Do you remember the first time you were introduced to sports?
Was it a family tradition to go to a sporting event or a holiday custom that transformed the family backyard into a competitive gridiron?
Regardless of the sport, every athlete can quickly reflect to the exact
moment they found their first love.
In some cultures, sports are considered a rite of passage either to build or continue the trials and triumphs of a legacy.
Whatever the pairing of parents and children, sports will always be moments of affection, growth, and hope in the eyes of the beholder.
The Benefits of Sports
For years, researchers have discussed the benefits of participating in sports.
For instance, National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) conducted a review on the psychological and social benefits of participating in sports as children and adolescents.
Eime (2013) found that participating in sports not only improve their physical fitness and health, but it also improved their mental strength in academic performance.
In addition to the physical and mental benefits, sports can adjust your social environment as well by increasing your interpersonal skills and peer relationships.
As former athletes, avid sport enthusiasts, or parents of young athletes, we are all too familiar to these facts.
Audrey Codner (#13) rebounding against Temple University, January, 1994. Notice the grab on the wrist.
As a former collegiate and professional athlete, I appreciated the attention from adoring fans, being granted opportunities to travel to various countries to interact with many people and getting paid to showcase my talents on and off the court.
Although experiencing these and much more was great; however, witnessing the transformation of strangers and rivals from various parts of the country (at times, various parts of the world) to becoming a strong family unit will always be one of the most impressive feats any sport team will encounter.
Every team has a goal: to use our talents to join in battle to conquer friends and foes of other teams to reach the peak of the championship.
Regardless of gender, level of competition, or sport, building a relationship, a program, a family was the most challenging yet beneficial time that every athlete will face in their career.
But what do you do when the Friday Night Lights don’t shine for you anymore? What do you do when the phone stops ringing and the fans have moved on to the next happening star?
At one point in your career, you dreamed of the time when you can have some peace and not worry about trying to keep your private life private.
The one day you can be alone with your own thoughts without feeling like you are letting people down. But this is different…this is a space that is missing in your soul and you do not know how to define it.
No one ever told me that I will experience such a feeling of pain in my life. We tend to hear and experience such pain in many sad breakup songs, but they are directed to the lonely hearts not athletes…right?!?
Is this a breakup? Where were the signs? How was I to know that there were problems in our relationship? How can I put it right?
Moment of Reflection: The Beginning
My love for basketball started when I was in high school.
I was 6 feet tall and “big boned”. A few people in my life said that I could either be a model or a basketball player…I guess I chose basketball because I was not about that carrot-celery life.
The first time I saw basketball was on ABC’s Wide World of Sports but never really had an interest at the time.
It was my first day of tryouts and I had no clue what I was doing. The coach told me to run, I ran. He told me to slide, I slid.
After 3 days of what I called torture, I noticed my name was on the list. I made the team! I had no clue how.
So, after our first practice, I walked up to the coach and asked him “how did I make the team?” There were so many other girls who were better than me. Coach Matt looked at me and said, “you can’t teach height!”
Three years later, I moved from not knowing to being known!
Letters from potential colleges started pouring in. Top named colleges wanted me in their programs and many people wanted me to help them with their business ventures.
I was loved by all, viewed by many, and respected by a few. All of this did not matter to me because my focus was on the Championship.
From the Catholic League to the Atlantic 10, I worked hard for the school, for the team, for my family, and for all those who needed me to succeed.
Many people see athletes having the good life. Being able to create a life of luxury for their families and friends is worth all the abuse, hard work, stress and strain just to see them happy.
I love when you ask someone about Kobe Bryant or Moses Malone, the first thing they will say is that I know everything about him then continue to recite all their statistics.
Is that all we are to people? A trivia question on Jeopardy?
But how can I blame them…this is all that we present to them. This is all that they dream of. The dream of being known and relevant through cultures and generations.
But now it's time for me to get to know who I am.
I have been on this earth for many years and I still have no clue.
I am a daughter. I am a wife. I am a doggie mama. I am a stepmom. I am step grandmother. I am a friend. I am now a business owner (something my father always said I should be).
With all of these facets, I am still confused.
I am still lost. I am still alone. It's funny that the loneliness place to be is around people. They feed you with what they think you need. They tell you what you want to hear. They tell you your next steps. Then you graduate.
They thank you for your service with a picture, a token snapshot of what they viewed as your best moment to help you to remember the “good times”. Who knew that your last reward would be your best moment? But… now what?
I FEEL LIKE A FAILURE!
I don’t want to be that G.O.A.T who is now working at Lids just to feed their family. I don’t want to be a local bartender where most of my patrons recognize me and constantly talk about yesteryear.
How can I fill this “hole” in my soul? How can I shut off the noise of ‘would of-should of-could of’?
Making a Decision
We all have choices: some good, some bad. No matter what, we must make a choice.
