There is one universal truth experienced by every athlete: one day, their career will be over.
They might not enjoy their experience. They might never win a game. Life lessons are certainly not assured. The only guarantee is that their careers, as surely as they begin, will one day end.
Athletes usually know when the end is near. For many, the final few games carry a special resonance, braided with gratitude and nostalgia. They usually have the opportunity to say goodbye to their teammates, their coaches, and to their sport.
The spring athletes of 2020 missed out on that opportunity. The end of their career was abrupt. It was unexpected. And while the recommendations of the CDC and local government should be thoughtfully upheld, the logic of the situation does not make it any less frustrating to those involved. The seniors encounter this frustration and uncertainty with additional gravity. For many, this is the end.
As one of our athletes put it, “it’s strange and sad.”
Seniors, we feel for you. Still, there is no choice but to move forward. Before venturing into this new wilderness, consider anchoring your process on a few key ideas:
Create a routine that is congruent with our current reality.
You don’t have to catch the bus. You don’t have to make it in time for homeroom. Breathe.
These days, there is an enormous amount of time, space, and freedom. Enjoy it. That said, many students are finding it surprisingly difficult to operate. It turns out that too much freedom is not necessarily a good thing. Too many options make selecting one option, just getting started, more difficult than many could have imagined.
If that feels familiar, take a note from the professionals who work from home. Wake up, make you bed, drink a glass of water, and take a shower. Get dressed. These are work days, these are school days, the only thing that has changed is where the work is taking place.
Do not be afraid to take some time for yourself, but keep things in balance. Lock in habits and routines that make sense in the current environment. Building structure within an ambiguous schedule is essential.
Stay social in the midst of social distancing.
Your teammates are still out there. Stay in touch. Jump on a call and take time to look back, reflect on a career, and be grateful for your time spent together.
Remember, your athletic experience does not have to fully end – while you might not be able to take the field together this spring, you can still train together. Zoom workouts have become popular. Many athletes are staying fit together through software platforms like TrainHeroic, AthleticU, and TeamBuildr.
Strength-based events, like the Good Athlete Project’s Online Powerlifting Nationals are a great way to stay connected through competition.
In times of physical distancing, social media can serve as a powerful tool. Use it. But be thoughtful and maintain an athlete’s level of discipline – too much screen time, even for the sake of connection, can be detrimental.
Take time for yourself and your identity.
Senior athletes should consider who they are and who they want to be. You should not feel pressure to have all the answers, but you must consider a difficult truth: your time as an athlete has come to an end.
Many young people create their identities through sport – I am a lacrosse player; I am a swimmer – you are now in position to identify who you are as a person, without sport. All athletes eventually confront this existential dilemma. It is a process of pinpointing what is truly important and essential in your life. The 2020 seniors class is confronting this moment earlier and more abruptly than most.
Once you are open to this idea, begin reflecting on the best times in your career. Write them down. Once you do, take the sport out of the moment and name the quality that made the moment meaningful.
We often hear ideas like “relationships, friends, community,” and “shared purpose, sense of accomplishment,” and “it felt good to work hard toward my goals.”
These concepts, stripped of sport, serve as the preliminary pieces to a puzzle of identity which must be constructed. You are at the start of an important process.
This will not be easy. As you enter your post-career lives you should be confident that your mentors – teachers, coaches, parents – care about you as people. The fact that you are no longer an athlete should not change that. If you are having trouble with this, reach out to one of them.
Although one chapter of your life might be coming to an end, seniors, there is room for optimism. When one moment ends another one begins. You will be the author of your next step. From here on out, you call the plays.
This article originally appeared in JustBreathe Magazine. Thanks to their editors for their support.