches I lost, but even the matches I won. Losing just one game in the entire match did not count as a victory. The game lost was the only part of the match remembered.
Competition has gone from winning or losing to feeling so much pressure to perform flawlessly. Sports may be the perfect example, but the principle holds true in many walks of life, including academics. Getting an A is no longer good enough; it must be 100 percent and nothing less. If it is not perfect, it does not count.
Where does this mentality come from?
Many parents blame coaches, teachers or themselves for putting too much pressure on children. This may be the cause in some instances but not all.
As a recent Bishop Guilfoyle graduate, I was blessed with teachers and coaches who pushed me to do my best but never once crossed the line of perfection. As long as the best effort was given, they were pleased. Having to be perfect was an impossible goal I placed upon myself.
Although I did not know Owen Thomas well, I had the pleasure of meeting him during his time in Altoona for the 2007 Pennsylvania State Football Coaches Association All-Star game; my family was his host family.
In addition to his tremendous academic and athletic accomplishments, I distinctly remember Owen as an upstanding individual. He was incredibly humble and personable, which is why I felt compelled to write this article. Owen took his own life in April. He was a starting junior defensive end and a team captain. His coach at Penn called him "the most popular kid on the team."
Why would someone so remarkable and impressionable take his own life? Perhaps this question is not as easily answered as many may think.
As quoted in the Huffington Post, Rev. Katherine Brearsley, Owen's mother said, "He put huge expectations on himself and just impossibly couldn't live up to them."
As an Ivy League student-athlete, stupidity and inability to succeed were clearly not the cause of Owen's death, but rather unreachable goals that required perfection at all times. With incessant rankings, scores, grades and contests, society has placed so much pressure on students today. Looks, intelligence, athleticism, talent, personality: Everything is a competition.
Now the outstanding question is how can this problem be fixed? Disappointingly, I must admit that I honestly do not know.
After recently learning about the six Cornell University suicides and now Owen Thomas, I just felt compelled to write this article from a student's perspective. As an optimist, I believe there is always a solution, but this is such a complex issue that needs to be realized and analyzed by the public before any solution can be reached.
Thankfully, suicide is nothing I have ever seriously considered, but it is something that has crossed my mind after a loss or bad grade has generated an overwhelming sense of failure.
I am an average student with an average life who has never been depressed or suicidal, and yet the thought of suicide has still passed through my mind on occasion. Suicide is an inclining problem that can be rooted in the emphasis on finishing first in a competition, rather than the effort put into participating in competition.
Instead of worrying about finishing first, maybe we should just be proud we finished.
Rachel Rea is a 2009 graduate of Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic High School and will be a sophomore at American University. She was the Mirror's 2009 Female Athlete of the Year and the Blair County Sports Hall of Fame's 2009 scholarship winner.