“Who am I supposed to be after soccer?”
10 Tips for Life After Sports
Ever since you were young, countless weekends and family vacations have centered around soccer; packing up and heading to games early in the morning and sleeping the whole ride home. Little changes with this routine as you rise higher and higher in the ranks; simply substituting who gets you to your games, and having even less time to think outside of the soccer world. While your weekdays and weekends are filled with comments like, “I can’t, I have soccer,” school friends are doing whatever people who don’t play soccer do in the summer, fall, winter, and spring. When the time comes for your usual routine to disappear, will you feel prepared?
- Where are you now with your athletic career?
Regardless of what stage you’re in in your career or what your mindset is, it’s never too early to evaluate potential future opportunities. Asking yourself questions that could help with opening up different avenues for your future doesn’t mean you’re lessening your current commitment and goals with soccer. Here are a few questions you can check out to help with some of the common stuck points after sports:
- How much of yourself identifies with being an athlete?
- How will you face the expectations and questions from others
soccer career ends?
- How much support do you have outside of the soccer world?
- What will you do with your free time?
- What will exercising look like?
- Self-Identity: build yourself a doppelganger
We all have at least one way we identify ourselves. Most of us have several identities that make us who we are, and there is a chance that being an athlete plays a large role or is THE role. For instance when you’re doing ice breakers and someone says, “So tell me about yourself” and your immediate response is, “I’m a soccer player.”
Research explains that retirement from one’s sport can be a highly stressful experience and one of the most significant challenges is searching for a new identity.
Experiment with us for a minute:
Picture yourself as an athlete, got the image? Now picture a doppelganger, the other you who doesn't have this athletic part at all. What does she look like? What are her interests? How do you feel towards her?
Balancing your life between sports and cultivating other interests can help with developing a unified identity. We never have to lose touch of identifying as an athlete, but it’s never too late to build an internal teammate who can help manage life beyond competitive soccer. Explore other interests throughout your athletic career, experiment with hobbies, activities, and other passions that don’t have to replace your love for the game, but simply partner with it.
- Use your skills that you’ve put in the work for
You didn’t do all of that training, 6am practices, ball work, beep tests and playing through pain for nothing. Throughout the years, you’ve built many resources and strengths that will benefit you throughout your life. Brainstorm how you can use the skills you’ve gained through years of training and competition to shape your life after sports. Here are some ideas:
- Performing and communicating under pressure
- Hearing critical feedback and persevering
- Self-motivation to continue to grow
- Dedication to a commitment
- Team-related interpersonal skills
- Using your support system isn’t weak
The sports world tends to make you feel that you’re supposed to have it all together, 100% of the time. After all, traits like preparedness and composure under pressure have always been highly valued by coaches, trainers, and supporters.
For as long as you can remember, those closest to you may have admired and recognized you for your athletic side, but what happens when your commitment ends? When transitioning to life after sports, having the support from those close to you has been shown to greatly help individuals move through major life changes.
Studies have found that support from the organization a person plays for is highest at the beginning of one’s career and decreases exponentially after their career ends. This is where your tried-and-true supports come in. Leaning on those who always have your back, and embracing newcomers who aren't connected to the sport can be extremely helpful. Connecting with others, athlete or not, and having the chance to talk about significant changes and what the transition looks like can increase feelings of connection.
- Flex your brain
Times are changing, but as an athlete you’ve likely felt that mental toughness is viewed as being more important than mental health. It’s important for all of us to realize, mental health is mental toughness, and training your brain can offer a lot of benefits on and off the field.
Various challenges, stress, and unpredictable changes get thrown at us as athletes, not to mention trying to balance that with our personal lives. It’s normal for stressors and adversity to cause feelings of agitation, anxiety, anger, or maybe just overwhelm and feeling like shutting down. Prioritizing and building a mental health routine can actually train our brain to adapt and manage adversity in a way that allows us to feel in control. Just like training in the weight room or running to get in shape for fitness tests, there is no one size fits all strategy or mentality and results are rarely seen right away; trying different strategies and committing time and effort are needed to recognize change. Embracing and feeling proud of bettering your mental health, like decreasing your 2 mile time, can improve functioning and performance in many areas of your life, as an athlete and afterwards.
We know that there are several stereotypes and stigmas that exist when it comes to developing a mental health routine, and because of this individuals tend to feel these “techniques” don’t work. It’s less likely that the techniques don’t work and more likely we’re just using the wrong activities at the wrong time. Science and research that focuses on neurobiology show that using logic, rationale, and cognitive skills are not always effective in moments of stress and overwhelm. We have included some activities that are backed by science and neurobiology because we know it’s helpful to know the “why” behind what you’re committing to.
