I am not an elite athlete. As I write this, I am sitting on a pillow, icing my knee after my last soccer game of the season. In the sarcastic words of my sister Allison last night, “this was our most consistent season”. We came last. Earlier in the summer, our Team came to a decision to move down in the league. The majority of us are no longer interested in playing against others that we could have birthed. The other reason is that most of us have lives outside of the game and we want to be able to enjoy our families, other activities and play once a week for the love of the game, versus pure competition. I play because I get to be on the same team as one of my sisters.
For professional and elite athletes however, life is different. Imagine dedicating thousands upon thousands of hours to your sport and coming to the reality that your life will change at some point. Sacrificing time away from family, from peers and from celebrating some of the traditional rites of passage. The majority of sports have a “prime”, a relatively short span of time where players typically reach their peak and excel. For many athletes, their eye is on a final goal, whether it is a cup, or a medal or a title. Unfortunately along the way, the idea that something might not work is pushed to the back of their minds. They don’t want to doubt or often think of life after their sport. Even more horrifying is the thought that injury or circumstance won’t even allow them to reach that prime.
Most people leave their parents’ house with the intention of becoming independent, finding themselves and starting their lives as adults. But if you’ve flown through your childhood getting up early and having every day be physically exhausting and demanding, that part kind of gets put on hold or was forced on you years earlier during billeting and extended time away from your family. Finding yourself not doing what you have lived and breathed every day can be daunting for anyone but take away the serotonin and adrenaline, the thrill of competing and being identified by your sport, and it can be purely terrifying and devastating.
If my memory serves, and for me it often doesn’t, most of us start thinking about career and planning in grade 10. I remember CALM (Career and Life Management) class very well actually. It was the best opportunity to sneak in 50 minutes of sleep every week while appearing to be learning about how to manage your finances and find a job. (I was to be a nurse, social worker, teacher or Mum). But if you self-identify as an athlete, and you have been slated to be such, you don’t think of what else you need to do.
So where does that leave our athletes? Unfortunately, often it’s in a void. For some, they are forced to take on huge amounts of personal debts just to follow a dream that they share with the rest of the country and that has been supported by their loved ones. The pressures are immeasurable. Professional athletes need support to transition their lives after the final “whistle” or final run. This shouldn’t necessarily come after it’s all over but along the journey. Parents, teachers and coaches can support by them encouraging them to look at life after the “show”.
For more information about our athletes in transition program, whether for you or someone else, please contact us at: www.higherlanding.com.