This is part one of a series examining the changes experienced once an athlete finishes their time competing within their designated sport. This end could be due to graduating, deciding to move on, no further opportunities, and/or injury. There are many reasons why someone may no longer be competing, but there are often few resources for the athlete to manage the transition. So, this series endeavors to shed light on these changes.

         As summer begins and schooling comes to a close, sports are often wrapping up for the year or, for some, this marks a permanent end to their athletic careers. This time can be filled with a mix of emotions ranging from joy to grief to confusion, and everything in between. No matter how long someone has been involved in their sport, the completion of it marks some shift in identity.

         So often, especially for athletes competing at a high level, sport becomes a major, defining characteristic of their identity. This is an idea that’s also promoted in everyday conversation, as when introducing themselves the athlete will usually say something along the lines of, “I’m Sally, the soccer player.” They come to be known by this title to others in their life and community, but also themselves. Especially because so much time is spent dedicated to their athletic endeavor, often the person won’t have even been able to explore and establish other parts of themselves. So, when their sport comes to an end, the athlete is met with a gaping absence in themselves that can make them question who they are without this major part of how they defined themselves.

         Ways to process and redefine identity after sport are to first understand the emotions one is feeling due to the ending. As stated previously, these emotions vary widely! There can be grief, because maybe the person didn’t accomplish everything they wanted to, and now their opportunities to do so won’t look the same. There can be confusion; sports generally take up a large amount of time in someone’s life, so knowing how to reallocate that time can feel disconcerting. There can also be joy, which will occasionally be joined with shame for even having this emotion. But sometimes, a person will put so much of themselves into this sport, and they can be glad it’s over—which might make them question how much they loved it, hence the shame. Being able to accept and honor these emotions is a great first step in re-finding oneself after sport.

         From here, another important step is paying respect to the journey experienced within that sport. No matter how long or short, the individual has dedicated time, effort, and attention to their athletics, so appreciating their own unique experience can be healing in the conclusion. As well as honoring the journey, this also combines with reckoning with goals accomplished or left unfulfilled. Not everyone is able to accomplish everything they set their mind to in sport, and it can be hard to accept when that happens. So, reminding oneself that life can offer so many other things to chase and succeed within can be helpful.

         Finally, in establishing a new identity outside of sport, the person should take time to be curious about their own desires, values, and passions that exist not just in a sporting arena. Perhaps the person has always wanted to draw, but they’ve never had time to explore that as a hobby; that’s a wonderful place to start putting newfound energy into. Something to note is that athletes will often align their worth and value about themselves as being a direct reflection of their achievements or hard work. Separating from this idea and acknowledging that no one needs to do anything or win anything to be loved or valuable is hugely important in finding oneself after sport.

         To all my athletes finding themselves again post-sport, I see you and I understand you. Take all the time you need to move on and find yourself again. Please know that just because this chapter of sports has ended (at least in the way it once looked) does not mean the book of your life has ended. There are so many more chapters to write that can be just as, or more, fulfilling, and awe-inspiring.

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