The fall season is fully underway, and Flagstaff is getting spooky. While this time of year brings images of ghouls and ghosts, there are bigger fears that go through an athlete’s mind.
Career-ending injuries or not enough playing time are extenuating circumstances that force an athlete to leave the game they love. There are factors that make it difficult for a player to move on to the next level in their sport.
College athletes play for the love of the game, but there are some aspects that athletes think about that can scare them when it comes to the sport they play. Take junior Eric Friedl for example.
Friedl is an outfielder and first baseman for the NAU club baseball team. He had a traumatic experience while playing the sport he loves, which he said scares him from time to time to this day.
“My biggest fear for a possible injury would be getting hit in the face with a foul ball,” Friedl said. “In high school, I got hit in the face while being on deck by a foul ball and had to get 20 stitches on my chin. So whenever I’m on deck and a foul ball comes close to me, I have flashbacks to high school.”
Friedl’s fear is warranted. A large attribute to a successful baseball pitcher is the ability to throw the ball with as much velocity as possible. According to the MLB Statcast leaderboard, the average pitch velocity of the top 50 hardest throwers in the major leagues is 97.88 mph.
According to MLB Statcast leaderboard, the average exit velocity for the 50 hardest hits in the 2019 season was 119.9 mph.
Imagine a hard baseball being thrown at someone’s head that fast. This is arguably one of the scariest situations in sports.
Pitchers are at the highest risk of injury, due to constant strains on the arm. According to Baseball Reference, an average of 16 players required Tommy John surgery each year of the 2000s.
“If you’re a pitcher, the worst injury to get is Tommy John surgery,” former NAU club baseball player Dominic Bravo said. “I think a lot of people think if your elbow goes, then pitchers can lose velocity on their curveballs.”
Baseball is not the only exception when it comes to scary injuries. All sports have the possibility of freak accidents that could give anyone a case of the chills.
Sophomore Zachry Friday plays for the NAU club hockey team. He discussed some of the gruesome injuries and freak accidents that he witnessed while on the ice.
“The injury was when a goaltender got cut by a pair of skates,” Friday said. “[He] got ran over by the incoming skater’s blades first and went up his mask, sliding in with a lot of speed and basically cut open his corotid artery. But thank god we had a doctor at the rink.”
However, there are some examples besides injuries that can make the hairs on an athlete’s neck stand up.
Confidence in yourself and competition can be concerns for an athlete, whether it be not enough playing time or losing a starting role on a team due to a lack of production. This can be a thought that worries athletes.
“Another fear, disregarding injuries, would be getting in a slump, which could lead to me losing my starting position and being taken out of the lineup,” Friedl said.
Athletes always have to play at peak performance levels and do everything they can to produce for the team.
While fears can be a factor in an athlete’s performance, they do not have to prevent a player from reaching their full potential. Instead of focusing on thoughts that are fearful, there are ways to focus on the positives.
“The steps I take to avoid those injuries are to stretch every day with the full range of motion,” Friday said. “I always play hard, but I am aware of everything happening on the ice at any given second. Just in general, I train hard and get better with everything that I do ... learn something new, or hone in on a skill or a talent that will, overall, make you better, on and off the ice.”
Sports are both physically and mentally demanding. Sometimes an injury keeps a player off the field, but the mental aspect can keep an athlete from playing as well. Bravo shared some of his ideas on how athletes can stay healthy and keep them playing the sport they love.
“I think the big thing is to exercise and work out as much as you can, keeping your body and your mind strong,” Bravo said. “The biggest thing people take for granted are pregame warmups, pregame stretching and stuff like that. It makes your body loosen up. It is especially important in a game like baseball, since it’s more of a stand-around sport, so the best way to have your body ready is to do pregame warmups.”
While October only comes around once a year, when paranoia is heightened, the fears that athletes deal with last long after the calendar year flips. The scary thoughts athletes go through are not special but show a simple fact: athletes are human.
The fact of the matter is that athletes go through a lot of the same issues that non-athletes do. Just because they play a sport does not make them any different. It is all about blocking out the negatives and focusing on the positives.