Empathy Can Be a Hug On a Bad Day

The Bottleneck: Just under four years ago, I was a senior in high school playing on my golf team in a tough spot. Our team was very good, so maintaining a spot on the team was difficult. I had squeezed through tryouts and had hung on the fifth and final spot on varsity, as I wasn’t allowed to play on junior varsity as a senior. I was keen on making an impact on the team and contributing as best I could.img_1481

Dreams and Aspirations: Since eighth grade my goal had been to make it to the state tournament on our team. I put all I had into getting better and pushing myself to practice for as many hours as I could manage. As my only sport in high school I had dedicated thousands of hours to golf in the search of that state tournament. I was keen to hone in on my goal and be a part of an incredible group of golfers.

Nerves: Our first few tournaments went decent for me, as I produced a number of good scores, but was still the fifth man. Then I made a slight slip and threw out an 82, putting our team in a bad position at a tournament. I was worried I was teetering on the edge of being asked to step off the team for the next tournament, but my coach said I would be playing for the following week.

Pressure Cooker: The next tournament was at my home course, where I could shine and prove my worth to the team. My coach approached me before teeing off and said “I’m expecting a 75 or less out of you today” which wasn’t too tall an order. I started getting nervous as I could feel that this was the breaking point of reaching for that state position or being bucked off.

Implosion: To this day the round of golf I played sticks with me as the toughest struggle in any sport I’ve played. Things crashed to pieces as I made double bogey after double bogey. In the end I carded a 92, while my teammates all shot sub 75. After the round our coach said congrats to the good play by the rest of the team and dismissed them. I went up and barely managed to squeak out, “Is this it coach?” to which is reply was “yup, you’re done.”

The Aftermath: I fought to hold back tears as I walked into the parking lot knowing I had just shattered my dream that was years in the making. It ended up being too much, and as a 17-year-old who was nearly considered an adult, I cried. The hours of commitment all rushed back as that dream had evaporated in a span of a few hours. I felt like a failure.

Somethings Stick With You: A kid on the team who had stayed behind until it was just him and I in the parking lot walked over as I was in full devastation, and gave me a hug I won’t forget. As my tears soaked through his shirt and snot ran out my nose he didn’t let go. He only said a few words, but the empathy was there. He didn’t try to justify the situation, but rather he had climbed into the dark space that I was in to let me know that I wasn’t alone. It wasn’t that he had all the answers, but he was there to share the pain and let me know it was alright to be soaked with emotion.

Looking Back: After going home and telling my family and friends in the following days the blow I had been dealt, I received plenty of sympathetic responses. Many were along the lines of “at least you got to play for a great team” and “golf is a life long skill, don’t worry about it.” These responses only made it tougher to stomach, but after each one I would think back to my teammate and the understanding he had shared. The empathy he had shown towards me stuck with me as the compassion he displayed was entirely different. To this day I still hold that vivid memory as a moment that has helped me provide that same support to those around me when those times come around to them.



22 thoughts on “Empathy Can Be a Hug On a Bad Day

  1. Garrett,
    I was especially touched by your post. Sports can be so much pressure, and its hard to deal with on top of schoolwork and life in general. But what I was really relieved to see was that another guy was so empathetic towards you. Maybe I am wrong, but it certainly seems that guys can be less empathetic when around other guys, in that the guy to guy relationship is much more surface like. I think it is easier for girls to find someone who will listen to them, so I am so glad that your teammate was so cool to give you a hug when you needed it

  2. Garrett,
    I’ve had similar experiences in sports where a teammate is the most empathetic and understanding person after a bad loss. The bond we can create with our teammates are sometimes stronger and better than those of family and friends. Even in an individual sport such as golf, a great team is one where all the players form a close bond with each other. Thanks for sharing this.

  3. Hey Garret,
    There’s nothing worse than being fed with sympathy when you feel like you’ve failed or that you could have done better. In those types of situations, it is much better to just have someone there to listen to you or be with you in my opinion. Sometimes, words don’t make the situation better, they only make it worse. I’m glad you had someone to empathize with you that day!

  4. Garret,

    I’ve had my share of disappointments in sports too. Coping with the disappointment happens best when you just have some one who will listen to you. If you’re lucky enough to find some who’s willing to listen and just be there, it will form a tight bond between you and that person. Again, it can be very therapeutic to talk and have some one else simply listen. That listening is definitely a form of empathy.

  5. Garret,

    I loved this post. Some people don’t recognize sports and their significance to people. I think that sports have a strong connection to emotion and this post really demonstrates that. It can be really frustrating talking to people about a failure or disappointment in regards to sports, because it can be hard to convey the magnitude of the emotion behind it. A lot of times like you said, you get sympathetic responses. If you can find someone to just sit there and really listen, that is what is most important.

  6. Hi Garrett,
    Thank you for sharing your story with the class. I cannot imagine going through something like that. I have been on many different sport teams in the past and when the team has done badly the coach never pointed fingers at an individual player’s mistake. In golf, it is very easy to be singled out as it is technically a one-person sport so automatically all the blame is placed on you so I feel for you in this situation as I would not be able to handle all of that.

  7. Garret,

    As a high school golfer myself, I have experienced some very similar feelings of failure. The nature of golf and how it is often a battle between the course and yourself puts you in an especially vulnerable position when it comes to failure. I really respect the fact that you worked so hard for a dream that you had dreamed of since the 8th grade. Thank you for sharing.