- Body Movement
- Tai chi / qi gong
- Stretching / walking / jogging /running (we suggest with music!)
- Singing / dancing
- Art & Creativity
- Internal/Emotional Regulation
- Mental rehearsal
- Mindfulness/Guided Imagery (apps like Calm and Headspace)
*If you’re interested more in the neuroscience behind these activities check out Perry: Rhythm Regulates the Brain and the other references below or send us an email!
- Flex your quads
No, this tip isn't going to focus on how to get in shape for 120s or the Man U, more so, how will you treat your body after sports? Former athletes talk about the struggle to exercise for fitness versus preparing for competition. How do you begin to reframe the idea of “good enough” now that you are no longer being constantly evaluated, judged, and held to a standard of “game shape”? It’s important to rebuild your relationship and view of your body outside of these terms. Being ready for a change in the “why” behind exercising can help keep your motivation to stay fit and healthy post-athletics.
Having a workout routine during transitions and uncertain times can help with a sense of routine and stability. A huge benefit to working out and playing is being surrounded by teammates. Joining a gym or workout group can provide the comradery and accountability that we miss from getting up for 6am practice and supporting each other as you climb the stairs after leg day. You’ll now also have the time to be adventurous with your workout goals and plans, maybe even trying a new way of working out since you don’t have to focus on passing fitness tests.
- Use your values to help guide future opportunities
This exercise can be used at any time, whether it’s deciding what team to play for, what type of coach you feel you’ll play best for, or what undergraduate major you might choose or the type of job you want to search for. Understanding your own values can give you insight into what decisions and situations feel most comfortable for you.
It’s possible and realistic that our values may change overtime, but we know how much being an athlete can contribute to someone’s values. The traits connected to these values may be transferable and used to keep what’s important to you as an athlete in other realms of your life. It’s also important to note that becoming aware of our values may spark recognition that being an athlete only aligns with certain values and there is more we need to partake in to make sure all of our values are met. We’ve included a values test for you to find out more: https://personalvalu.es/
- Plan, prepare, perform
Avoidance and procrastination can be rough, but we get it: why think about life after sports when you’d rather embrace the happiness you feel still being a part of something so special? While avoidance is a normal go to, it’s been shown that addressing one’s identity, trying different hobbies, and considering the future while still playing can support the challenges during retirement and transitioning.
Planning, preparing, and performing are all things you’ve done to reach your goals and live out playing soccer for as long as you can. The adrenaline rush of training hard by yourself on the field and in the gym to be a top competitor aren’t feelings that have to fade. Planning and preparing for obstacles and new exciting adventures will be helpful in adjusting to life post-sport. Your competitive edge never has to dull, you just have to plan and prepare for what stage you’ll be performing on next.
- Squad up to explore new challenges
Let’s put number 8 and some of these other tips to the test. Grab a couple of your good friends from the team, find an event, get ready together and see who can collect the most business cards.
Even simply considering being open about what life will be like after sports could lead you to meet interesting people and stimulate new interests. If you stumble upon something kind of interesting, check if it aligns with your values and the skills needed to perform the job or career. There’s potential that simply being open and having a sense of adventure could help you find what’s next.
- Consider a different lens for what life after soccer looks like
Being an athlete has become a part of who you are. As we mentioned above, it might even be how you define yourself. It’s normal to feel uncertainty, anxiety, stress, sadness, loss and so on when thinking about life after soccer. Our goal is for you to embrace your athletic side while also considering that there are many other parts of you that deserve to be successful too. Instead of viewing life as boring, scary, and sad when your athletic career comes to an end, try to be open to considering what soccer has prepared you for in the next chapter of your life. What else can you become a leader in, or a top competitor? The competitiveness that drives you is constant and is part of what has led you to your success as an athlete, what will it drive you to be elite in next?
CHECK OUT OUR LATEST PODCAST: WHO AM I SUPPOSED TO BE AFTER SOCCER?
Who We Are
Meagan and Trevor, two former athletes turned counselors who founded Crossover Counseling which is a practice that focuses on athletes transitioning to life after sports. From personal experience, we understand the challenges athletes experience after being so closely tied to their sport and having their career end. We are also aware of the athletic culture that tends to value mental toughness over mental health and has created a barrier of negative attitude and discomfort among athletes towards seeking help. Our approach uses neuroscience to support the lack of knowledge offered about mental health and hesitancy towards seeking help while playing and afterward. We want to support those who may feel unsupported and lacking direction to normalize these experiences and use the skills we all gained from athletics as a platform to find what’s next.Crossover Counseling – Life After Sports: www.crossovercounseling.net