There comes a moment in every athlete’s career where the clock strikes 0:00 for the final time and part of you is changed forever.
For most of us, sports are so much more than a game – they are our life, they are who we are at the core, they are our identity. For college athletes, sports aren’t just a game you play to pass the time or a hobby – they are what gives us purpose in life.
Most of us have played sports since we were eligible, we’ve spent years of our lives training, competing and trying to better ourselves. We’ve done everything we could to be the best athlete we could be – we’ve done extra work, paid for training, participated in camps, whatever we could do to get us where we are. Then one morning we wake up and that’s the end of our playing career. It’s just over. All those years of hard work and dedication are gone.
You are no longer a student-athlete, you are no longer competing for anything, you are no longer going to practice every day and you no longer know where you belong. For the first time in your life you have no idea what’s next and there is no one there to guide you anymore.
When that final buzzer sounds and you hand in your jersey you are also handing in part of you. You are losing a part of you.
It’s missing things like long bus rides where you think of the most ridiculous things to do to pass the time. It’s the nights at hotels where you just do nothing but that’s enough because you’re surrounded by the people you love. It’s the crowds cheering you on and the good luck texts that come. It’s your parents driving all over just to watch you play for a couple hours. It’s the never ending daily stress that makes you feel everything and people who can actually understand what you’re going through.
It’s the coaches who have been there pushing you and the trainers who are always there to put you back together when you start falling apart. It’s the relationships you’ve created through your sport that make all the pain, early mornings, blood, sweat and tears worth it.
It’s more than just the big victories and breaking records, it’s being part of something bigger than yourself.
Sure, you can play in adult leagues or summer leagues, whatever is around you, but you will never, ever give you that same thrill. You will never get that same rush, that same competitiveness and you will never get to play on the same field as all your teammates again. All of that is just gone and a memory of the past.
Sports are the one thing that has given my life purpose all these years and after being done with college lacrosse for almost a year I still haven’t found anything that makes me feel as good.
I didn’t know what to do after I graduated. I felt depressed, I felt sad, I felt purposeless, I felt like I didn’t know who I was. The transition is quiet, it’s lonely, it’s heartbreaking. It’s going from playing the sport you love every day with your teammates who have become your family to not seeing them, to not playing. It’s trying to find your own way in this chaotic world without any guidance or support like you’ve had all these years leading up to this moment. You’re just alone now.
The silence grows so loud it’s almost deafening.
I’m scared nothing will ever make me feel as complete and as whole as sports did. I’m scared I’ll never feel as purposeful as I did every time I stepped on that field and knew I could make a difference, I knew I was needed. I’m scared I never am going to amount to anything in life like I did on the field.
But I know I will find that feeling and sense of purposefulness somewhere in life. I know I will find something that makes my heart beat out of my chest and my passion burn. It just won’t come a couple of times a week. Maybe it will only come a couple of times a year, but that’s part of letting go. It’s part of discovering who you are without your sport because as lost as you or I may feel, sports aren’t our identity. They are a part of us, but they are not all of us. And once you realize that then you will be able to move forward more easily.
Losing the game is the greatest loss I have ever suffered, but there is always more to live for. Remember the aches are just growing pains.