    – Andrew

  8. Garrett,
    I know the feeling of being in a high pressure situation and not being able to keep it together. I remember having the best season for my soccer team in one of the summer leagues we played in. As the goal keeper, I didn’t let in a single goal all season, but when we got to nationals I couldn’t save a goal for the life of me. I sure could have used a hug then.

  9. Hey Garrett,

    Thanks for sharing this story with us. All of us have experienced situations when we were so close to the things that we wanted, and it didn’t workout. When you get so close it makes it that much harder to accept when it doesn’t work out. I have been there before many of times, and know exactly how you feel. It also takes a lot to admit when something really bothers you. I’ very impressed that you were able to come back, and learn from this. Situations when I’ve failed have often been the best learning experiences in my life.

  10. Hi garrett Thanks for sharing. I completely understand your frustration and disappointment with this situation. I went through similar things in my high school soccer career and really do know how it feels. There is nothing worse at the time. It is true though, Golf is a lifelong skill that you will never lose and that is extremely valuable in itself.

  11. Hello!
    First off, I love the way you built up your story. I felt like there was lots of suspense and it was easy to read because all of the sections were built up. I kinda know how that feels. My last year of softball(senior year) my coach was the d word and basically never played the seniors not even at the senior game. He played all his recruited freshman. So i know how hard it is for it to be your last game ever and know that you didn’t perform how you wanted.


  12. Hey Garret,

    I’m also a golfer and would say golf is probably the craziest sport there is. One day you could shoot a 75 and the next day you could easily shoot a 90, which is probably why its the sport that requires the most mental toughness and playing with pressure is definitely tough, so I understand the frustration and disappointment it brings. I grew up playing team sports as well, I had my share of bad performances, and there is nothing worst than not having the support of your teammates after a bad performance, so I definitely understand how it feels to have a teammate who is there for you and the importance of being there for a teammate after they have a bad performance as well!

    1. Ivan,

      The importance of teammates in golf is something I look back at now and realize as a key component to who I am today. Having that backbone of people around you is so important, and in an individual sport like golf you miss that most of the time. After playing a bad round in the roller coaster that is golf, having someone there who understands what it’s like to have that bad day is something I continue to take away from my high school golf experience.

  13. Garrett,

    It is amazing how one person can show so much empathy towards another without saying too many words. Sometimes a good hug from someone speaks louder than anything he or she could say to you. I am sure the teammate who showed that empathy towards you that day is someone you will never forget. What makes your teammate’s empathy even stronger is the fact that he was there on the team with you, with you along each step of they way. He was definitely one of the few people who could truly empathize with you.

  14. Hi Garrett! I had a similar experience my junior and especially senior year. I participated in track and field all throughout high school and excelled in pole vaulting, super random I know. But my dreams were to always make it to the state tournament, which happened my junior and senior year. What happened at the state tournament was similar to your case though. I was constantly reaching heights that would put me in the top 10 at the state tournament and then once I got there, I would not compete as well as I wanted. Both years I ended up not even making opening height. It’s definitely a slap to the face to see your teammates and other people you compete against doing so well, especially when you know you can do the same/if not better. After I no heighted my senior year, I cried hysterically. My coach came up to me and did roughly the same thing that was done to you. I still remember it and looking back realized how much it helped the situation.

    1. Nicole,

      Putting in such a large amount of hard work only to have things fall to pieces is incredibly tough. You feel so degraded by your short comings that it becomes impossible to look past them. Having that person who gives you the time of day to feel your pain is something you never forget. In a setting such as sports the emotional learning is something you can take away for ever. I’ve realized that for me just that day alone has changed me as a person for the better as the empathy felt, has made me extend that hand to others when I sense they are struggling through something.


  15. Garrett,
    Knowing that you personally had an impact on a team sport not going the way you wanted is one of the hardest things to deal with. Growing up, I was a lacrosse goalie. Although I loved the position for the times where you could be the hero of the game, other times I knew deep down that I made mistakes and ultimately costed the team the game. After every loss, there would be at least one person who would try and sympathize with me, however this never helped. It was the interactions with teammates who simply would actually show emotion that made it easier to deal with.

  16. Great article, I found it awesome that this friend really helped you out in this situation by using empathy, and relating to what you were going through. I have been in similair situations, when you just feel so down on yourself, and its actually crazy how helpful a friend can be in this situation if they simply care for you.

  17. Hi Garrett,
    Thanks for sharing your story. It’s definitely underestimated how much a hug or a pad in the shoulder can show empathy, even more than some words. Some people feel the need to “fix” your sadness or your frustration when all you really need is to stay with that feeling for a moment and have someone acknowledge how bad it is. 🙂

  18. Hi Garrett,
    I know how much pressure high school sports can put on you. When you perform in a way that you perceive as a “failure” can be really devastating. It’s really awesome when you find someone who can be there for you and make you feel more confident in the way the situation played out. One person’s empathy can really stick with you as you mentioned in your post.

  19. Hi Garett,
    Thanks for sharing your story. It’s unbelievable about how much a simple gesture from your team mates can show empathy. I hate how some people feel the need to fix yourself up, instead of actually being there for you. I am glad that your team mates showed you empathy, in such a wonderful gesture.

  20. Hey Garrett,
    Sounds like you got dealt a tough hand that day. Reading your blog takes me back to my own senior year on rowing. I had been one of the best on the team at one point but had greatly declined while my friends all became stronger. Before every race or test piece, I’d spend the entire day in seclusion, letting the nerves consume me entirely. I know how tough it can be to not have people around you who get it so if you need to hit someone up, I can empathize.

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