I was lucky enough to be a senior athlete twice. Once as a high school player and again in college. I have to be totally honest both times were not the greatest for me in terms of having great stats, winning championships, and going out with a bang. I struggled with this for a while. I went back and forth wishing things might have been different, wishing I had tried harder, and wondering who I would be now. I was hard on myself and I based my last year, the last at-bat, the last catch on who I was as an athlete, overlooking the 10+ years of accomplishments.
Dear athlete, you have been through a whole lot especially in 2020-2021. You might be confused, you might be angry, you might be okay, whatever you feel, feel it. Some of you had absolutely no control over how this chapter of your athletic career ended, you can’t go back and change the performance you had or get back the time lost in the pandemic. Some of you may have even found you don’t miss your sport at all. There is no shame in allowing yourself time to process all of it. It is apart of the journey.
I am going to list some things that I wish I had done sooner and it is the same things I help the athletes I work with now.
Accepting what has happened is more than just saying there’s nothing I can do about it, it is what it is (I hear this a lot). I want to encourage you to develop a new and loving relationship with the experience you are going through. It won’t happen overnight but there is so much more about you, about your sport, about your experience that is going to be more valuable than finishing the season, winning that championship, and going out with a bang. The story you will be able to tell, the character you will build, and the knowledge you will be able to share in the future will be irreplaceable.
This is another area I struggled with for a very long time. As an athlete I wanted to be the best, I wanted to continue to be more successful than I was before, and I had a hard time looking back and being proud of myself. I didn’t become a professional athlete, I didn’t win the golden glove award, I didn’t become All-American. My university probably would not remember my name. These are all things I thought about after my career was over. I reflected on what I could have been and not what I was.
I challenge you, to reflect on your accomplishments, on the moments that brought you joy in and out of the game. The things you have gained and the things you have learned. I have my athletes write out all of their accomplishments, awards, friendships, fun moments, and places you traveled. How you reflect directly influences, your thoughts, your emotions, and your behaviors moving forward.
All of the skills and conversations I share with my athletes are in some way helping them understand themselves better. After we are done being athletes there is usually a lost sense of self and identity. After college, I continued to compete in any way I could searching for fulfillment in any sport I could. I kept doing and going without reflecting, without accepting, hoping one day I would just wake up fulfilled. I am by no means saying athletes don’t know who they are but they usually put so much of themselves and so much of their self-worth into what they do that it’s hard to process anything else. Other interests and dreams are put on the back burner for our sports. This can make the transition really hard for some. You are an athlete and so much more.
I encourage athletes to again take some time to write down your strengths as a person, your interests, your values, your world views, and what matters most. You will always be an athlete, and anything else you want to be. I want you to take a step back and start finding you. Your sport does not define you it elevates you to take on whatever comes next.
“Dear Athlete, the next chapter of your life will be as bright and fulfilling as you want it to be. Find you, be you, enjoy you.”-CortCortnee WHite, M.Ed