PEACE UNDER PRESSURE
As a sophomore in a Division I basketball program, Natalie Chou was facing an unknown future. She could stay in an environment where her mental health was faltering, or she could choose to make a change.
“I wasn’t really sure of myself. My lazy self would’ve just let me stay in what was happening. I knew if I wanted to grow and have better mental health, I needed to stand up for myself,” Natalie said.
Natalie made the tough decision to transfer schools but had no idea where she would end up. It was then that her faith in God was tested. She grew up in a family that went to church every week, but going through the transfer process caused her to truly turn to God.
“Growing up, we went to church every Sunday as a family, but my relationship with God wasn’t really my own. Going to church was just something I did. It wasn’t until I got to Baylor and went through the process of transferring from Baylor to UCLA that I began to really lean on God.”
Thankfully, Natalie’s friend, Val, didn’t let Natalie go through the process alone, praying and sharing stories from the Bible with her.
“We prayed a lot together throughout the whole process. It was scary because I didn’t know where I was going to end up, but I trust that God had me in the palms of His hands. I ended up at UCLA, and now I can see God’s hand over that whole process,” Natalie says.
In addition to choosing a new school, Natalie was also facing an internal challenge that many athletes battle.
“I struggled with always trying to impress others. I would define my value based on how I play on the court,” Natalie says.
"God knows where I’ll end up. I really try not to overthink or stress about it because I know I’ll be alright."
In 2019, a year after transferring to UCLA, Natalie traveled to Barcelona, Spain, with Athletes in Action®. While competing against professional teams, she learned how to use her sport to honor God rather than to earn praise for herself.
“They gave us a workbook, and one page I really remember is Audience of One. It means knowing I don’t play basketball or do anything else for anyone else except for myself and God. That’s something I struggled with, and it’s something I’ve gotten a lot better at since the trip.”
“I still feel the impact that that trip has had on me even three years removed.I learned so much about me, about God and about my relationship with God,” Natalie says.
In the midst of her packed schedule of classes, practices and traveling for games, Natalie prioritizes spending time with God to remember who she is.
“I try to find little pockets of the day to focus on Him. When I scooter to practice, I have a conversation with God and play worship music. I love ‘Promises’ by Maverick City music,” Natalie says.
“Don’t let your sport or anything else that you do define who you are. Know that who you are is rooted in Christ. It was something I didn’t learn until my junior year of college. I still struggle with it sometimes, but I would tell young college athletes to know who your worth comes from,” Natalie says.
There is a constant pressure of assignments, exams and big games that many college athletes like Natalie face. Journaling and reading Scripture help Natalie talk to God and remember His promises.
“I like to write a lot. My journal entries are my prayers to God. It’s really important to me to have that time alone with Him. Before games, I like to read Isaiah 40:31,” Natalie says.
Isaiah 40:31 (NIV) says, “But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
Natalie is surrounded by a community at UCLA that supports her in her faith and wants to see her grow. “Many of the coaching staff are believers and have been really great mentors to me. I’m able to go to them and ask questions about my faith, and they give me advice,” Natalie says.
As she looks toward graduation this spring, Natalie is yet again facing an uncertain future. But, she isn’t worried.
“I’m trying to stay in the moment and enjoy every game as a gift. My dream is to play professional basketball. But, something that my mom and I talk about a lot is that my life and future is in God’s hands. That’s the most relieving thing that anyone could have.”
“God knows where I’ll end up. I really try not to overthink or stress about it because I know I’ll be alright,” Natalie says.
The Bruins will compete in the NCAA tournament for the seventh consecutive season.
“Being able to have that opportunity to play at the highest level against the best competitors is amazing. I love the NCAA tournament. It brings out the spirit of basketball. It’s when everyone is playing their best basketball so it’s really fun.
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