Finding a New Normal

This article is in support of Athletes Connected’s new Life After Sports initiative to support student-athletes when their athletic careers conclude. The University of Michigan is committed to supporting former student-athletes by providing resources to finding a provider and understanding insurance.

By Rachel Amity, MSW Candidate, U-M Athletic Counseling Team

Retiring and transitioning from something that took up so much time, sweat, and emotional, mental, and physical dedication often leads to a sense of loss. You have probably gone through various phases of relief, sadness, confusion, and anxiety. I know I did.

On the one hand, I started to get used to having all this free time. I could finally go to the movies on a Tuesday or go over to a friend’s place on a moment’s notice instead of having to text back saying “I have to be up early tomorrow for practice, sorry.”

On the other hand, the novelty of that freedom eventually started to wear off, and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do long term. Even though I knew retirement was coming eventually, it still took time to figure out what else I was passionate about.

For me, it’s been years since my last game. For the most part, I’ve settled into new routines and have found new hobbies, support systems, and I am on my way to a career that I am super excited about. This is my new normal. But it took time to get here, and there are still days that I miss the competition, teamwork, and the joy after a win. While I can’t say I miss losing, I sometimes miss the motivation and drive I had after a loss.

Every athlete reaches a point when their competitive playing chapter closes. Whether this is by choice, from injury, from loss of love for the sport, or from age, many struggle to find their new path. If you’re in this situation, know that it’s normal to have a lot of questions and feel a mix of excitement, hesitation, fear, and sadness. One of the biggest things to recognize is that you are not alone. Similar to college, there are resources available to help you navigate this life change.

Whether you’re recently retired or you’re years post-sport like me, you’re probably still working to create and settle into your new sense of who you are. The nice thing about creating your version of a new normal is that it is flexible. You have the ability to try new things and experiment with your time and your interests in a way you probably haven’t in a long time. While not having the built-in supports of your team and the structure of a packed schedule can feel completely disorienting, you now have time to commit to the things you never had time to do as an athlete.

Based on my own experiences as well as stories other former athletes have shared with me, I put together a few tips that may help you adjust to your new life:

  • Set goals!
    Sports gave you great goal-setting skills, so take advantage of that. Maybe it’s setting a goal to apply to a certain number of jobs by the end of the week or getting back into the gym one more day a week. For me, I lost a sense of accountability when I stopped playing, and setting goals has helped me find feelings of purpose and direction, especially on those days where it didn’t feel like I had much of either.
  • Find mentors
    While you were competing, you had coaches, teammates, trainers, and many other people who were helping to guide you through your athletic career. Now that you’re looking to start a new career and discover new passions, find the people who can encourage, support, and push you the same way your favorite coach, teammate, or strength and conditioning coach did. This could be a professor, a family member, a friend, or a coworker. You’ll remember the feeling of excitement and drive when you find someone who can help bring that out.
  • Find (new) trusting friendships
    For so long, athletes have a built-in support network. Even if you didn’t love all of your teammates, they were still by your side as you pushed through your workouts and practices. You probably made some lifelong friendships through your teams, which is just one more thing to be thankful about. However, I found that finding those friendships in the other areas of my life helped me transition out of the sports world. I still have friends that I played with, but I also have friends that I met in classes, during graduate school, and at work who weren’t athletes. Having connections with people through activities and from places where you weren’t always an athlete can help round out your identity and your social network.
  • Journal
    Sometimes you just have to have a place to reflect on all of the things you loved and hated, the things you miss, and the things you’re grateful for. Journaling is a great outlet for those emotions. It can also be great for keeping track of goals you’re setting, or as a new hobby to experiment with.

About the Author
Rachel Amity is originally from Corvallis, Oregon, where she grew up playing soccer, volleyball, and lacrosse. She graduated from Lewis & Clark College with a Bachelor’s in Psychology, where she also worked as a student athletic trainer. Rachel is currently working to complete her Master’s of Social Work at the University of Michigan, where she works as an MSW intern with Athletes Connected and the Athletic Counseling Team.