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Goodbye Game Day: Navigating the Bittersweet Symphony of Sports Retirement

Updated: Dec 12, 2023

Let's chat about something that's a bit like retiring your favorite pair of yoga pants - uncomfy, a little strange, but eventually, a step towards something new and exciting. Yep, I'm talking about retiring from sports. It's like that final episode of your favorite show; you know it has to end, but nobody prepared you for the weird feelings afterward. 


It’s normal to feel a bit lost and uncertain because retiring from sport can feel like your internal GPS suddenly says, "I have no idea where we are." You've spent years - maybe even decades - with a structured schedule, goals, and a community that understands shower economics and borderline masochism. Now Life has handed you a map in a language you can't read. And let's be real, who uses maps anymore (other than my 70-something year old dad)?


Let’s go through the most common reasons transitioning out of sport is uncomfy and how to navigate each one.


Identity Crisis: More Than Just an Athlete

Here’s a little not-so-secret secret: You're not just an athlete and your life has purpose outside of winning; you’re a multifaceted human bean with interests as diverse as the flavors of ice cream at that fancy gelato place downtown. It's time to explore those flavors!Maybe you like baking way more than you realized and now you have the time to experiment (hello, sourdough Sundays!), or perhaps you’re finally able to go on that trip you always wanted and can now plan and save for.


Exploring what makes you, you, can feel daunting…but once you get going and reassess what is actually important to you, you’ll realize that transitioning out of sport isn’t the end of a golden age - it’s a step into a brand new, totally different one of your own making.


Choosing Something Else is Not a Betrayal

Retiring from sport can sometimes feel like you’re turning your back on a lifelong friend. You’ve spent years dedicating yourself to your sport and gone through every up and down imaginable, you’ve had support from loved ones, coaches, teammates, and maybe even fans and brands, and now it feels like you're saying, “It's not you, it's me,” to a piece of your identity. Imagine telling your decades-old coffee machine you’re switching to tea. *awkward*


Rather than “shoulding” all over yourself (“I should want to keep doing my sport in whatever capacity…right?” “I should be able to keep it up, even if only recreationally,” “I should continue to make myself and everyone else proud by exercising and ‘looking’ like an athlete,” etc.), take a beat and give yourself permission to grow in a different direction. If you decide to take a break from what you’ve been doing, it doesn’t mean you can never pick it back up again. This new chapter in your life is not one of shame, blame, and continued responsibility to your sport, but of freedom, exploration, growth, and appreciation of yourself and life and food and everything else outside of athletics!


You are not betraying anyone or anything by choosing something different or hanging up your shoes for good. You are embracing the next chapter of your life, and what’s more beautiful and exciting than that?


Dance to Your Body's New Tune

Remember how your body was like a well-oiled machine, finely tuned for performance? Well, now it's learning to play to a different beat. Not only will the way you move your body look different, but your body will also probably look different itself. It's like going from being a heavy metal drummer to a smooth jazz saxophonist - the instrument itself and the sound it’s creating are totally different.


Embrace this new rhythm. Your body might change, and that's okay! Just as your life and values are allowed to change and look different during and after the transition out of sport, so is your body. And think about it: how many hours in the gym did it take each week for your body to look like it did when you were competing? Is it realistic or enjoyable to even consider doing that the rest of your life? Didn’t think so.


Get Back to Play & Joyful Movement

Let's redefine exercise. Instead of going balls to the wall every day in practice, you can choose to move your body differently for a different purpose. Maybe you still want to maintain some semblance of physical prowess, but you may also choose to move to get outside, meet new people, try a new activity, or…just have fun. Literally, doing a physical activity just for shits ‘n giggles. Just because you can.


Dancing in your kitchen (big fan), biking around your neighborhood, or playing tag with your dog (they always win, but hey, it's fun) are just ideas. Exercise doesn’t have to be structured; dancing in the club can be a workout if you try hard enough. You’re also free to do more dodgy types of movement - like rock climbing or BMX bike racing - because hey guess what: there’s nobody to yell at you if you twist an ankle and need to take a couple days or weeks off!


Ditch the Protein Shakes & Oatmeal

Now that you're not training for the Olympics, your eating habits will change, and that's actually really fucking cool and exciting. No more body comp testing. No more worrying about timing meals and snacks around practice. No more orthorexic food choices to control your body disguised as caring about your performance and maybe health.


This is easier said than done and when working with a professional (hey there!) really comes in handy. But for now, I’mma just say it: enjoy experimenting with foods that you might have avoided before. Break out of the chickenbroccolirice rut. Ditch the rice cakes for actual bread and, hell, even put some butter on it! Your eating pattern doesn’t have to be about performance or controlling your aesthetics anymore, even if you feel a strong urge to do so; it's about enjoyment and nourishment, and enjoying what you’re eating is just as important as what you’re eating.


Find Your People

Remember your team? The ones who knew exactly how you liked your energy gels and always got you your fave running socks for your birthday? It's time to find your new squad. They might be in a book club, a gardening group, or a virtual workshop designed specifically for retired athletes (omg how convenient?!). It’s like swiping right on new friendships - which you can literally do if you download Bumble BFF, but that’s not for everyone.


Look for communities that align with your new interests and values - I promise they’re out there, but it takes time and effort to find them. It’s like playing musical chairs with social groups until you find your new spot. Also, just because you’re not in the game doesn’t mean you can’t be in the loop. Stay in touch and figure out how to maintain and grow friendships outside of being in the trenches of sport together. Also totally understandable if you didn’t vibe with your teammates and you’re ready to move on!


Stop, Drop, & Feel

It's totally normal to feel like you’re on a rollercoaster of emotions. One day you miss the adrenaline of walking into a packed arena, and the next you’re thrilled to have the simple pleasure of sleeping in. Just like everything else, every emotion will pass. But you have to open yourself to feeling it first. Talking it through with fellow retiring/retired athletes who feel similarly or seeking professional support are great ways to feel heard, seen, understood, and not like a total crazy person.


Navigating sports retirement is a journey filled with unknowns, but it's also a chance to rediscover yourself and go on new adventures. It’s okay to mourn the loss of your athlete identity while also being excited about the future. Change is the only constant, and with change comes growth.


Embrace this new chapter with the same passion you had on the field, court, track, mat, rink, in the pool, etc. and remember, life's too short not to try the weird-flavored gelato!


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