All my life I played sports. Both of my parents were athletic, and I was well blessed to have received their athletic genes. I fostered my love of sports through the years and my love of competition and gamesmanship flourished
I excelled at football throughout high school and it eventually allowed me to earn a full scholarship to a Division 1 program. Tragically, my career was cut short due to a back injury. It’s simultaneously one of the worst and best things that ever happened to me. It forced me to grow up, and to really find out who I am as a person rather than hide behind a label.
What no one ever talks about is the identity crisis that you go through when you can no longer play the sport that you’ve so long identify with. You hadn’t just identified with it, it was your identity. For my entire life I’d introduce myself to a group in a class or social setting as a football player. It was easy. It’s who I was… or so I thought.
When I could no longer play, I suffered the identity crisis that millions of young people are forced to endure every year.
The introspective questions started coming–not all at once, but over a brief period following my retiring.
Who am I, if not the athlete I’ve always been? Will people think less of me that I no longer play? Were my friendships only held together because I was “one of them” and because we were forced to spend so much time together practicing?
While these questions began to ravage my psyche, I searched for an outlet. Something else I could completely lose myself in so that I wouldn’t have to face the terrifying notion that I didn’t know who I was.
I started to workout multiple times a day in an unhealthy manner, while concurrently abusing marijuana to stave off those creeping thoughts. If I could no longer be a football player, I would be a super fit gymbro. Needless to say, this lifestyle was unsustainable. I know that I’m not alone when I admit to going through this transitional phase. Not necessarily the exact substitutes, but becoming completely absorbed in a substitute in search of an identity.
What finally pulled me out of it is realizing that my friends didn’t abandon me because I could no longer play, and despite my wallowing self-pity, there was absolutely nothing I could do to change my situation. Sports were over for me… For so long I had used football as an identity crutch, to avoid developing a personality or exploring other interests. It took a while, but I look back on those days and regret the time that I spent being miserable. I could have become a much more wholesome individual had I not been so one-track minded and been more receptive to change.
I know some of you reading this play sports. If you play at a high level, it will demand that it becomes your one track. In today’s environment, you’re more or less required to be obsessed with your sport in order to excel.
If you have identified with a sport your entire life, one day too you will go through the identity crisis that I and so many others have endured. When that day comes, just remember:
- You are so much more than your sport
- Your friends will not abandon you, and if they do they were never your true friends. Fake friends will eventually give way to genuine ones, and the sooner the better.
- The life lessons and discipline that sports ingrained in you will carry over into other aspects of your life and give you a leg-up over others as you move into the real world.
Sports teach you so many valuable life skills, that it doesn’t matter that you’re no longer actually playing the sport. If you only picked up a few skills from sports, they will set you apart from the vast majority of people. Some of those skills could be:
- You are coach-able. You can take instruction and do things the proper way, checking ego at the door.
- You are disciplined. The dedication and planning it takes to arrive day in and day out to practice on time will carry over into other aspects of your life. Discipline does not go unnoticed.
- You can handle failure. In life you will fail many times. What’s important is that you recognize it’s part of winning. Eventually you will win, and you will win way more than you fail. But everyone will fail at some point.
- Lastly, and most importantly, you can operate within a team. The whole is always greater than the sum of the parts. You will always be stronger working with like-minded individuals than if you tried to go it alone. Use your teamskills to create a team of similar individuals or to recognize and join an already formed team.
For those of you suffering identity ambiguity right now, or will in the near future, be comforted by the fact that you will eventually find out who you are. No matter what you choose to do after sports, or who you choose to become, you will be damn good because of the skills playing sports gave you.