By: Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.
After teen athletes retire from their sports, there are a few harsh realities they will face while adjusting to “normal” life. Here are some of the biggest challenges to shifting down from that prolonged adrenaline high that results from competitive sports:
- Body Image- When you are surrounded by athletes, you can take it for granted that everyone seems to take care of their bodies. What you fail to see is that maintaining these perfect bodies requires a tremendous amount of time and work that most people are not willing to put in (nor do they have the need) to stay in competitive shape. Once you stop working out three (3) hours a day, every day, you will notice changes to your body including a loss of some hard-earned muscle mass. As your body adjusts to a new routine, your athletic training will come in handy if you naturally crave healthy snacks, avoid junk food, and do not resent having to hit the gym on a regular basis. These three engrained traits can actually help you control weight gain throughout adulthood without the need for drastic measures.
- Time Management- Athletes are used to having packed schedules all the time, including weekends. As a result, it can be difficult to appreciate having some downtime. Learning to relax may not come easily at first, and it may even take years to find new, less intense ways to funnel that extra energy. On the plus side, having the ability to juggle multiple commitments with little need for downtime is a skill that athletes can use to their advantage– the discipline, endurance and hard-work ethics developed through sports will be an asset throughout life.
- Identity Crisis- Those that achieve recognition and perhaps even national ranking in their respective sports may feel that much of their identity is actually tied to their area of expertise. It takes a lot to learn (and accept) that what you do does not actually make you who you are, and so in the beginning it may come as a shock that when you stop competing, those that were not a part of that world may never understand this passion of yours, let alone care. It is important to find ways to connect with your inner core and work through the feelings related to losing a part of yourself or missing a part of your old life. The secret to success is to appreciate the lessons learned from the past experiences while finding new ways to prove who you are and what you are really made of.
- Rewards- While competing in sports, many become accustomed to frequent praise and accolades, especially if they demonstrate talent and heart. Sadly, life as an adult actually involves far fewer award ceremonies, and rarely is merit enough, which can lead to a lot of frustration. Luckily, because athletes are inherently gamers, who enjoy competition, learning to play new games with rules that may often keep changing will not seem like a daunting task. Furthermore, they seem to instinctively build in their own personal rewards in regular intervals to avoid burn out. The key is to find ways to need less external validation and rely more on self-validation.
Ultimately, sports lay an incredible foundation for navigating future life challenges, but leaving the world of sports is far from easy. Making the adjustment from being a hard-core athlete to just the normal guy/girl next door takes time, and it helps to know that all that effort and hard work was not for nothing. There are incredible life-skills that athletes are taught early on that will carry them through some of the toughest challenges to come later in life, including the poignant lessons that occur while transitioning away from sports to whatever will be their new “normal.”
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