But when you are in a place of internal strife and darkness, making choices just adds to the stress. I made a choice to share the darkest part of my life to you in hope to help a future athlete through their own struggles with their next steps.
You are not alone.
There are many of us who went through the undefined emotions and found a way through it.
Unfortunately, there are many who have not. This is the main reason why I decided to share my thoughts.
Recently, I lost a former student-athlete to suicide. We have talked about the changes he was encountering but the darkness consumed him to a point of no return. His dream of being an NBA player was quickly dejected when he graduated from college.
His dream was his drive. It was his reason to breathe. It was his reason to exist. Since he was not about to do this; he probably saw no reason to move forward. He knew he was loved by many and respected by all, but he just couldn’t see pass the fact that his dreams had to change to fit his new reality.
He is not alone.
Many former athletes continue to make bad decisions to help fill this undefined “hole” in their soul. From self-medication to self-harm, many athletes are trying to make themselves relevant at any means necessary.
Some found help through professional counseling or alternative mind reset programs.
But I developed the notion that NEVER show your weakness! But I needed help. So where can athletes go to get help during the transition phase from sports?
What I know now that I wish I knew then
When I was in high school, every student had a personal meeting with the guidance counselor to talk about possible college majors and what I would like to do for a lifelong career.
I always wondered if anyone REALLY know what they wanted to do with the rest of their lives at the age of seventeen. Unlike today, there are children as young as 8 years old starting their own Fortune 500 businesses and looking to expand. WOW!
All jokes aside, things are changing but how athletes, amateur or professional, are still being treated the same way: taken advantage of and not prepared for the world ahead.
Most non-athletic college students and faculty view athletes as the privileged ones on campus. They do not have to pay for their books, worry about getting good grades, and have the school community at their feet…so you think.
The grass may seem greener on the other side it’s because they use more manure.
Student-athletes cannot experience college to the fullest like most. They cannot experience internships for their majors due to time restrictions and emotional restraint from coaching staff stating that you are being selfish and not thinking about the team. “Don’t you think other people want to go on internships for their majors? What makes you so special?”
The funny part is that to get a job of some caliber you need experience. No internship + No Experience = No Future.
Many coaches think they are doing their part by having a brief “heart-to-heart” talk about what you want to do with the rest of your life one week after the end of their Senior year.
How was that going to help me and my future? What does life look like after basketball? What options do I have?
To better prepare, I feel that every college/university should have a dedicated person (or a team of people) to help student-athletes to discuss, design. and implement an exit plan prior to the start of their Junior year. Not only to start having discussions, this program needs to be a graduation requirement for all collegiate athletes.
I worked at a local high school as a math teacher and the school developed a Capstone program to help students to get a taste of the real-world application of potential careers. It allows students to get a better perspective about possible majors and potential careers that will encourage their talents as well as their pursuit of said careers through real-world application.
It could be a worldwide event for all local businesses to adopt a college athlete during the summer of their Junior year to complete a summer internship of their major. This type of program in hand with realistic discussions about next steps can assist with lessoning the shock of athletic transition and the feeling of abandonment.
In addition to the program, I believe that every university should have monthly check-ins throughout the first year of post-graduation to all student-athletes to ensure a high level of support while the athletes transitioning to real-life scenarios. I understand that there will be a lot of metaphorical red tape in dealing with this task but if not here, where will student-athletes gain access to this needed support?
After playing overseas, I had to find my why. I had to re-learn about the other parts that make me the natural-born leader I am today. It takes a lot of strength and many hours of reflection to develop a snippet of knowledge about oneself.
I was not prepared for the life I had before me but I can be there for those behind me. The only way I can is to try. Yes, just like that…try.
Try to find my heart. Try to find my voice. Try to find…ME!
This is not easy at all. To make myself relevant again (but for myself-not for a school, sports program, family), I need to help build someone else up. I am still learning and I am starting to feel comfortable about the woman that I am becoming.
It is a scary place but with my faith and surrounding myself with strong- willed people, I can see my truth a little bit clearer every day.
This was one of the hardest assignments I ever had to complete. As I reflected, the feelings of loneliness quickly emerged but I felt ok about it because I had to think beyond me.
I am thinking about the parent who wants the world for their child, the coach who would fight for their players, the sports enthusiasts that wants to know more about seeing both sides of the athletic story, and the athlete who does not know how to define their feelings towards life after sports.
Just because the Friday Night Lights do not call to you anymore, it does not mean that is the only light out there that matters.
Shine your light Boo Boo!
Shine your light!
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Eime, R. M., Young, J. A., Harvey, J. T., Charity, M. J., & Payne, W. R. (2013). A systematic review of the psychological and social benefits of participation in sport for children and adolescents: Informing development of a conceptual model of health through sport. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 10(1), 98. doi:10.1186/1479-5868-10-98