Being a senior collegiate athlete about to play the last game of your career, is an almost impossible moment to put into words. The world sort of stops spinning for a moment as you lace up your cleats for the last time, in that locker room you’ve spent more hours than you care to admit in. As you walk out with your teammates, to the field you’ve called home for the past four years, everything around you seems to be moving in slow motion. Your name is read over the loud speaker, your teammates give you flowers and you hug your coaches and closest family members…but somehow, none of it is truly setting in. Your body knows this is the last game you’ll play for your college, but your heart hasn’t come close to accepting it.
The game plays out and comes to an end as the whistle is blown at the 90th minute, and the world as you know it comes crashing down. Okay, we're just kidding. That’s not the way it really feels. Maybe a sudden air of sadness comes over you and this odd feeling you can’t quite put your finger on starts to nag at you, but you push the feeling away. But THEN...maybe a couple of days, or a week or two later, BOOM. This sudden feeling of being completely lost sweeps over you in an instant. The thing you’ve defined yourself by is now nowhere to be found in your daily life and you don’t know where to start filling in the gaping hole that it’s absence has left in you.
Now, the average person is going to tell you that all sports come to an end and we need to get over it. Just ignore them; they don’t get it and there's nothing you can do to make them get the feeling. As any athlete knows and understands, this is easier said than done. Losing the game is like losing a huge part of us. We’ve spent more time than not, dedicating ourselves to our sport and preparing ourselves to do the best we possibly can. We’ve sacrificed and overcome and conditioned and triumphed, all for our love of the game. We've defined whether we have had a "good" or a "bad" day by how our practice or game went that day. And now we're left with; What am I supposed to do now? Who am I without the game? I have all of this passion inside of me, but what do I put it towards?
Every athlete, even those who go on to play professionally, will eventually come to the point where they have to ask themselves these same questions. So how are we supposed to be able to get through this point in our lives? We've been coached on everything up until this point, and now we're left on our own for the hardest transition of our lives.
Let us tell you how we're getting through this (and yes, this is STILL something we are working on, as it is a day-to-day kind of progress);
1. Don't let your soccer relationships go. Yes, we know, the thing that has brought you and your teammates together, is suddenly no longer there. But this doesn't mean that these friendships have to stop once the game has stopped. Stay close with your teammates. You will understand what each other are going through. You will be nostalgic together, bringing back all of the "laughed until we peed" moments. You will bring each other up when needed, just like you did during your playing days.
2. Remember what you've overcome. Look back on all of the great victories you've had on your team, and the conditioning sessions or injuries you've had to overcome. That feeling of triumph, is what life is all about.
3. Be Grateful. Whether it's being grateful for your health, your teammates, your family or even for that text that practice is cancelled - This goes without saying.
4. Take what you've learned. This game has instilled a TON of lessons and habits and characteristics in you. Your work ethic, your drive, your grit, your sacrifice, your teamwork skills, your coach-ability. These are ALL traits that made you a great soccer player, and will make you an even BETTER person in the world/workplace. Be proud of how your dedication to the game has changed you as a person. Always embrace it, and no matter where you end up; don't ever stop being a soccer player.
5. You will serve just as much purpose in this world, as you did on the field. You've learned how to make an impact on your team, but now it's time to make your impact on this world. Be the best you that you can be. Your family needs you. Your friends need you. This world needs you. Your playing days may be over, but your chance to have a positive impact in this life is just beginning.