You hear business owners talking about having an exit plan. If you are an athlete in college or entering the Pros, it’s even more important for you to have one. Although you may have spent your entire life preparing to make the team and become the star athlete, the reality remains: it is not uncommon for an athlete to swiftly and unexpectedly get cut from the team through performance, financial decisions, or through injury.
Unfortunately, many teams seem to be interested in “what can you do for me today?” Nor are they generally focused or necessarily appreciative of what you have done for them in the past. What you embraced as a promising college or pro career can be immediately impacted by unexplainable struggles on the field or court, another player emerging that is hungrier or more talented than you… and of course, the dreaded injury that dwells in the back of every player’s mind during practice or live games.
Having an exit game plan for your career after sports gives you direction and helps you to prepare now for whatever your athletic future holds in store for you. Below are steps you can take now to ensure a successful transition for wherever you are in your life and career.
Three-Step Game Plan for Success
1. Take stock of your talents, gifts, and passions;
2. Cultivate your esteem and love of self as essential to success; and
3. Create your own destiny.
Talents, Gifts, and Passions:
It is likely you have dreamed all your life of making the Pros in your sport. What else makes you passionate about this kind of a life plan? Is it teaching and coaching other players, being a leader of your team, being the analytical specialist, or being able to make a difference in the world with your celebrity as the drawing card. Perhaps, one of the joys from your achievement and stardom is being able to influence the young and eager wide-eyed youth who look up to you—giving them hope and inspiration for a better quality of life—that they too can create their dreams.
In reality, it’s more than giving hope and fulfilling dreams. It is about making a true difference in someone’s life, starting with your own. Can you become a financial planner to reach other athletes? Do you desire to motivate others through corporate presentations or speaking and writing to help others reach their dreams?
Begin to make a list of your passions. Then make a list of the skills that would complement your passions and help you fulfill them. A word of caution: don’t let your critical, analytical self-talk you out of your highest dreams. You can do it, but the first step is getting clarity and honesty about your desires, skills, and talents. Whatever is deep in your heart, you can reach them.
Cultivate Self-Esteem and Love:
The lack of love and self-acceptance are two primary enemies that sabotage your success in life, relationships, and career. If you are self-critical, you talk yourself out of taking steps towards your goals. You may have used criticism to propel you to change your behaviors and skills for athletics. Yet, these put downs and harshness toward yourself can later lead to feelings of failure and not feeling good enough…and the deadly tendency to compare yourself to others. When you do compare yourself with others, it is all too easy to find those who are quicker, stronger, more skilled, smarter, etc. The natural result of these thoughts is that you begin to feel more inadequate, which then translates to diminished self-esteem, confidence, and performance.
You don’t have to beat yourself up! Instead, you are here to learn to be your best self by being your foremost supporter. When you encourage yourself—even through mistakes and shortcomings—you are learning the art of Conscious Loving™, the power of which is to give yourself the best intentions and allow your brain to support you as you make the best decisions for yourself. In contrast, when you start with yourself in showing unconditional love, you immediately lift your energy, spirit, and mental game—and almost magically, you achieve far more. Remember self-love and acceptance equate to healthy self-esteem.
Create Your Own Destiny:
As an athlete, you are in charge of your own destiny. You determined how much you practiced, strengthened and conditioned, the types of foods you ate, the coaches’ instructions you employed, and the lifestyle you lived to give yourself the best possible ways to physically, emotionally, and mentally thrive in your sport. However, if you are terminated from your sport through injury or displaced from your team, you might believe that you have few options.
Keep an open heart and mind; consider that every adversity and challenge can create an opportunity for you to grow even more—and thrive—if you can face and deal with each new situation. You remain in control as the conductor of your life. No one makes these decisions for you, and you certainly don’t need to ride the train as a victim of circumstances! You do not need to believe or feel the current situation you are in defines you. No! Each momentary setback is designed to help you create an even more impactful direction for your life. What lessons can you learn from your situation? How can you leverage the desire to create even better outcomes? For a hint, go back to step number two: leveraging your self-acceptance and love.
Know that when you truly love yourself, you choose beliefs, thoughts, and actions that are consistent with supporting yourself and your dreams and visions.
Know that you are not alone. Many others have experienced what you may be going through. First, look inward to ways you can give yourself support and affection. Then reach out to others for their support and guidance.
With the many players that I have spoken, those who are the most successful are the ones who started to transition outside their given sport while they were in it. Some started taking college courses in the off-season. Others started writing their thoughts and experiences for a book to capture their highlights and inspirations; they learned to be grateful for overcoming personal fears and struggles. Some started working with life coaches to get a “game plan” for an optimal life after their sport.
Don’t put your head in the sand; believing you’ll manage situations when they are dealt to you. This is a reactionary course of action and produces poor outcomes. Instead, begin to think, dream, formulate, and take action now—to create the life you truly envision and deserve.
Mamiko Odegard, Ph.D. specializes in working with athletes to assist in transitioning from their sport to find meaning and success in new possibilities and careers.