CWU athlete’s perspective on ‘person first, player second’

Anna Fridell and Isaac Hinson


Scottie Ellsworth posing for media day, Photo courtesy of Jacob Thompson

The number on the back of a jersey isn’t the only thing that defines who an athlete is.

To be a student-athlete comes with an extra responsibility of balancing multiple identities, according to CWU senior sport management major and men’s track and field and cross-country runner, Ty Savely. 

“You have to have that fine line of, ‘hey, when I show up to practice, I’m an athlete,’ but then the minute you go home to your normal, everyday life, you have to flip that switch and go, ‘I’m a normal person,’” Savely said. 

Recognizing that athletes are people first outside of just the sport they play is a challenge, according to CWU sophomore elementary education major and volleyball player Scottie Ellsworth. 

“I think that my sport runs my entire life.” Ellsworth said. “It’s absolutely a huge part of who I am. Another follow-up question would be, ‘is that a bad thing?’ And I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing.” 

Athletes may define themselves by their sport as a way to express their love and passion for it, according to Ellsworth. 

A student-athlete’s character goes far beyond just the sport they play, according to CWU senior finance major and football player, Zach Matlock. 

“I like to keep my own character, it’s not like, ‘oh he’s a football player.’ No, I say, ‘my name is Zach first, and I also play football’,” Matlock said.

Prioritizing mental health and communication can be difficult for athletes because they are accustomed to working hard on a consistent basis, according to Ellsworth. 

“It can definitely be a challenge for a lot of people including myself, communicating needs to either slow down or to take a break, take some time off,” Ellsworth said. “That’s all tough, and I can see that being an issue or challenge for many sports.”

To play a sport comes with an abundance of stress and pressure, but there are ways to deal with it, according to CWU fifth year biology major and men’s rugby player Alex Cleary.

Leaning on teammates and coaches for support is an effective way to clear the mind of critical thinking when things go wrong, according to Cleary. 

“If you’re in a high intensity situation, you can waste all that adrenaline and all that stress… All that energy can make it worse or it can make it better,” Cleary said. 

Pressure stems from the expectations of others and living up to a certain standard, according to Matlock. 

“[Pressure means] you got a lot to live up to, or a lot to accomplish because pressure I feel like comes from other people … as far as what they expect of you and for yourself too,” Matlock said. 

To be an athlete, even at a young age, comes with loads of sacrifices and time commitments according to Ellsworth. 

“Practice is a really important thing, [but] it can be a pain,” Ellsworth said. “When you’re little, you don’t want to do it, you want to go outside and have fun, you don’t want to practice.”

It is important for athletes to find other interests outside of the sport they play, according to Ellsworth.

“I’ve noticed in classes when they say, ‘what hobbies do you have?’, the athletes always just say their sport and don’t really have anything else,” Ellsworth said. “Beyond that, I think it’s really important to find things outside of the sport that you really enjoy doing.” 

The lockdown period of COVID-19 and cancellations of sports seasons presented an opportunity for athletes to step outside of their sport and find other hobbies, according to Cleary. 

“I was so focused on rugby like nothing else mattered, and then when [COVID] happened, I totally got a new perspective,” Cleary said. “I played way more golf, I started shooting a bow and hunting that year, and a bunch of things I could never do since I was always way too busy with rugby.”

Putting time into the things you love is worth the battle, according to Matlock.

“If you don’t love the sport, walk away from it [and] find something you do love,” said Matlock. “If you do something you love, there’s going to be times where it’s gonna be hard… but that’s what makes this sport great at the same time.”

Eventually though, the road comes to an end. Athletes can’t stay in college forever, and knowing that the journey as an athlete is ending is difficult according to senior infielder for the CWU softball team Myiah Seaton. 

“I’m definitely reluctant to leave,” said Seaton. “I actually talked on the phone with my parents about this, and I want to get in contact with a sports psychologist just because it has been hitting me pretty hard … And you don’t know how hard it’s going to hit you next year when you see them posting about the year starting.” 

When she looks back at her senior year, Seaton regrets pushing herself so hard, both mentally and physically. 

“I was trying to push myself even harder because I knew it was my last year, and the year before I definitely didn’t do as good as I wanted to do,” said Seaton. “I had that in the back of my mind like, ‘You don’t have enough time to sit around and wait,’ so I would make myself do stuff all the time. And I look back on that like ‘Man, that might not have been the best idea.’ But it seemed right because this sport was more important to me than anything else and putting that time into something that you had such a passion for, it didn’t really feel like much of a chore.” 

Seaton says that as the season started to slip away from the Wildcats it got harder to see the value in the work she put in. 

“As the season started dying down and as our record started going down a little bit, it was definitely hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Seaton. “There was a point where we knew we weren’t going to the postseason and that was rough.”

But losing the opportunity to play in the postseason ultimately relieved Seaton, she said. 

“That was right before our last series at home,” said Seaton. “Then [that] series was just to have fun. That was kind of nice because that weekend literally nothing mattered.”

Zach Matlock at quarterback, Photo courtesy of Jacob Thompson