Being a Division I athlete takes more than physical excellence.
UCLA sports garner media attention from across the country, and teams perform in front of crowds of people who expect wins.
The Ultimate Training Camp, a weeklong camp run by the Athletes in Action program, helps athletes manage the pressures of competing in the NCAA by bridging the gap between faith and sports.
UTC organizes a week of physical challenges designed to teach religious principles meant to help student-athletes re-evaluate how to take on the stresses associated with athletics, the foremost being the idea of “Audience of One.”
“‘Audience of One’ means that, when you’re performing, you’re performing for one person, which is God, first and foremost,” said rising redshirt junior Jada Hart. “And then you’re performing for your school, for your teammates, for your coaches.”
Hart, a member of UCLA women’s tennis, attended UTC with five other current UCLA Division I athletes. Some were exposed to the camp through Bruin Varsity Life, an on-campus Christian organization, while others heard about it from previous Bruin attendees.
The athletes learned to focus their efforts toward internal improvement rather than worrying about external stresses, such as expectations, rankings and potential injuries.
When Hart needs a moment of peace during a tough match, she grabs the “J” – the first initial of both her name and of Jesus’ – around her neck to remind herself not to dwell on outside pressures.
“We had to think of a focal point that really keeps us sane and just reminds us who we’re really playing for,” Hart said. “For me, my focal point is my necklace. If I’m playing, I’ll just grab it sometimes if I’m struggling and just say, ‘I’m doing it for Jesus and I’m not stressed, don’t be stressed, everything is going to be OK.’”
Many of the athletes were struggling with their sport prior to the camp and viewed the trip to Long Beach as a chance to gain a new perspective.
Rising redshirt sophomore Lindsay Corsaro, a member of UCLA women’s basketball, sat out her first season as a collegiate athlete due to an ankle injury. She struggled with establishing an identity outside of her sport, so she turned to her faith.
“I had been injured all year and that was kind of a hard obstacle to get through,” Corsaro said. “It was perfect timing, given the path I was on all year with the development of my faith through my injury.”
After returning to Westwood for her sophomore season, Corsaro reinjured her ankle. She was forced to sit out another season on the bench – but she said she was able to manage her emotions better this time.
“I think the camp taught me that my identity isn’t in basketball or the sport that I play,” Corsaro said. “So this year, while it’s still been hard being injured, I think I have a better perspective and I feel like I haven’t ridden the highs and lows as much.”
Rising redshirt junior Anika Rodriguez, a member of UCLA women’s soccer, originally attended the camp after dealing with a torn ACL and returned to work as an intern. She said she wanted to change the way she viewed soccer in order to reduce pressure and expectations.
“I was just coming back from an ACL tear, so I wanted to start my season with this camp and just figure out how to play my sport in a different way,” Rodriguez said.
Rising redshirt junior heptathlete Christina Chenault didn’t suffer an injury, but she struggled with the transition to the pressure of collegiate athletics. In dealing with the change, she began to question her faith.
“I saw myself as a victim,” Chenault said. “If anything bad happened to me, through sports or anything else, I just didn’t really understand the reasoning for anything, which was really frustrating.”
The standout challenge of the camp for the athletes was “The S.P.E.C.I.A.L,” a 24-hour period designed to test the athletes’ limits through small-group competitions.
“The S.P.E.C.I.A.L” consisted of ultimate frisbee, basketball, tug of war, swimming events, volleyball, push-up relays and a 1-mile run during which the athletes carry a plank of wood over their shoulder.
“It was meant to push you and it was meant to make you tired,” Hart said. “That was the most brutal part of the camp, but that was definitely also the highlight.”
Rising senior Allison Wieseler, a member of UCLA women’s water polo, said the athletes were forced to rely on their mental strength to endure the hardships of the competition and rely on one another for moral support.
“As hard as it was, it was just cool to look back and think, ‘I don’t think there is any way I could have done that on my own,’” Wieseler said. “Those people helped me through it – God helped me through it. Trusting and applying those principles was important.”
Wieseler said the best part about “The S.P.E.C.I.A.L” was the post-competition reward of a late-night run to In-N-Out, where the athletes became closer in their exhausted delirium.
The former campers created a community of their own. They show up to one another’s games and matches whenever possible – all playing for different teams, but all representing UCLA.
“Community is so important in the athletic world,” Wieseler said. “So having another smaller community that shares the same faith that you do, and the same relationship with God that you do, is powerful to help you through anything because they get when you’re struggling.”
Hart said the camp reminded her that she would always have a support system in her team at UCLA.
“There’s a passage that talked about the eight truths that God presented,” Hart said. “The one I chose that really stuck with me is that ‘I am not alone,’ and I think it applied so much at UCLA with my team. I know that I have teammates and coaches here that will always have my back.”