An Athletes Guide To Vulnerability

As an athlete, I’m taught to be tough. I’m taught to fake confidence, even when I’m not feeling great, because I’m never supposed to show my opponent my weaknesses. It’s part of athletics, and part of competition.

However, I’ve found that way too often, this “toughness” transfers into my relationships with others. At times, I find myself hesitating to share my heart, even with my closest friends. I worry they will view me as weak, something I never want to be seen as.

Over time, I’ve realized this is just a huge temptation to my pride. Since when does vulnerability equal weakness?

In fact, I would argue that opening yourself up to others denotes strength and courage. It takes guts to humble yourself and show that you’re human, that you struggle. It takes strength to relate to someone and show them they aren’t alone.

While sports teach us to compete and be strong, the same shouldn’t be true in life. Let’s leave the game on the court because the people around you are not your opponents.

Despite what others may say, you’re not competing against anyone out here in the real world. We’re all in the same boat, just trying to figure out life and get closer to heaven. We are all weak. We are all struggling. We are all sinners.

So, if you’re like me and struggle to be vulnerable because of your competitive nature and inherent toughness, here are some helpful tips to remind you that it’s okay to let people in.

Josie Kuhlman celebrating a point.
Photo Courtesy of UAA Communications / Photo by Jim Burgess.

Tip #1: Humble yourself. You’re not perfect!

Vulnerability takes humility. However, a lot of us athletes tend to be proud. For me, that fake confidence I talked about earlier often transfers off the tennis court. Even when things aren’t going great in life, I often pretend everything is fine and life is good. Many times, I won’t share my struggles with others because I want them to think I have everything figured out, just like on the tennis court.

But, that’s a total lie! We aren’t perfect, so let’s stop pretending. Nobody wants to be friends with fake people. They want friends who are real, who struggle, and who are authentic. So, let’s take a dose of humility and wipe the chips off our shoulders.

Tip #2: Start with God and go from there.

We can’t open ourselves up to others if we don’t first open up to God. Tell Him what’s on your heart  and what you’re struggling with. I know this takes a huge weight off my shoulders when I give all my worries and concerns to Him. You also won’t be able to let others in until you let God in. So let Him into your heart. Give Him permission to be in your life and let Him love you.

Tip #3: Close family and friends are gold.

A couple years ago, I realized not many of my close friends really opened up to me and I wondered why. I was kind of hurt they weren’t comfortable talking to me about things I knew they were struggling with, when all I wanted to do was help. Then someone pointed out to me that if I wanted people to be vulnerable with me, I needed to be vulnerable with them. And, it’s so true…

If you truly want to have deep, meaningful relationships with the friends and family around you, you must share yourself with them. The strongest relationships in my life are with those people I’ve shared my joys, sorrows, pains and triumphs with. I didn’t hide anything, but brought them into my life in all seasons. While sometimes it’s almost harder to open up to those close to us, it’s vital if we want to have authentic and fruitful friendships. Remember, these are the people who love you most in life, so there’s nothing to be scared of!

Josie Kuhlman forehand-swinging at a tennis ball.
Photo Courtesy of UAA Communications / Photo by Madison Ross.

Tip #4: Have friends outside your competition.

While opening up to close family and friends is wonderful, it’s also good to talk to people you aren’t around 24/7. I got a lot better at vulnerability when I made friends outside of tennis. It was really hard for me to open up to people I was around all the time because they were used to me being tough and put together all the time. That made it hard for me to have the humility to share my struggles. It was only after I found friends through my college’s Catholic Campus Ministry that I gained the confidence to be vulnerable to my tennis friends, and even my family.

Tip #5: It doesn’t have to be a pity party.

I think one of the main reasons why people refrain from sharing themselves with others is they don’t want it to be a pity party for themselves. Sometimes I have something on my heart, but don’t want to make it seem like I’m complaining, or that I’m a crybaby for sharing. However, this is just a big lie the devil tries to tell us to prevent us from having heartfelt conversations. While I’m not saying we should constantly be talking about what’s wrong in our lives, we should feel comfortable talking with those closest to us about what’s on our hearts. It will not only lighten the load we carry, but it will also give us healthier, more authentic relationships. And, what more can we want?

Now, I will leave you with this line from P.T. Barnum’s wife, Charity, in the movie The Greatest Showman.

“You don’t need everyone to love you, just a few good people.”

-Josie Kuhlman

Josie Kuhlman played NCAA Division I Tennis at the University of Florida from 2014-2018, where she won a national championship. She is currently pursuing a career in professional tennis.

To read more content from Josie, visit her blog Beautiful Depths.

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