The Power of Sports: Finding Your Role, and Owning It Too

Ask a great college lacrosse coach, or any coach, what they look for in athletes that they recruit and you’ll get a variety of answers. Many will say athleticism, versatility, or grit is the best trait a potential college athlete can have, but “knowing their role” is going to be one of the most common traits listed by coaches who want to build a successful team. Knowing your role can be defined in several ways, and the same goes for how you define a “role” in lacrosse, or in life. But, finding your role is a never-ending process that changes and challenges you with how your skill set changes. Defenders can develop into offensive threats, middies and attackers change all the time, goalies can score on the clear, and players find that they will excel the most when they are put in a position to succeed and are supported by their teammates around them. And when all of the team is playing in a role that suits them and makes them comfortable, you’re going to find that athletes have a lot more fun playing lacrosse

For Signature Athlete Bonnie Sopher, he spent his time playing lacrosse falling in love with the sport and the beautiful possibilities that can be achieved through the Creator’s game. But, in the past, Florida club teams were a lot like the rain showers; they came and went. Stability wasn't exactly the most universal aspect of club lacrosse teams where Bonnie is from, and he often had to transition to different lacrosse teams to continue playing. Making friends with a new team every year can make any sport challenging, and constantly shifting your play style can be frustrating. 

While changing teams so frequently may have added difficulty to Bonnie’s club lacrosse career, it also taught him to always be flexible, to be thankful to have the opportunity to learn from new coaches, and to make the most out of every situation. The real issue that can bring down many adolescents is the feeling of not fitting-in or not knowing your role when you move teams so frequently. No matter how hard you may try, sometimes, it just takes time and experience to discover who you really are and where you’re meant to be.

Signature Lacrosse Presents “The Power of Sports: Bonnie Sopher”

Lacrosse is such a powerful sport because of the connection between lacrosse players and two important aspects of the game: the stick and the history. The lacrosse stick is a physical connection for lacrosse players that represents life and maintenance, while the history of the game is a lesson of celebrating the game of lacrosse and excelling by playing to please the Creator. This lesson is interpreted differently by all lacrosse players, and Bonnie Sopher had his own view of the game and how to celebrate it. That view was to celebrate often and to find the highlight of every situation on and off the field.

From an early age, Bonnie knew that lacrosse was how he wanted to spend his time outside of school, but getting out on the field every day with a team is easier said than done. And when you’re not old enough to drive, you’re still dependent on others to get you to and from lacrosse practice; unless you decide to find your own way to the field. So that’s exactly what Bonnie did when he decided to take his bike and ride to the lacrosse fields before practice to make sure he was there and able to have the best time possible.

The lacrosse field represented so much more than a location where he practiced; it was a social gathering, an outlet, a way to express himself and compete. This trek to the field was a common occurrence for Bonnie, and those hours spent on the field built up to Bonnie getting the chance to live out his dream; playing NCAA college lacrosse. But, all of this work led up to Bonnie realizing he had to leave his dream behind to begin to move forward. Bonnie had to give up one life in order to gain another.

Change: It’s A Good Thing

Lacrosse players can very easily get caught in a rut of thinking they’re a certain type of player; that they are limited to one aspect of the game when on the field. Not being able to allow yourself to change, see the possibilities for change, or understand how to allow others to change will limit the potential of any good lacrosse player. As humans, we are all normally against change, but change can truly be a good thing. Bonnie’s journey with lacrosse reached a fork in the road when Bonnie came to accept what was in his heart and what he had known for some time; Bonnie is transgender. And at that time, Bonnie was still playing on an NCAA women’s lacrosse team. This left him with an important decision to make. 

Before transitioning, Bonnie lived his entire life outwardly as a female and played women’s lacrosse for his entire career. It took time for him to discover he was stuck in a role that wasn’t suited for him, and that epiphany didn't happen overnight. Time spent being exposed to all that the world has to offer and people of different walks of life helps you learn about yourself through learning about others. And Bonnie was able to gain perspective of how he truly felt after making it onto an NCAA lacrosse team.

