How I Reshaped My Athlete Identity
Who am I now... that I am no longer a competitive athlete?
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. When I hung up my shoes up for the last time there was a sense of relief. I thought "hey, now I have a life and can do what I want, nothing will hold me back, no practice, and best of all no conditioning." As time passed I could feel myself wishing to be playing again and not just playing but competing at a high level. I wanted to feel the anticipation of game day, and to see Mavericks and the number 23 on my jersey as I ran out for warm up. I wanted to hear the cheers from the crowd as I stepped onto the court. I wanted to be at pre-season practices running lines with my teammates.... ok maybe not running lines, but I wanted to be there. When my final buzzer sounded... I was left with nothing more than a memory, all alone, and completely lost.
There’s no training for the after...
As I thought more about what was going on, I discovered it was less about the actual playing, yes that was part of it, but mainly the fact that my identity had been taken away. Giving up and letting go of sports (even if it was for eligibility reasons) was going against everything that made me a high level competitor. Being an athlete was something that I was proud of my entire life, people knew me as a basketball player, I loved this identity, it made me feel different and special. It set me apart, it was my identity.
It was refreshing to find out that I wasn’t alone with this feeling, I started researching and talking to other athletes whose competitive athletic chapters had come to a close.
One article in particular, that really hit home was by Gayelene Clews in which she mentioned, “The athlete’s transition will be improved if they have a balanced sense of who they are. The more complex the athlete’s identity the more able they will be to manage life after sport. But many athletes don’t have a good sense of who they are outside the athletic arena.”
This at first made me angry, of course I didn't diversify myself... if I did, I wouldn't be as good as I was at my sport, I would be like everyone else.
As I started thinking about it again, I realized I now can manipulate and change who I am. This thought gave me inspiration because I could invest my time in various activities and for once I could diversify my identity and passions. I would use what athletics taught me about overcoming adversity and start adding to my identity. I started investing time into things that I once overlooked because 100% of my energy was pushed to sport. I started learning my sport from the coaching perspective, started up with photography, and started playing beach volleyball. I was introducing or reintroducing myself to interests that I never could make a priority during athletics. Even as I started thinking about the possibilities I could feel the healing process begin. I could use everything that I had learned from athletics and use these intangible life skills to hone and become an even more well rounded woman than I had been before. Finding out there is a lot more to me and my identity than only being a high level athlete kickstarted the healing process.
It Takes Time
Naturally as a typical 20 something, I pulled a "millennial" and thought I would figure out my new identity in a day. Unfortunately, it didn't arrive as fast as my Amazon package. Each day, I find that I have to remind myself that this is a process and takes time to develop and mature.
I constantly tell myself to live in the present and as cliche as it sounds, “it’s about the journey.” I do still miss the competition and the focused passion I once felt, but the more I explore my inner self, I am able to discover new ways to compete and develop passion towards different areas of my life. These are a couple of things that have helped me personally so far.
Coaching/ Mentoring young athletes
Working out with my athletic friends
Photography (opens up creativity and works my mind in a different way)
Creating a company that has a bigger purpose beyond myself
Playing Beach Volleyball
Trying new things and stepping out of my comfort zone has helped me feel a sense of worth and exhilaration similar to what I felt from playing. Surrounding myself with other athletes and a community who cares and understands what I am going through is instrumental in this developmental process. The court may look different but I still get the chance to compete and be the best at what I’m doing. Sports and being active will always be a component of my life, but it’s just that... a piece.
-- ANONYMOUS, COLLEGE ATHLETE
**Pictures do not represent the author in this blog piece.
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