The horn buzzes for the last time. After countless hours of practice, weekends of social activities sacrificed for traveling tournaments, and give or take a whole decade of pure, hard work; the journey is now over. This reality scares the majority of collegiate athletes around the country, and for a good reason. The sports they love have done so much for then mentally as well as physically. Hell, let’s be honest, sports are just fun to be a part of. But most of all, they help define and identify who we are. For some, their sport is who they identify as; for others, a mere piece of the pie. Nonetheless, there is that part of us that loves being known as an NCAA athlete. When that moment ends, it is only natural that we fear losing that title.
When our collegiate athletic career ends, it coincides with the time of transitioning to life post-graduation. To say that the uncertainty fills our soul with fear is an understatement. But, we must accept this reality and use the power of that fear to our advantage. George Bernard Shaw, the late Irish playwright and Nobel Prize winner, once said, “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” This statement rang true for me; as athletes thousands of hours creating our playing style by perfecting our jump shot, working on our serve, and honing our curveball. We can put that same energy into creating who we want to become professionally, socially, and spiritually.
Let us not be fooled; this process is not easy. Just like the end of practice suicides and early morning workouts, it takes hard work and sacrifice. Here are some tips that will help us in the process of creating ourselves post-NCAA career.
Reading is not the sexiest way to get our mind off of playing a sport, but it is one of the most effective ways to keep our mind active. Biographies, in particular, are fun to read and very easy for athletes to engage in. Any hoop player worth his or her salt knows the life story of Michael Jordan or Larry Bird. We grew up with these role models, mimicked what they did on the court, and listened to them for life advice. Repeat the process, learn about different people who put their life experiences and lessons onto paper. A few of my favorite books are Steve Jobs, Second Wind: The Memoirs of an Opinionated Man by Bill Russell (for those who want to stick with sports), and Caesar: Life of a Colossus.
Thousands upon thousands of thoughts transpire in one’s mind. Some can be as mundane as, “Wow, I need to clean my room,” while others can be the million dollar idea that defines the rest of a lifetime. Regardless of the importance, these thoughts are a daily occurrence. A great practice would be to write your thoughts down because this will acknowledge them. Sometimes they may be uncomfortable or scary, but denial is not mentally healthy. Acceptance and acknowledgment are key. I suggest dedicating two weeks of writing before going to bed for ten minutes each night. Often, one will be amazed at what he or she has written down. For those that want to have a pocket journal for the random 2 p.m. stroke of genius, I would recommend a Moleskine.
Learn a New Skill
NCAA athletes have mastered their sport by the time they have graduated, or at least think they have. After all, it takes thousands of hours of practice and playing a sport to become proficient enough to compete at the NCAA level. Except for the lucky minority that goes on to play at the professional level, the NCAA is the peak of a college athlete’s career. Never again will an athlete have the combination of practice time, competition, and physical fitness to play at such an elite level. So, it is time to move on.
In the reality of NCAA athletes, they are masters of their own world. When we leave our college campus, that reality turns upside down. Learning a new skill requires a growth mindset, an acceptance of inevitable failure, and the grit to push through the hard times. Besides these intangible benefits, which in and of themselves offer great value, learning a new skill could offer professional, financial, and social benefits. Some suggestions are becoming a better public speaker, taking a dance class, or learning how to code.
Go For a Walk Alone
This last one may make readers the most uncomfortable. After all, no one likes being alone, so going for a walk seem lonely. However, adopting this practice could help you self-reflect. Turn off the cell phone and go for a walk alone. When one is walking, the body is functioning at a very high level. The muscles are engaged, and the mind is taking in all of the outside stimuli. Eventually, the body will go on the cruise control and the mind will be free. The cell phone is off, and this means there is no social media or any sort of outside forces to influence you. It is you alone with your mind. Again, just like with writing, this can be unsettling. We may not like what we are thinking at that moment. But, it is where our real selves are revealed. The relationships we have with others might feel more fulfilling. However, the most critical relationship is the one we have with ourselves. We cannot expect to live our lives to our fullest if we don’t even know what we want. Our mind and intuition will help guide you, so you need to listen to yourself.
These practices take time. One weekend of all of these activities will not give us the secret to life. But, consistent and repeated patterns of these practices, will help you become the person that you were destined to be.
Posted on May 10, 2018 in Life of a College Athlete
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