For many students, college is their first time where they’re submerged into a new culture made up of a diverse range of people. This experience can be a huge change for student athletes, but changes in surroundings help you accept and adapt or decide to depart. For Bonnie, time spent with the lacrosse team was when he always felt safe; and he truly believes a big part of who he is today is owed to this amazing sport and the support of those in the lacrosse community. The sense of family Bonnie felt from his teammates over the years is why he is able to speak his truth today knowing that they will always back him. 

A Time to Plant and A Time to Uproot

Lacrosse players spend well over 14 hours a week with their teammates during practices, games, traveling, film, and hanging out together; and when you go early to every team activity, like Bonnie does, you get even more time every week with your teammates. Spending so much time with people who are working towards the common goal of success allows you to be vulnerable in many different ways. These people will see you fail and fall often. They will also see you shine and succeed. But, most of all, they see how you work towards your highs and lows and how you react in very intimate moments of passion during athletics.

Loving lacrosse, or any sport, lets your true colors run free during competition, and your teammates and coaches are the ones who get to watch you in an unfiltered form. Being this exposed to others so often creates trust and forms bonds that reach beyond the gates to your field and the doors to your locker room. That’s the power of sports in a palpable form that gives you real shoulders to lean on and ears to speak to in times when you need a friend; just take a look at the roster and there’s your proof. You're all wearing the same uniform and working to win together. If anyone knows the pressures you're feeling during difficult times, it's likely someone who plays a sport with you and is able to see you at your most exposed points.

Under Pressure: More Than a Song by Queen

It’s a wonderful thing to be surrounded and supported by teammates who are always there for you; but, when you are trying to be the very best version of yourself and others are relying on you, it can become difficult to cope with the increased responsibility. This is a frequent occurrence in the lives of college athletes who may be a big fish in their own small pond suddenly moving to the ocean over the summer. Once you become a college athlete, you usually have more teammates counting on you to improve yourself for the good of the team and a coach who is much more committed to, and reliant on, your team’s success. These added members of the team, as well as internal and external pressures, can create an uncomfortable feeling for athletes that begins to distance them from the sport they love. When is too much too much? And when are you just a person instead of an athlete?

It’s not uncommon for college athletes to lose the passion that they once had for their sport because they no longer are playing for the same reasons when they move from high school to college, or from one season to another. Motivation is a personal state of mind that changes from person to person, and sometimes fires fade in new environments. What once used to be a leisurely activity among your closest friends becomes a regimented job with a bunch of strangers. Some athletes find themselves making a cost benefit analysis of the situation and choosing the extra sleep and study time over weights and laps. 

Or, in other cases, the candle that burns twice as bright only burns half as long; and college athletes throw themselves so deeply into their craft that they lose their sense of importance for other parts of life. Food becomes fuel and not flavor. Sleep becomes new energy and not rest. Time for one’s self is no longer as valuable as time spent “on” one’s self that can help the team. And, within both opposites of this same coin, lies the battle between our identity and the role we are playing. You’re a teammate during all hours of the day, but at what time are you allowed to just be an individual? 

This is the pressure that began culminating in Bonnie’s mind during his first season playing college lacrosse because he was focused on fulfilling his role on the team. But time that was spent on self-improvement would’ve been better spent on self-maintenance, and Bonnie found that his priorities and the role he was playing were causing damage at the expense of one person; himself.

The Big “You”; The Big “T”

Addressing your mental health, self maintenance, and being honest with yourself are the keys to living a happier life in athletics and achieving the goals you set for yourself. If you expend all of your energy relentlessly trying to succeed at whatever you’re motivated to do, you’ll be one hell of a competitor but only for a short while. In the same sense of “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy;” all grind and no growth makes anyone an absolute wreck. 

