Tips For Athletes To Create An Identity After Sports

One of the most difficult aspects of an athlete’s transition to a life and career after sports is the issue of self-identity. He or she has been an athlete for the majority of their live and once the day comes to move on from the sport, they are not sure how to act.

VIKTRE Influencer John Haime is no stranger to this transition and temporary loss of self-identity. Not only does he specialize in the areas of performance and emotional intelligence as it relates to sport, but he is a former professional golfer who underwent to transition to life after the game himself.

In an article for his personal website titled “What’s Next – A Perspective of Athlete Identity,” Haime details the difficulties that athletes in any sport often encounter when the time comes to retire from playing. Additionally, he provides five tips or suggestions to make this process easier, which are as follows.

Do not wait until you retire to start thinking – “what’s next?”

Haime says that the aforementioned question must be answered during your athletic career, as early preparation for your next step is critical. The phrase “proper planning prevents poor performance” immediately comes to mind in this instance. Although you are likely focused on being the best athlete and teammate while contributing towards a goal of winning a championship during your playing days, having conversations and doing research about the future is important.

During your playing career, you have resources available to you that might not be once you retire. Taking advantage of opportunities that your players’ association and/or league provide can set you up for success when the day comes to hang them up. For example, the NFLPA has an externship program in place for current players to gain experience in various professional industries. Indianapolis Colts left tackle Anthony Castonzo participated in the externship this past offseason in which he worked in West Hollywood at Whalerock Industries in their Media & Technology Development, Computer Science division. For more on his experience, check out the Q&A we did with him back in March here.

Take some time to heal emotionally.

They say that athletes die twice – and most do, according to Haime. Studies have shown that when an athlete leaves the game, they endure stages of grieving similar to those that people experience during death and dying: anger, denial, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

During this difficult time, taking some time to decompress and get your mind right is crucial. Take a vacation, disconnect from technology, talk to a therapist, do whatever you need to do to help you let go. However, Haime recommends not waiting too long to start a new challenge.

Always remember that what you do is not who you are.

As we grow up and get involved in different things, our personal identity constantly shifts. When an athlete goes from the top of his or her respective sport to a life without that sport, their identity goes through another shift. Haime says that it is your job to identify your strengths and passions because you are capable of great things in more than just sports.

Matt Barkley, former USC Trojan great and current free agent NFL quarterback, exemplifies this sentiment in the biography of his Twitter account with the phrase – “I play quarterback, but that doesn’t define me.” His Twitter activity is consistent with this phrase as he is constantly talking about technology, sharing pictures of his family, interacting with fans and yes, talking about football.

By finding passions and interests outside of sports and aligning yourself with them, it will be easier to identify as more than just an athlete.

Find a mentor or join a support network with those who can understand your challenge.

Although it is common to feel alone or like you are on an “island” during this transition that could not be further from the truth. Whatever sport you play, there have been many before you that have gone through the same thing in terms of retiring.

For example, the NFLPA has The Trust, which “provides transitioning football players with the support they need to ensure their success off the field and in life.” It provides services for former NFL players in terms of business, career, education, finances, medical/wellness and many other facets of life after the game. Former players who want to take their involvement to the next level serve as “captains” assisting program participants through their career change, as they experienced a transition first hand.

Understand how you can leverage your athletic career moving forward.

A common misconception is that when professional athletes retire from their playing careers they never need to work again. In reality, the vast majority of athletes are not making tens of millions of dollars each year. The mega deals that a few NBA stars signed this past offseason are among the few professional athletes that are set for life and likely never need to work again upon retirement.

For those who need to find a second career after sports, it is important to leverage the resources available to you during your playing career. The networking possibilities, connections made and opportunities provided to you should be utilized when preparing for the next step. In our last article, we provided five lessons learned from sports that former athletes can apply towards a second career. By using these lessons combined with your status as a professional athlete, you can set yourself up for a successful transition.

After identifying as an athlete for so long, it is understandably difficult to disassociate with sports. Since athletes retire at a relatively young age compared to that of other professions, figuring out passions outside of sports is important. That said, there must be a balance when shifting identities. Haime sees two extremes in athlete identity that leads to problems: athletes who keep their entire athletic identity when they leave sport and do not want to let go and move on; and, athletes who completely dismiss their athletic careers and discard it in order to move forward. Both of these scenarios are unhealthy. The key is figuring out that balance. By considering these five tips, athletes should be able to achieve this balance when shifting their identity.

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