How to Hang Up Your Jersey: Life After Competitive Sports.

Author: Eleanor Kent
March 30, 2017

Eleanor Kent

Eleanor Kent

Team Support Representative at The Side-Out Foundation
Eleanor is a recent graduate of James Madison University, where she received her Bachelor of Science in Sport and Recreation Management with minors in General Business and Coaching. She enjoys cooking and traveling, and is a Green Bay Packer fan and owner.
Eleanor Kent

Eleanor volleyball picture

I played volleyball competitively for 10 years. As a recent college graduate entering the workforce, I didn’t really know exactly what I wanted to do. Volleyball was what I’d known for almost half my life thus far. All of a sudden, my volleyball career was over. I didn’t want to think about it; I pushed it out of my mind. It was summer and I had so many other things to figure out. Adult things, ya know, like finding a place to live and getting a job before the summer ended. Then it hit me. August snuck up and there it was staring me right in the face. I was not returning for pre-season or tryouts or any of that. I was hanging up my jersey.

Well here I am, March of 2017, 11 months after my competitive volleyball career ended, and here is what I’ve learned so far:

  • You’re going to miss it. Every competitive athlete does, whether they admit it or not. Maybe you won’t miss the workouts or trying to maintain your sanity running a team of 21 of your peers with no coach, but you will miss the game and what it gave you.
  • In case you didn’t realize it yet, besides teaching you life lessons, giving you friends, and helping you discover who you are, all those hours of practice also made it possible for you to eat whatever you want, whenever you want. Drum-roll please….. you can’t do that anymore. Well I mean, technically you could, but say goodbye to your athletic figure.
  • Not many things will give you the same rush as playing your sport does. Believe me, I wish working out would, but as cliché as it sounds, picking up heavy things and putting them down just doesn’t quite do it for someone who spent years of their life immersed in the game and not in the weight room.

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My Advice On What Now?

  • First, buy some new clothes. You’ve lived in athletic gear and your uniform for a very long time. Unless you work at a gym, are coaching or are lounging at home for the rest of your life, it’s probably a good idea to expand your wardrobe.
  • Prepare to analyze every aspect of the game whether you’re watching the national championship or you’re watching your thirteen year old cousin play in her first season. You’re going to be critical, accept it, but for the sake of your family and friends (and perhaps the mom of the kid who just served the ball under the net sitting behind you) try not to blurt out all your critiques. People will find you annoying. Don’t be that former player. Sit back and enjoy watching your cousin learn to love the sport that has meant the world to you since you were her age.
  • According to NCAA.org, out of all the students who play high school sports (roughly 7.4 million athletes), 2 percent will earn a college scholarship. Out of those (about 460,000 in the NCAA), fewer than 2 percent will go pro. Inevitably, about 98% of us will have to find something else to do with our lives. However, you can do something with the passion you’ve had for your sport for so long. Anything at all. Coach, work in sport, join an adult league and play, help others make the transition from athlete to NARP (non-athletic regular person).

Eleanor at NCAA volleyball finalsTo wrap things up. Your sport gave you a lot of skills and tools that you can use in all the other things you’re going to do with your life. It drove your actions and decisions for a very long time, but everybody throws in the towel (of competing) at some point. Heck, the most decorated Olympian of all time, Michael Phelps, retired this year. There is much much more to you as an individual than having been an athlete. Have fun figuring out the other facets of your life and never forget what your sport brought you. Maybe you’ll end up like me…still connected to the sport you love and using it to make a difference.

And just in case you need a little extra reminder that your life isn’t over because your sports career is, here are 10 athletes who were more successful after they stopped playing:

  1. Rodger Staubach, retired NFL Quarterback turned commercial real estate entrepreneur
  2. Arnold Palmer AKA Mr. Golf himself, retired professional golfer turned businessman
  3. Michael Jordan, retired NBA star turned endorsement superstar
  4. George Foreman, retired professional boxer turned pitchman
  5. Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, retired professional wrestler turned A-list actor
  6. Hakeem Olajuwon ‘The Dream’ retired NBA player turned realtor
  7. Gerald Ford, former college football stand out turned POTUS
  8. Vinnie Jones, retired professional soccer player turned actor
  9. Charles Barkley, retired NBA All-Star turned commentator
  10. Mario Lemieux ‘Super Mario’, retired NHL player, turned founder and chairman of The Mario Lemieux Foundation

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