Bonnie’s journey from high school to college lacrosse brought a whole new dynamic of interacting with new teammates, new coaches, and new freedom; but the lingering questions of self-identity made the jump alongside him to college. With a continuing question of whether or not Bonnie was living the life he was meant for prodding at his psyche, Bonnie decided to take the time to address this persistent discomfort instead of throwing himself into lacrosse again. This time, Bonnie actually had to step away from lacrosse entirely to find out who he was and why he had these feelings for so long.

After Bonnie’s freshman season playing college lacrosse and living out his dream, he decided to transition out of being a NCAA athlete and begin transitioning in his personal life from female to male to become the gender he always felt like on the inside.

But every decision can cause ripple effects that alter parts of your life that you never expect to change. While socially and medically becoming male means giving up playing women’s lacrosse, it also means losing other unexpected safe spaces and routines that make up a great deal of daily life. 

Transitioning and accepting that he was transgender didn’t take away Bonnie’s friends on the lacrosse team or the relationships he had with his coaches, but losing the bus trips, laughs in the locker room, and inside jokes with the team takes a toll on you. It becomes difficult to appreciate what you’re gaining when you begin to realize how much you’re losing.

Luckily for Bonnie, he began to understand how the gain in the long run was well worth giving up what was once his biggest dream. The moments spent with teammates and coaches in practice and other team activities can’t be replaced or recreated; however, Bonnie’s new life still includes playing lacrosse, jokes and fun with teammates both new and old, and now being able to live happily in his own skin. Thanks to being honest with himself and understanding that the risk was worth the reward when it comes down to mental health and happiness, Bonnie is smiling more and living a life that still includes lacrosse.

Life After Change Is Life Worth Living

After making the hardest decision that he’s ever had to, Bonnie’s happier and prouder to be in his own skin as a coach, player, and friend who didn’t have to give up lacrosse in the end. Becoming a biological male disqualified Bonnie from playing NCAA lacrosse on a women’s team but it couldn’t stop him from playing and coaching club women’s lacrosse. Bonnie is still involved with the sport that he loves, still is great friends with previous teammates and coaches, and still has future plans to coach a college lacrosse team full time. 

Anyone in need of help or someone to speak to should not be afraid to seek help from an organization like SAMHSA.

Bonnie's dream is to help grow lacrosse in his home state of Florida and help create opportunities in lacrosse for other transgender athletes facing the same decision Bonnie did. If it was not for the help of another transgender athlete who took Bonnie to a support group that helped him understand what he would gain by transitioning, Bonnie would still be dealing with the same issues of accepting himself for who he really is. Deciding to not let gender hold him back was difficult for Bonnie, considering it meant giving up playing on the lacrosse team he worked so hard to make it on to, but it opened up his world to being the person he always felt he was on the inside. Now that Bonnie realizes he has the best of both worlds and still has lacrosse in his life, the decision to transition is one that he would not change.

Before transitioning, Bonnie was terrified of how much he would potentially lose. He soon realized that nothing worth having comes easy; and while he might seemingly lose certain aspects of his life, the memories and experiences would stay forever. Bonnie wishes he could show his younger self how much happier he is and how little things truly changed once he made a change for a better life. 

He wants to thank every teammate, every coach, every parent that provided car rides, snacks or any bit of support. He wants to thank the game of lacrosse that has given him so much. And he will continue to try to repay this sport, by giving back both as a coach and a mentor for young athletes. He wants to thank his college coaches for the never ending support they provided to him during his college lacrosse career, something he is truly grateful for. He most importantly wants to thank his parents for being his number one fan through anything and everything. For loving him unconditionally and providing him with every outlet and experience to being the person he is today, Bonnie can't say "thank you" enough. 

Lastly, he wants to leave the lacrosse community with this message. You will encounter teammates, coaches, players, and people of all walks of life, creeds, colors, and backgrounds during your lacrosse career and lifetime. Learning to be an accepting and understanding person is the only way to build relationships that matter. And never underestimate the troubles or struggles that someone you know may be going through because we all have times when a little bit of support and friendship can make all the difference; it may even save someone’s life. 



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