There was never a course in college about how to integrate into life after college sports. I played competitive basketball for 16 years. Pouring everything into the sport. I wasn’t just Hanna, I was “Hanna the basketball player” my name might as well have been Hanna Ball. When ball wasn’t life anymore some struggles came from it that I did and didn’t expect. I enjoy finding people who have commonality, so in my own personal struggles, I investigated some other athletes who also gave their life to sports and uncovered their struggles during the transition, and ways they pushed forward in their new journey. Here is how they started creating their new identities.
The first struggle that most athletes can identify with, is the loss of identity. Athletes are so set on being an athlete with a fierce desire and passion. It can be easy to overlook other interests and passions. Trying new things and exploring life beyond competitive athletics can help with finding love and passion in other areas of life. As I investigated this further, I spoke with a good friend, former D1 swimmer and one of the most competitive people I know, Emily Stucky. When her time as a competitive athlete was finished, she had a difficult time finding her new path, when it came to health and working out. She started by focusing on her new goal, body image as it was a good tool to measure health and fitness. Unfortunately, this view did not give her the fire or goal that she was looking for. Through much searching, resilience, and trial and error she was able to find a new outlet. Emily said she “tried so many different forms of working out and dieting within the first couple months after college swimming, and by complete accident [she] found boxing. Boxing has helped [her] to stay healthy and love exercising. It has allowed [her] to love [her] muscular and athletic physique and forced [her] to have a nutrition plan that keeps [her] feeling great.” I also had the chance to speak with a former teammate, Kelsey Sigl, who went through a similar struggle this is what she had to say about losing a piece of her. She said, “when the decision to "hang 'em up" came around, I was faced with a lot of doubt regarding the next step of life. I feared I wouldn't be as 'successful' in whichever path I chose, relentless to let go of who I identified myself as - 'Kelsey, the basketball player' and allow space for what potentially could be!” For Kelsey the best thing for her was to change her perspective instead of trying to hold tightly to what had been, she in a way had to let it go to be able to move onto the next chapter. “Appreciating what was and applying the various lessons basketball taught me, I was able to greet the 'unknown' with confidence and wide open arms.” Her best piece of advice is to enjoy the journey and start making some more great life stories as you build your new identity.
Competitiveness/ Working Towards Goals
For most athletes, it helps to figure out how to focus their competitive nature into different aspects of life. Each day at practice they work toward a goal of winning and doing whatever it takes to be the fastest, strongest, the best. Each day is met with one question. “Who is getting beat today?” As most athletes will move out of this platform at some time or another, it can be hard to figure out when and when not to be competitive as well as find outlets to be competitive. Emily found, “In athletics, we are constantly working towards a goal and a purpose. When I stopped swimming I didn't have many short term goals that would keep me motivated in my everyday life. I always knew that my purpose came from something bigger than myself, but when I stopped swimming I had to learn what that actually meant to me. I also had to learn how to set daily, weekly, and monthly goals for myself so that I felt motivated to excel and grow in my career, friendships, and personally (physically, mentally and spiritually).” Others athletes found that they want to step out of this competitive nature and create a space where everything is not a competition, making self-goals instead of comparing oneself to others. Kelsey took this approach, “A thing [she] still find challenging is not making everything competitive, mostly with myself.” She has been able to find more constructive ways to have healthy competition in her life and still on occasion swings by an outdoor court and get a few shots up, and 'playfully' challenge anyone around to a quick game of HORSE.
Athletes spend so many hours with teammates who become so much more than teammates they become family. “We spend endless amounts of time with the same friends, we all work towards the same goals, and we see the best and worst days of our teammates. We get the privilege of experiencing life with a group of people in a way that is incredibly unique,” said Emily. The first thing athletes including myself missed from their sports were the teammates who they played with and shared this experience. It is more than just teammates these people became family. At times this can feel very hard to replace. “Not seeing/being around teammates 17 hours/day 6 days/week. A group of girls who essentially become 13 of your nonblood-related sisters. You become so close you know each other's every characteristic, 'good' or 'bad.” It is imperative that athletes find a community of like-minded people put themselves in places that breed an environment of like-minded individuals, gyms are a great place to start. Another way to get connected is by joining online community forums of former college athletes. Check out this new community Mpowher Athlete, whose mission is to link up athletes with other athletes to connect on a personal, professional, and geographical level.
Whether it is a gym, community or network, it is essential that athletes find a group of people that they can connect with post athletics. Both Kelsey and Emily are learning to find their way through life after athletics and the Mpowher Athlete community has helped them find their new team. Enjoy your journey!
Guest blog post from Mpowher.