The Retired College Athlete

As of March 3rd, 2017, a little past 11 pm CST, I became a retired college athlete. An RCA as I like to call it. To put this in context, I have played basketball since the age of seven; I am now 21. For the past four years, I have played basketball at the collegiate level, and while my experience in college sports has been a rollercoaster, that is a post for another day. Today, I want to talk about my thought process when preparing for retirement.

I’m a person who enjoys surprises, but never actually wants to be caught off guard. As a planner, I saw my retirement day in the distance and of course started making moves to ensure that it was a smooth transition. This includes mental and physical preparation.

Let’s start with mental! During my undergraduate education, I spent time as a member and co-chair of a club called I Am More. It was a career readiness program for student athletes because a lot of us won’t go pro in our sports. For me, going pro was never my aspiration. Just check out this old blog post from my old blog, Sydney Sundays. I Am More was my first step to preparing for retirement, and I started preparing my sophomore year of college. I guess you can never be too early.

More recently, I went to see a guidance counselor about my transition out of sport. Sometimes it’s just easier to talk it out with a third party because they will just listen. Here I was able to talk about my past history with basketball, what I’m looking forward to in the future, fitness goals, etc. Most importantly, it was there that I was able to best prepare myself for the mental shift of not being a college athlete anymore. Due to this preparation, it wasn’t a surprise when my retirement day came. There was no shock, disappointment, etc., I was prepared for it.

Now for the “physical” preparation. I slowly created a fitness routine that I could abide by once retired. I skimmed Pinterest, watched YouTube video, and also wrote down things that I just wanted to do, focus on, and enjoy. Let me say, there were multiple lists, all of which were just ideas. While I have changed my actual workout routine many times, the idea of putting myself in that mental state and asking what I would do to stay fit when basketball practice was no longer a part of my schedule was helpful.

So let’s talk about the actual day. The end of my basketball career was kind of weird. We lost to a team that we had recently beaten during conference play. I rolled my ankle pretty badly that game (what’s new) so I barely played, and it really wasn’t how I envisioned my career ending. With that said, that day did come, and I wasn’t sure how to feel. Should I have been more upset? Was I supposed to be happy? When you’re a senior sometimes, it seems like everyone is looking to you or at you to figure out how you feel about the situation. For me, because I was so unclear of how I felt at the time, I chose to act upset. I genuinely believe I was, but after a day or two went by, and I got to spend some time alone, I began to realize that it’s okay if I didn’t feel upset, or if those feelings didn’t last for a day, a week or a year. Ultimately, I had prepared myself so well for that moment, that when it came, I wasn’t surprised, and because of that, I didn’t know how to act.

Fast forwarding to the present day, I think my preparation paid off. More than a month removed from my sport, I feel that my transition into being an active adult has been successful. I have worked out every day since retirement and have not gotten bored of my workouts. I realize that there is a lot of life to live during the hours I used to have practice, and I have enjoyed genuinely doing things I want to do without using the excuse, “I have practice,” to persuade myself otherwise.

With that said, if you are currently a student athlete and your day of retirement lies ahead, my biggest advice is, don’t let it sneak up on you. Cherish your time playing your sport, enjoy your teammates, create good moments, and don’t wish away the tough times. While you might not miss the conditioning, you’ll miss the overall experience eventually, and I’m sure it’s done a lot to shape who you are.

But also, prepare for your retirement by getting to know yourself. Cheesy, I know, but figure out the things you’ve always wanted to do, come up with a workout plan so that you’re not the former athlete that has let yourself go, and mentally prepare yourself for not having the commitment to your sport every day.

Everyone handles retirement differently, but for me, life couldn’t be better. Comment below if you’re a retired athlete at any level. College, high school, middle school… it all counts! Let me know how you dealt with your transition out of sport and if you’re enjoying where you’re at today.

Until next time, get up, get moving, and live your best life.

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