My husband and I were having coffee the other morning and having one of our many discussion about student athletes. Both of us played Division I collegiate volleyball so this is a very common occurrence. What we realized as we were chatting was this: my husband and I represent the bulk of what it looks like to be a “working student athlete” and it’s time to expand the conversation about what that means.
Here’s what I think it means: We (and those who supported us) put our blood, sweat and tears into cultivating a life of competitive sports. We did this because we loved it. We did this because it is how we are made. We did this because we didn’t have a plan B. Part of what makes people like us successful in sports is our tenacity and ability to focus on the goal of right now.
The real deal, however, is that someday it does come to an end. The timing and circumstances are different for everyone, but it does end.
Here’s a little secret no one wants to talk about: we don’t all go pro. We won’t all make professional careers out of our sport. Some of us get to play professionally, some of us continue on coaching or somehow connected to the sports world and some (most) of us end up just like my husband and me; raising our kids, working our marriages, keeping steady jobs that pay the bills, running ourselves around town doing errands or taking kids here and there and all the other not so glamorous things that regular life consists of. I stand in lines like everyone else, I buy my own athletic gear (this might have been the hardest pill to swallow), I wash my own uniforms – and by uniforms, I mean the same three things I wear every week because it’s truly easier this way – I book my own travel and hotels and when my muscles hurt, I find my own physical therapist, roll out my own back and use a good old-fashioned heating pad.
(For those of you who are shocked by this revelation, yes, there was a day that someone did all that for me.)
It’s not glamorous and no one likes to talk about it, but it is life.
Want to know the coolest thing ever though? Just because the competitive part has come to an end for us, being a student athlete has not.
I spent over half of my life (most of those formative years) in a gym, in a weight room, on a track, in a van with eight other teammates, on the phone crying to my parents, on the road, in a hotel, in other states, in other countries, playing the sport that I loved with everything I had to give. That part doesn’t go away. Maybe ever. And guess what? That’s okay.
The support system we have during this time is crucial. What you see as parents, coaches, trainers, managers, advisors, mentors, teammates and team parents…THEY ARE YOUR PLAN B.
You don’t see it now, but they are shaping you and molding you for life beyond sports (well, the good ones are). When your sports career comes to an end – and they all do – use everything you have learned and apply it to your next play. There may not be any games left for you, but that doesn’t mean you stop playing. Keep your butt in the gym, surround yourself with people who get what you did and dig deep. Then (oh, this is the good part), turn around and give the gift back. Inspire other young hopeful athletes, coach a local club team or play league ball, teach a skills camp, or if your time is limited, give financially to those community programs that scholarship young athletes and kids sports programs in your area.
Because before there was a student athlete, there was a little kid with a dream. There was a little kid throwing the football in the back yard with his dad or playing catch with his friends at the neighborhood park or swinging at tennis balls against the wall or passing and setting volleyballs up onto the roof and waiting for them to bounce, bounce back down. Remember what it felt like the first time you realized that this was gonna be your thing?
Student athletes are champions not only in sport, but in life. The end of your sports career isn’t just an ending, it’s the beginning of so much more. Don’t forget that.
Categories: Volleyball Life