One of the most important things about being an athlete is self-awareness. The most important self-awareness you can have is that you will not be an athlete forever. No matter how talented you are, eventually your time as an athlete will come to an end. It’s important to realize this so you can keep some perspective. Focus on what you’re going to do and what your life will look like after athletics.
A friend of mine asked me the other day if I would ever do it all over again. Taking out the friendships and experience, would I go back and choose a different path? While I don’t regret anything about where I’m at right now. It made me think and helped me to realize that I could have done a lot of things differently. If I would have paid more attention to what my plan was after athletics.
I want to share the story of my journey through college and athletics to hopefully help with the realization that athletics won’t last forever.
My Decision Coming To College
Coming into college, I thought I had it all figured out. I was going to go through undergrad and then go to Physical Therapy school. I’d some back problems in high school, and I went to see a physical therapist and began to love the idea of being a physical therapist.
I thought it was so cool that someone could feel better through different rehabilitation exercises. This allowed me to do stuff in physical therapy that I had never done or seen before, and my physical therapist was super helpful in getting me back to feeling good again. At this point, I was sure being a physical therapist was what I wanted to do.
I decided that I would study Athletic Training as my major. Using it to get into Physical Therapy school. Thinking that I would make a good athletic trainer because I was an athlete and I figured I would be able to relate well to other athletes and be better able to help them with their injuries. I also really wanted to work with athletes. There was a vision of working with athletes on a professional sports team someday.
Then, it came time to make a decision. Being an athlete, I wasn’t allowed to join the athletic training program. There are a required number of hours that athletic training students must spend in the training room help athletes with rehab, stretching, etc.
I wouldn’t have been able to put in the required amount of hours because I would be in practice. So, it came down to me choosing whether to pursue the athletic training program or to continue running track. Being a naive 18-year-old who thought the track was everything and would last forever, I chose to continue running.
My College Visit
I’m going to backtrack a bit, but I think it’s important to understand what my thoughts were during my college visit to give this story some context.
When I came on my official visit to a college, I was only really focused on track. I didn’t think it would be possible to get a scholarship to a big school. So I was so excited about the possibility of running at a Division I program that I forgot about everything else.
I spoke with an advisor and got some sample four year plans to look at, but I wasn’t concerned about what I would learn or study in school. The only thing I could think about was running track for a big program.
My First Semester
The first semester I took 17.5 credits, ran track (which is essentially a full-time job), and had a mandatory ten hours of study hall to put in each week. Going from being a high school senior with two free periods each day. To all of those responsibilities in a week was a challenge.
Surprisingly, this was one of my best semesters! I realized that I work my best when I have a lot of responsibility and clear direction. When I was on track I worked as hard as I could and when I wasn’t I made sure I attended my mandatory time at study hall and got my work done.
It was right before the second semester that I had to choose whether I wanted to continue running or pursue athletic training. I picked the track and that next semester is where I became too focused on athletics and stopped putting any thought into what I wanted to do once athletics would come to an end.
Not Realizing I Didn’t Know What I Wanted
Over the course of the rest of my college career. I became intensely focused on doing everything I could to become better on the track. It was especially important to me to focus my energy here. I was far from the fastest kid on the team.
To be able to perform, and even just keep up with everyone, I had to focus a lot of attention on anything I could do to become a better track athlete.
My mistake was that I focused so much on becoming the best athlete that I could be. I let other things slip my mind. I attended class because I had to, not because I wanted to. It was clear, I had to keep my grades up to keep running. But I wasn’t paying attention to the fact that I wasn’t at all passionate about what I was learning.
I changed my option (a subset of my major) six times over the next three years! Looking back this should have been a clear indicator that I was not moving towards a field I wanted to work in.
What I Learned
After college, I learned a lot by reflecting on my journey. The biggest thing is that, while it’s important to give everything you have to your sport, it’s also important to realize that it won’t last forever and you have to keep some idea of what you plan to do after you’re done. My sport consumed too much of my life. I lost focus in other areas of my life that needed attention.
At one point, I shadowed a physical therapist and didn’t enjoy my day. But I kept on going studying that option. I didn’t give enough attention and focus to the fact that it wasn’t something I wanted to do for a career. At another point, I thought I wanted to go into pre-med because I got really into the show Nip/Tuck.
HUGE mistake! Actual careers are never like what they seem on tv. If I had put more focus on what I was going to do with my life post-track, I would have sat down and put some thought into what I wanted in a career.
In conclusion, it’s important to realize that athletics will end one day. You need to be prepared for what’s going to come next. Work to have the self-awareness to realize if you’re focusing too much effort on one area of your life and neglecting other areas. Use the focus and effort that you give to your sport on your plans after athletics as well.