If you are like me and played sports from a young age, people immediately categorize you as an athlete. For some reason we like to divide up the world based on the things we are good at, making us feel confident when things are really going our way. For athletes, that means we are more often than not placed on a pedestal for our successes in the world of sports and looked up to as role models.
But what happens when the curtain closes and you take your last bow? What happens if that occurs before you are ready for it to be over? As much as life as an athlete can carry lots of glory, it may carry a lot of hard times and a loss of identity when making the transition when your career is over.
For those of you who didn’t know, by the time I entered high school and then into university, my main sport of choice was field hockey. I played varsity field hockey at the University of Toronto and was a co-captain in my final year on the team. We were extremely successful, winning an OUA banner 3 times when I was on the team and placing 2nd at the CIS Championship twice. Definitely nothing to complain about! However, my career ended in a way that is different than most.
My last season of field hockey although on the field went well was a challenge off the field for a variety of reasons and so I came to the conclusion that I would no longer be part of the team heading into my fifth and final year of school. Many people were surprised I didn’t just “stick it out” and play my final year but I knew it wasn’t serving its purpose any longer. When I made my decision to stop playing, I knew that my fitness career was going to now take centre stage so my transition was not as hard as I have seen it be for others.
As an athlete you invest countless hours, your blood, sweat, and tears into your sport, often sacrificing many other things. Of course moving on after will be difficult when sport is the one thing that took up the majority of your life.
Although I knew where my energy and attention would be directed after athletics many athletes are left feeling lost and unsure of themselves. Physically and emotionally our bodies are changing and it often takes time to find new passions, new uses for our countless hours of free time and a new place to focus our energy.
The best advice is to take the qualities you possessed in sport and channel them elsewhere. As athletes we have a strong work ethic and are good at sticking to our plans to achieve results and reach our goals. Although it may not be for sport and a win or best time anymore, those qualities can be put to good use in other ways. For me, fitness instructing allows me to use my passion for movement and educate others. In terms of my competitiveness, I enjoy running. Racing allows me to be competitive with myself - definitely a trait acquired from sport.
Transitioning from sport will never be easy, but no change that happens in life is. It is a change. It will upset the norm you are used to. Take the lessons learned and the work ethic developed in sport and translate it into other places. Our bodies will change but it is up to us to learn to accept the changes and love our new bodies, new goals, and new identities.
I know this experience is unique and different for everyone. I am excited to be hosting my third panel discussion next Monday November 6th on the topic of Finding Your Identity After Athletics. Click the link here for more information. My hope is that you can join us to hear from the panelists, share your insight and learn from each others’ experiences to help us all develop a stronger identity after sport.
Be fierce. Be strong. Be vibrant.