College athletes devote a tremendous amount of time, energy, and mental space to their craft—and when these athletics end, it can be tough to adjust to the amount of free time you’ll have. To keep this transition from causing stress, it’s essential to be prepared. Below, former professional athlete Arthur Lynch shares five tips to help ease the transition to life after sports.
Plan for Upheaval
“First, the good news,” says Lynch—”the skills that you’ve spent years strengthening and honing won’t go to waste.” From the thrill of competition to the discipline needed to balance a full courseload with your studies, you’ll be able to use the lessons you’ve learned from athletics to make this transition easier.
One of the steps to reduce the stress associated with the shift to life after competitive sports involves planning—including planning for upheaval. Contingency plans can help provide peace of mind that no matter what happens, you’ll be able to handle it. But you’ll also need to be aware that you can’t plan for everything, and expecting (and preparing for) some upheaval in your post-college life can also help you easily navigate turbulent patches.
Some steps you can take to prepare for the next stage of life include:
- Actively participating in classes
- Taking advantage of athletic and academic departments for post-college references and career advice
- Taking part in extracurricular activities besides sports
- Developing a plan for repayment of any student loans
- Looking ahead 3, 6, 9, and 12 months and setting goals and expectations for where you’d like to be at those points
By learning to be more flexible and open, you’ll be better able to chart your path through the post-athletics stage of your life.
Keep Healthy Habits
Maintaining a healthy diet and exercise regimen post-college can be tough, especially once you move on to a full-time job. As your activity level decreases and you grow older, you’ll need to adjust how you eat, otherwise, you may find yourself gaining weight or losing flexibility. Keep in mind things like
- Limiting portion sizes
- Getting enough fiber
- Consuming the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables each day
- Eating fried, fatty, or high-sodium foods only in moderation
- Staying hydrated
While you don’t need to make radical changes to your diet, staying aware of your approximate calorie consumption and output can help you keep your weight stable and remain in top physical shape for years after you’ve hung up your college athletic shoes.
Manage Your Stress
Sports and athletics can be one of the most effective stress management methods. By getting your frustrations out on the field or court, you’ll be able to increase mood-boosting endorphins while gaining some perspective on what’s bothering you. But Lynch warns that “once you stop spending so much time playing and practicing sports, you’ll need to work on replacing this stress management method with other effective techniques.”
Some ways former college athletes can manage stress include:
- Pursuing activities like yoga, meditation, and deep breathing exercises
- Developing and repeating mantras and words of affirmation to stay positive
- Making an effort to remain mindful and present in the moment
- Journal your thoughts and experiences to help process them
- Seek help from a therapist to tackle sticky emotions or situations
Once you work to discover and maintain a post-college balance, you’ll feel better equipped to manage your stress.
Define Your Support System
Having a solid support system can help keep you motivated when you’re feeling unsure, help enhance your job-seeking network, and give you a sounding board for ideas and concerns. By identifying your support system before you leave your college athletics career, you’ll be in a better position to benefit from the support these people provide when you need it the most. Members of your support system can include family, friends, teachers, coaches, employers, and other mentors.
It can be nerve-wracking to reach out to a support system member or admit you need help. But remember—your support system only works if every member is committed to your well-being. A strong support system will be happy to help you in any way you need and will be glad you asked for help instead of struggling in silence.
Keep a Structure and Routine
A final tip to help transition to life after competitive sports is to maintain a sense of structure and routine in your daily life. Even if you’re no longer waking up before dawn to hit the gym, having (and sticking to) these commitments can give you a sense of purpose and help you continue to develop and achieve goals.
About Arthur Lynch:
Former professional athlete Arthur Lynch has built a name for himself in college and NFL football. He was a Tight End drafted in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins and played with various teams. While his career has taken him from the NFL and into business and finance, Mr. Lynch actively contributes to his community as a Special Olympics volunteer and ran the 2021 NYC Marathon in partnership with Haymakers for Hope, a charitable organization that’s sole mission is to fight cancer.