There comes a time in every athlete’s life when they have to give up the sport they love. In this post I will share some of my story and talk about what struggles I am currently facing in my life after letting go of the game that I love. Basketball has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Letting go of basketball was hands down one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.
I have recently had to hang up my shoes and move on from the sport that has been my identity for over fifteen years. Over the past few weeks it has occurred to me that this is the first season in over ten years that I haven’t played basketball. For a person to understand the significance of this sudden realization, you need to take a look back at my journey as an athlete.
My journey has taken me on a wild ride and there was nothing throughout that time that prepared me for how I would feel today. Like many of my former teammates/other athletes, I began playing basketball as a kid. Basketball quickly became my passion and I played every chance I got in YMCA leagues, travel teams and at local recreation centers. As a child I was constantly inspired by professionals and college athletes, but I never really knew that this game I loved could evolve into so much more for me. The game I love quickly turned into a job and a way for me to further my education when I went on to play in high school. When I first got to high school I lacked a lot of the skills to compete at a high level. Being around girls of all ages (9th-12th grade), skill levels and positions really challenged and inspired me. Not being the best made me want to work harder and the older girls who were getting recruited to play in college made me want to turn my dreams into a reality. I did not have anything handed to me throughout my four years at Hamilton High School, and if you ask anyone of my teammates they can vouch for me. I was always the first one to practice and the last one to leave. My coaches used to have to lock up and hide the basketballs from me. I obsessed to better myself/physical capabilities and become the best at my craft. I knew that I lacked the speed and athleticism, but I could make up for it on the shooting end and IQ side of the game. Throughout those four years I experienced and grew a lot. I had a few bad experiences with coaching and a very hard time with recruiting, but I will share those stories later on! At the end of my senior season I was lucky enough to earn a Division I scholarship at Iona College. As I continue to post I will share my high school experiences and my college basketball journey more in depth with you, so stay tuned!
Throughout my time as an athlete, I have head advice from coaches, counselors, parents, and even friends: “Get your education so you have something to fall back on.” But, when I was told that I did not really understand why, nor did any of those people prepare me for what life would be like after basketball. Despite my rationalized thinking, basketball was still very much my top priority in college. I had put so much of my life into the sport and make countless sacrifices (physically, mentally, emotionally and socially). Throughout that time of my life I could not fathom the possibility of doing anything else and I think that is why I (and probably many other athletes like myself) are still struggling today. At this point in my life I had to not only stop playing the game I love, but come to the reality that I no longer have my identity. Not to mention waking up everyday and not having that burning passion inside of me. Being twenty-two years old and dealing with this is a lot for one person to handle and dealing with all the other changes in my life at this point and time! The problem is this is stuff that no one talks about, nor prepares athletes for. I am not the only person in the world who is struggling with all of this. I have spent a lot of time thinking about the significance of student athletes immersing themselves so deeply into their athletic careers that they often forget it is most often temporary. But, is it really fair for us to call it “temporary” when it has been apart of us for more then 2/3 of our life?
Many student athletes play, and only a tiny fraction make it to the top. According to www.ncaa.org, there nearly 8 million high school student athletes in the US. Out of those 8 million only about 480,000 of them will go on to compete at NCAA schools. Looking at the sport I played specifically, there are about 429,500 high school girls basketball players and about 16,500 will go on to play college basketball. Looking at division one specifically, only 1.2% of all the high school girls basketball players have a chance of going division one. Taking that one step further, at the professional level the opportunity is even less with only 36 draft picks to play in the WNBA and a very small percentage to play overseas.
If you look though that link you can see that for men and women the odds are not good. But, it is even worse for female athletes (I say that not being biased)! There is a lack of scholarships, funding, and overall opportunity for women. Women are unfortunately less valued in sports, meaning the opportunities to pursue athletics on a higher level are even less in comparison to their male counterparts.Looking back at the basketball stats I gave the odds of making it from high school to college are slim to none, and going on to professional becomes even slimmer. Not to mention the huge difference in salary from a female basketball player compared to a male. I speak about basketball specifically because I have experienced it first hand, but the same goes for other sports (and in most cases it is worse). In a smaller sport like softball, there are nearly 370,000 players in high school. Transition to college and there are a total 27,000 players with no chance to play professionally. With that said, is it worth it? Is all of this just part of the game? Another sacrifice? When is it time to hang it up?
Reading these numbers can be extremely discouraging. Throughout my research I began to wonder why I even laced up a pair of sneakers and put on a uniform to begin with. The numbers show that student athletes have been working against what some people might call unfavorable odds. After entering high school, each passing year an athlete becomes significantly closer to their career ending. There are a number of factors that lead to the end of an athletic career: injuries, age, not getting along with coaches, the pill that most people have a hard time swallowing – just not being good enough, and the opportunity due to limited spots.
With that being said, I still have no regrets about giving so much of my life to the game of basketball. The experiences, opportunities, friendships and values it has taught/brought me are irreplaceable. Being an athlete I have learned so much about myself and life not to mention all the values/skills I have to take on with me. I learned the true meaning of hard work, dedication, perseverance, and teamwork. These things I have listed need to be my focus and stay in the back of my mind as I enter the new chapter in my life. I need to be able to take what I learned from the court and apply it different areas of my life. I think that should be the goal of sports on any level.
The question for most of us becomes: How can you take what you do on the court or on the field and use it in every aspect of your life? Use it to be a better employee, or even just a better human being. This will be the question you ask yourself when your time to hang it up comes, if it hasn’t already. Going pro is great, and for those that are blessed with the opportunity you should seize the moment/opportunity and make the most of it! For those that are playing professionally, take a second to really take in what I said about the percentage of people that make it and what it would be like if you were not standing in the shoes you are today. Be grateful and proud of what you have accomplished because you beat the odds at every level! As for the other hundreds of thousands of student athletes who won’t play professionally, life doesn’t have to be over! And don’t look at this situation you are in as a loss on the score board.
I say this and also need to take my own advice. Your life doesn’t have to be “over” after a college sports career ends. We need to not only come together and educate others like us, but we need to create ways to help this transition. I believe that it starts by taking the skills we have learned and start pursuing other things that we can be passionate about. But, this is just the start…