Transition Game: Athletes Die Twice

“Athletes die twice.” 

I’ve heard it said. While it sounds a bit dramatic, think about the emotions you (or others you know) feel while watching your favorite team play in a hotly-contested game.

Those emotions hit harder when you’re a player as opposed to a fan. For the athlete, this is their passion, craft, and career. If you know, you know.

I’m grateful I was able to play professional basketball for nine years. I’m thankful I was healthy throughout my career and even had offers to keep playing a year after retirement. I also simply enjoyed playing more and more as I progressed. All of this meant leaving the game and staying retired, was more difficult than I could have foreseen. 

There’s typically more than one way to view things, and leaving athletics is no different. 

Here’s the burden that all athletes bear: early and forced retirement. I’ll equate it to someone who launches their own business. This isn’t just a job; it’s a passion and even a lifestyle. Most know them because of their business and they receive much praise because of it. The business doesn’t make any money for years, but that’s okay, because it’s fun. Then, all of a sudden, there’s opportunities to profit, and business booms. Along with it come more attention, responsibility, and challenge. It’s exhilarating and pressure-filled. Unfortunately, just as the individual and business are maturing, it’s all over. It’s not possible to continue, sell, or even try a similar type of business. The passion, the career, and the lifestyle are finished. The young person is in their late 20s or early 30s, and it’s time to start over from scratch. This is the reality of the athlete.

It’s not easy to move on from everything that athletics provide. 

Here’s the blessing all athletes must realize: what you do is not who you are. It’s a lesson all athletes learn young. Because they’re forced to part with their passion early in life, the athlete must grapple with questions of identity and purpose. 

I’ve struggled with this reality. I’ve wanted to lace up my sneakers again. Not just for fun, but for my profession. To train, sweat, and even to sacrifice. I miss the intensity. But I’ve missed opportunities because I’ve stayed in that place. It was incredible to compete for so many years. It’s also a blessing to move on. And now, it’s a privilege to grow in new endeavors… 

I’m going to begin a series called Transition Game. This will be less reflections and more real-time happenings of my transition out of professional athletics and into a new phase of work and purpose. This isn’t looking back with all of the right answers. I won’t, nor can’t, give a seamless 5-step process to success. This is a new game I’m in, and it’s just the first quarter. The intention is to share my wins and losses as I go. 

I’m going to be more candid, and I’ll focus less on my playing career and more on how competing as an athlete continues to shape me today at work and in life. The goal is for this to provide perspective to athletes and coaches and encouragement to anyone who wants to grow through transition. They say sport is the greatest classroom, but I’m learning the lessons didn’t stop when the ball stopped bouncing. Let’s go!

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