Why We Play: Sydney Nemphos, Lacrosse and Squash

Courtesy of Sydney Nemphos

When I was five, my parents signed me up for dance classes. I was terrible. Not the type of terrible that all five-year-olds are, but actually really, really bad at dance. I was so bad that I was only put into a single number in the dance recital at the end of the year. For reference, every other kid was in at least two dances, if not more. Afterwards, I was inconsolable; I didn’t understand why I couldn’t dance in as many dances as every other kid in the program. My grandfather, in an effort to console me, asked if I wanted to play soccer instead of dancing, as he had found a program for kids my age. I quickly agreed, and have since never looked back. 

Ever since that day, sports have been an incredibly important part of my life. So important, I still play two-thirds of the sports I started in elementary school  in college. I first picked up a lacrosse stick only months after I started kicking a soccer ball. Squash came a little later, when I was 10 and looking for a winter sport to fill the gap between the soccer and lacrosse seasons. Only so many kids get the chance to play a sport in college, let alone two, so it’s easy to assume that I was always incredibly driven, passionate, and successful in my sports. However, I’ve come close to quitting several times throughout my career. 

My parents have never forced me to do anything I haven’t wanted to do. They’ve been nothing but supportive and encouraging, and I am so thankful for them. They definitely make me think before I act. Whenever I’ve been on the verge of stopping, or think I cannot do something, they have always told me, even if it’s kind of clichéd, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” 

I first thought about quitting lacrosse in middle school. Lacrosse in elementary school was fun: It was all about running around outside and getting some exercise. But lacrosse became serious in middle school, and if you were going to be serious, you had to be on a club team and play tournaments all year round. However, to continue squash at a higher level, you had to to the same thing. I had a tough decision to make: Did I want to get serious about my lacrosse career or my squash career? Ultimately, while I decided that I still wanted to play squash, I was going to take the next step in lacrosse instead. 

My parents signed me up for club team tryouts, for one of the most recognized teams in the state, and I couldn’t wait. But I didn’t make the team. I was in sixth grade and I was convinced my lacrosse career was over. All of my friends were on a club team, and I was the kid who got cut. I told my parents I never wanted to pick up a lacrosse stick again. What was the point? I clearly wasn’t good enough to make a team, so how was I supposed to keep playing? Instead of buying into my pity party, my parents asked me if that was what I wanted. Did I want to stop playing? But that wasn’t what I wanted; I wanted to play lacrosse. Then why stop? If it’s what I loved to do, loved to play, I should continue to play. They helped me reach out to a couple of other club teams, even though tryouts were over, to see if anyone would be willing to give me a chance. Most said no, that their teams were full, but one coach said yes. She gave me a chance to tryout and I made the team. 

Courtesy of Sydney Nemphos

In ninth grade, I thought about quitting squash for the very first time. My high school was a pretty big squash high school. Many girls trained every day and played tournaments every weekend. I didn’t. I played maybe twice a week, three times if I was lucky and didn’t have a lot of lacrosse. I didn’t see the point in trying out for the school squash team, considering it was not likely that I would even make the JV team. Everyone played more than me, was better than me, had been playing longer than me. Ice hockey, on the other hand, was a sport no one in my school had played before. Tryouts would be an even playing field, so I was certain I would make the team. Again, my parents asked me if that’s what I wanted. I had already committed myself to proving everyone wrong as a lacrosse player, didn’t I want to do the same as a squash player? Even if I didn’t make a team at all, showing up and giving it my all was important. They were right: I hadn’t proven to be a quitter yet, so I couldn’t quit now. 

I didn’t get cut in the first round, but I didn’t ultimately make JV. I made varsity. I was the last on the ladder, but I was on the varsity team. I was on the team over girls who, the whole tryout, asked me why I was there, how I could possibly think I was just as good as them, or could make the team over them. But I did, and by my senior year, I was the top player on the ladder. 

Although squash couldn’t have been going better for me by my senior year, lacrosse couldn’t have been going worse. While I was recruited to play not just lacrosse, but squash, by senior spring, I had yet to step on the field in my last year of high school lacrosse. I had worked incredibly hard during my four years of high school lacrosse. My freshman year, I didn’t make varsity. My sophomore year, I made varsity, but was told I wasn’t the type of player who would ever step on the field. My junior year, I finally began to play, to prove my high school coaches wrong, but they left and a new coach began for my senior year. When I went to her office to ask what I could do—what I needed to do—to step on the field, even just for my senior game, she told me there wasn’t anything I could do. She just didn’t like how I played, and I wasn’t her vision of what a lacrosse player looked like. When I asked her to clarify what that meant, she told me I wasn’t the right build or the right size, and that I just didn’t look like, or play like, what she thought a lacrosse player was. 

I thought about quitting the team right on the spot. After leaving her office (and just maybe crying a little in my car) I decided that I wouldn’t give her the satisfaction of my resignation. In fact, I was going to show up to practice every day, with a smile on my face, and beat the crap out of anyone on the field who thought they were going to get by me, at any chance I was given. I’d like to say that after that, I started every minute of every game, but I didn’t.  That’s okay, because I kept going anyway. 

I play because I didn’t make a club team the first time I tried. I play because those squash players thought I couldn’t. I play because my high school coach said I wouldn’t step on the field because I wasn’t her type of player. Most importantly, despite the adversity, I play because I love it. I love my sports, I love my teammates, I love my coaches and I love playing for Vassar and being a Brewer. I play because nothing anyone says will ever stop me from doing what I what I’m passionate about. I play for me.

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