Helping former athletes to quit

I’m having some experience with some relatives who were big time athletes in high school, college, and even some of the professional arena.

But, they reached as high as they could go and now need to let it go. Only, they cant. They seem to want to hold onto their dreams and want to keep working out. One has started into another sport.

I can see this. To become a top athlete one has to give it 100%. All your life can be centered around workouts, practices, and competitions and often that starts in early childhood. Your friends are your fellow athletes. You are totally focused on it.

But then what happens when that ends? With some sports like say soccer or baseball, their are minor leagues they can go into. For some athletes they can work into a coaching position. Some work into a sales or marketing position for that sport.

But can say a former pro soccer player be content just playing in a recreation league? Can a former olympic runner be content working out in a neighborhood gym with old and overweight people?

Any ideas?

Do they want to quit? What exactly are you trying to help them do? Not be an athlete anymore?

“Hi, I’m Rob Lowe.” “And I’m ‘Peaked In High School’ Rob Lowe…”

“I have this friend who got really good SAT scores in high school and did great in college, but now she is just a cubicle schlub like the rest of us. How do I get her to stop reading dense books and going to lectures and watching complicated films, and just read Fifty Shades of Grey and drink beer and watch comic book movies?”

I remember a Cracked article about things they don’t tell you about graduating from high school where they mentioned this, with the example of all those athletes who were great at the high school level but weren’t destined for professional or Olympic sports: it’s hard to go out every Friday or Saturday night and hear several hundred adults scream your name at the top of their lungs when you do the thing and know that that is never going to happen again. It’s enough to make people go into politics.

Some can, some can’t. Some find other avenues to pursue their athletic desires.

Unless it’s effecting you in a specific way, mind your own business.

I don’t know that it has to end. An uncle did that and was lucky enough to find a sport (archery) where he became seriously good (Olympic level) in his 60s. If someone enjoys working out and competition it strikes me as being better than my choice – stiff joints and a swivelchair spread.

I think that if you’re playing at the college or lower professional level, it shows more than just talent- it shows a pretty high degree of passion, determination and endurance as well.

People with that level of drive aren’t just going to go “Oh well, I can’t play USL or NASL soccer anymore. I think I’ll just hang up the cleats and go on autopilot.”

They’re likely to pick something else- either a sport, or some other endeavor that they can put that level of passion and drive into.

I suspect playing college, or even USL soccer means that you’ve essentially lived, eaten and breathed soccer since you were a small child, and bent most of your passion toward it. It’s really, really hard to give that up if you’re that passionate about it, so it’s unsurprising to me that many would have a hard time giving it up, even if they weren’t as passionate about it as I suspect.

My personal opinion is that you make a more or less clean break for a while, and then if you have to, go back in some much diminished capacity- guest coach, or VIP or something.

There’s nothing wrong with being competitive. There are numerous amateur competitive leagues for various sports.

I’m not sure what the OP is trying to save these people from.

I played sports in HS and college. In college, I won the NCAA title. After college, I won multiple national titles and took my shot in the Olympic system where I pretty much hit my ceiling.

Even after seeing that I wasn’t going to Worlds or the Olympic Games, still competed nationally for about a decade until my body couldn’t take it any more.

Thereafter, I picked up obstacle racing, marathons, and 70.3/140.6 triathlons. I finish in the top 20% of most obstacle races I enter, but I’m in no danger of seeing a podium, ever. Triathlons? I am terrible at them; I consistently finish in the bottom half of my age group, and I’m a few ticks below average in every statistical category.

I train my butt off. I go as hard as I can every day. I’ve spent a bunch of money on coaching and equipment. I will never again be national-class or world-class at anything.

But seriously, who the heck cares? I compete because I like to compete. I bring my times down. I get better at being bad. I try to get out of the bottom half. And every race day, I’m around a few thousand people just like me. And I also get to oooh and aaah over people who kill it, just like I used to kill it. Those things are fun to me. I would rather do those things than eat fries and play poker.

I have a good job, and I do well at it. I have enough money to save for a house and take my lady out. I make it to church (mostly) on time.

So, OP, what would you have me do instead?

It’s nothing you have to worry about. There are plenty of opportunities for adults to be athletically competitive. Even if they can’t go to the pro level in their chosen sport, there are all different club leagues for every level. Like if soccer is your thing, you can find recreational teams that go the whole range from just-for-fun to highly competitive teams which travel to different states for matches.

If I remember rightly that was one of the central themes behind ‘Friday Night Lights’.

God that show was good.

Have you ever in your life met someone over the age of 50 who stayed in shape and doing sports say “Man, I wish I had hit the couch and the bon-bons instead! I can’t believe I wasted all that time running around.”

On the flip side, I can’t count the number of people who have told me “I can’t believe I let myself get into this shape. It’s going to take me years to break all these bad habits, if I even can anymore.”

Well I do know a fellow who trained too hard for too long. He was never going pro with his abilities but wanted to run for miles every day and work out as though he was, even past his 50s. His knees and his hips are all totally worn out. Both hips had to be replaced and he totters around now and reminisces about his “glory days” and when he could walk without pain. He regrets overdoing his exercising so much to the point of bodily failure, especially when it was never going to be more than a hobby. Some people are incapable of recognizing their own limits when caught up in sports.

You should consider taking up a sport. It’s never too late.

In the process of that, have a close look at what it is that your fellow athletes get out of it. Physical well being? Social bonding? Mental focus? Stress relief? Endorphin release? Avoidance or lessening of depression?

You know, Urbanredneck, there’s thems wot does, and thems wot sits on the sidelines and watch life pass by.

I think the answer is to find an outlet for that competitive energy. Tennis is my sport and I played competitively as a kid and was good enough for college scholarships to D3 schools. Now I play leagues and minor tournaments and it’s not quite the same, but I still get that rush and adrenaline.

I think the OP is talking about people who won’t give up on the idea of sports being where they’ll make their money,not that they should become couch potatoes. There was an interesting Freakonomics podcast about “the upside of quitting” where they talk to some minor league ball players that spend years living check to check, if that often having to mooch off family to keep the dream alive. At some point the vast majority of athletes have to realize it has to become a hobby rather than your job.

I don’t think that’s what he was saying.

I just think the OP (and I don’t mean this in a derogatory way) just doesn’t get sports very well. As evidence look at paragraph four where he implies that an athlete who washes out at the highest level can always play in the minor leagues.

Uh, no. Minor leagues are for developing talent that can help in the future, not for letting guys down gently. Sure, they will move you up and down when you’re in your early to mid 20’s, because they think you still have prospects. Real-life examples of Crash Davis types playing in the minors into their 30’s are infinitesimally rare.

Then why was he talking about employment opportunities stemming from sports?

And you’re kind of off base with that last paragraph. The average age for a player in triple A is 28. There’s lots of older players in the minors who’ll never move up or are on their way down but you can’t fill all the teams with hot new prospects. It’s not to let them down gently but they still serve a purpose.

This is all true, but I think it gives shirt shrift to the irrational confidence one must have to excel at that level in almost anything. This is especially true for sports where the odds of success are really small and the payoff is way in the future.