I was just like the rest of the folks on this website in high school, especially for my first two years. I was all baseball, all the time. I absolutely loved playing, loved practicing. I took a lot of pride in my athletic career, and I wanted to be successful.
My freshman year of football was incredible. I didn't get too much playing time, but it was clear that I was the guy my coach wanted for the future. I realized that I really liked being part of a team. I didn't care for the coach too much, but I had learned to "deal with it". Freshmen baseball season changed all of that for the worse. I had a horrible relationship with the baseball coach. He was obnoxious and, in my opinion, had a lot of problems. This was the start of all of my problems. I could feel how unwanted I was every day I went to practice/play for either coach, and it was a miserable experience. It was beyond sports (if it was just an issue of playing time, which was an issue I didn't have in a very weak athletic program, I wouldn't be telling this story); my coaches told me I was worthless, that I didn't have friends on the team, etc. Lesson 1: Don't put up with this behavior. I am a quiet person, so I just let them talk to me like this. No matter how tough you think you are, this will negatively effect you. You owe it to the kids who will be playing for that coach in a few years to address the issue.
I kept playing because I loved sports and wanted to play in college. Junior year, however, was a flurry of problems. Most importantly, I had a family member with a life-threatening illness (this person is now fine, thankfully). This changed our lifestyle and made me reevaluate my life. I had to do something. Then I got hurt and couldn't play baseball that spring, which given my coach, didn't bother me as much as it should have. This was the first time when I started to take school somewhat seriously. I had always been bright enough to "get by", but for the first time I was starting to do well academically.
Senior year wasn't much better than junior year. I had gone to some junior days, had some good relationships with college programs that interested me, and the like, but I had made some serious blunders in the recruiting process. This left me without a school to play baseball at. More importantly, the most transformative experience of my life happened senior year: a close friend died in something that could have been prevented by people who cared. Between his passing, the way I had been treated in high school, not playing college baseball, and being at a college that I really didn't want to be at, I really felt lost.
Fast-forward to today. I am a rising senior senior at a Top-10 academic school and have made dean's list every semester. I am playing a Division 1 Sport, but not baseball. My college teammates are the best friends I ever could have asked for, and I wouldn't trade meeting them for the world. I love the sport I play, but not as much as I just love going through the whole experience with my teammates. I didn't know what it meant to be "part of a team" until my college athletic career. I couldn't have a better group of friends. Most importantly, I have found a profession that I am passionate about. I work on it outside of school and sports right now, and I look forward to going to work everyday.
Athletically, I have not been nearly as successful as I had hoped. Maybe my hopes were not realistic, I don't know. That being said, I can promise you that I will leave Senior Day this year with no regrets. My academics have overshadowed my athletic commitment to a degree, yes, I will admit that. I still love my sport, my team, and have given every ounce of effort that I had.
My Thoughts for you:
1) THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO CARE. If I told my 16-19 year old self this, I would not have believed it. I promise you, it is true. The question isn't whether there are good people in the world; it is a matter of finding them. For me, it is my college teammates, a few special professors, and my colleagues. People want to help you realize your dreams and sort things out when you feel lost. I have some "mentor" figures in my life now, and they have helped me more than I could ever express. I'm particularly thinking of one professor in particular who took me under his wing early on and has helped me so much. Even just joking around with the guys on the bus to an away game is a precious moment that helps me recharge. Don't give up on humanity, despite the bad apples you might encounter. This is by far the most important thing I have to tell you.
2) DO WHAT YOU LOVE. Between athletics, academics, and work, I have very, very long days. Of course, I do occasionally wish I had more free time, but when I think about it, there is nothing I would cut from my list of commitments. I have never been to a single party in college, not one. Why? Because Saturday night is for studying. That's the schedule I need to put myself on to succeed at what is important to me. Some people say I'm all work, all the time. They might be right that I need more downtime, but they clearly don't understand what it means to be passionate. I wake up every morning looking forward to what I have on the schedule for that day, and that is the best feeling in the world. Another example of this is my work at a local homeless shelter. I volunteer there every weekend, and I actually have issues sleeping the night before because I am so excited. Some people might think this is strange, but I find this volunteer work rewarding, fun, and extremely worthwhile.
3) TRY SOMETHING NEW. When my colleagues ask me what I value most from my education, I tell them that it's learning a foreign language. I am fluent in this language, and it has changed my life. I have so many friends here and in other countries who I would not be able to communicate with were it not for this language skill. I can also watch great movies, read classic books in this language, experience foreign cultures, etc. It turns out that this language background will help me pursue my passion, but I didn't know that at the time and I don't even care about its professional consequences. For me, learning this language was a quality of life issue, and it has enriched my life more than anything else I have learned. That is why learning a third language is on my to-do list for graduate school.
4) IF A SITUATION IS BAD, BE PROACTIVE AND CHANGE IT. I spent a lot of my high school career infuriated by my situation athletically and socially. This prevented me from succeeding to my fullest capacity in anything, including academics. Unfortunately, I didn't believe my above point number 1 at the time, so I thought I was destined for this sort of life. I wasn't. If you are unhappy with a situation, BE PROACTIVE. Tell someone (a parent, guidance counselor/social worker, teacher, coach... pick the person who makes sense given the situation). Talk it through, evaluate your options, and make an informed decision. Confronting an unfortunate situation is a hard thing to do, maybe the hardest thing you will ever have to do in your life. If you learn that skill now, in high school, you will be forever better for it. After years of being passive, I became proactive and took charge of my situation, and I am grateful that I did. You will be too.
I hope that this has been helpful and will spark some discussion amongst the players, coaches, and parents on this forum. God bless.