“What do you do?” To the regular person the answer comes naturally, a no-brainer, but after my last year of basketball it soon became the most daunting and frustrating question you could ask me. I not only had no answer to this but I had no idea how to even begin to answer it, it embarrassed me to no end that my college degree gave me no preparation for replying to such a simple question.
Varsity athletes have spent most of their lives honing their skills and dedicating themselves to their sport and everything surrounding it. Thousands of hours spent in gyms, rinks, fields and weight rooms in hopes of excelling at the next level, or leading their teams to successful seasons. As your career deepens you dedicate increasing chunks of your life to preparation, conditioning and competition. You’ve become a part of something bigger, a key piece to a valuable team. In many cases, life revolves around the sport — it defines you…gives you purpose. Then suddenly, it’s gone.
As a fifth year there are many things you concern yourself with in the last months of your career: “Am I performing well?”, “How will our season be?”, “Am I being a solid leader?” “Will my body make it through the season?” With no realization of the drastic change and sense of loss about to take place and the lack of direction most alumnus face. Not only is it the last year you get to dawn your teams colours, surrounded by your ‘family’ but it’s also the last time you can claim the team and sport as your identifier. Right up to that last game you were a valuable commodity, and then, overnight you are no longer a part of it.
The adjustment period is very similar to a loss, mourning a part of who you are and the sport/team you left behind. You lose a giant part of who you are and your identity, the very core of your importance, suddenly you feel like less of a person, less valued. Even though your career has ended, your team and the sport continues as if you were never even there. Life of the team goes on without you. Many still find ways to connect themselves with the team, saying things like “I used to play..” taking advantage of any chance you have to reach back and show you used to be someone.
You lose the direction and sense of purpose given to you by throwing on your jersey, where you know your role, your day is planned and your future is scheduled. You put in five+ years of your life to that sport and team and suddenly you feel tossed aside and un-needed. You feel inadequate as an individual and it can be an incredible blow to your personality, self-esteem, and sense of value to the world. Being in your mid twenties is hard enough, trying to discover what you’re meant to do, what path is right and if your headed in the right direction. Add this to the gaping hole associated with losing who you are and what defined you for most of your life.
You spend very little time focussing on life after your athletic career; you are so engulfed in the atmosphere and so focussed on your goals that the end seems very distant and almost fictitious. Just as every season before, the end creeps up on you and before you know it, it’s over. Difference is, after this season, your life has completely changed.
Many athletes describe a sense of relief immediately after their last season ends but almost always go through “Post Career Syndrome” as I like to call it. Even when athletes are happy about moving on and starting the next chapter of their life they’re usually experiencing the sense of loss simultaneously. It’s like losing a friend, a comforting entity that always understood you. You might not always get along, some days you may even think you hate it but at the end of the day, you know the love is there, you’ll fight for it and its always there when you need it. Until it’s not.
Many reach a point of being ready to hang up their jersey, some have used their eligibility, some because of injury, some because of the realization they were not as successful as they thought and some just to see what else life has in store for them. However, even if they are able to find happiness in other parts of life, most athletes find it hard to clean out their locker for the last time. Knowing they’ll never have that level of competition again, have signed their last autograph, and won’t feel the rush of adrenaline associated with warm ups and team preparation in their gym, rink, diamond or wherever ‘home’ may be.
Finding a way to replace these feelings is a struggle… because you can’t. You can’t replace the feeling of competing in front of your family and friends, the relationships you develop, or the pride you feel telling people you play. All of these are one of kind. Although you can’t replace or replicate these emotions you can survive, there’s a light at the end of this, its called refocus. You are such more than an athletic career. Finding a new passion and direction wont happen overnight, it’s gonna be hard and frustrating but in time, you’ll find it. Be patient and trust that this too shall pass.
by Kiera Lyons