Jenna Miller knew it was over when she had no desire left in her to keep playing. Mr. Raber knew it was over when he had only four years of eligibility. Mr. Collins knew it was over when he stepped off the mat for the last time his senior year.
Every athlete knows that one day their sports career will end but no one is ever really ready. Whatever the reason – graduation, loss of passion, personal reasons, single-sport focus – athletes have to adjust to their new lives.
Maritime teacher and wrestling coach Rick Collins played football, baseball, ran cross country, and wrestled, which was his main sport. He enjoyed playing sports and it was a tough transition for him when it was all over. He always had someone on him about his grades and keeping him focused but that all changed in college.
“When I got to college all of a sudden there was less structure in my life,” said Collins. “I picked Western [Washington] partly because they didn’t have a wrestling team because I was worried I would have a hard time wrestling and keeping up with school. In the end that may have been a mistake, with the less structure I filled that time with goofing off.”
Collins ended up replacing wrestling with Judo.
“It didn’t have the big commitment like a varsity sport which was good for me,” said Collins. “If I needed to skip practice to study for a test I could.”
Eventually Collins found his way back to wrestling and is now coaching. This has changed his perspective as he now sees athletes participating in their final seasons and matches.
“As a coach it’s sad when a senior walks off the mat for the last time,” he said. “You’re used to breaking down the mistakes so they can gear up for their last match but this is their last one. Then all of it is put in perspective and it’s sad, but I know I have taught those kids more than just how to wrestle but life long lessons.”
There’s a difference between knowing your career is over and being too mentally weak to handle a coach or being committed to the time required of a program.
One day it just isn’t fun for them and everything changes. In 2016, The Washington Post reported that 70% of kids stop playing sports by the time they are 13. A lot of it due to the time commitment, and sports being year round. If you want to be competitive and go on to play college you have to be invested but there aren’t enough months in a year for two 10-month seasons. This eventually happened to Jenna Miller with basketball.
“With me it was my freshman year trying to handle basketball and softball, and trying keeping up with my grades,” said Miller. “I just felt like I didn’t have enough time and that I wasn’t good enough. I was focusing my energy into something I wasn’t really into anymore.”
Miller played basketball for as long as she could remember and she ended up not trying out for the team her sophomore year. She was known as a basketball player to most of the town, so people asked her for months why she didn’t play. That was a tough subject for her. In a town that revolves around basketball it isn’t a decision that athletes take lightly, that you’re letting down the community, program, your family, and the school.
“You stop playing the sport you’ve grown up playing,” said Miller. “You’re always going to second guess your decision and wonder what things would’ve been like if you kept playing.”
Going to the games was a struggle for Miller for a long time. She eventually realized there was nothing she could do about it but move on.
“I did have doubts at first and questioned myself a lot after the first couple months of tryouts. I mean I couldn’t even set foot in the gym for a while without wishing I was out there playing but eventually I came to terms with the fact I wasn’t playing.”
Miller played softball for Kayhi, and had the best season of her career. Her sophomore year she batted .450 and maintained a 4.0 the whole year.
Sometimes you have to go out on a limb and try something new and Miller did. Her junior year she tried out for the cheer team and made varsity.
Miller really enjoyed cheer and said she was really happy with the decision she made.
“I still felt involved with everything,” said Miller. “I was cheering next to my friends and cheering for my friends who were on the basketball team.”
Miller finally found something she really enjoyed doing and was happy with herself. It took her awhile to find out what she really wanted but once she did she had a blast working hard with new teammates and learning a new sport.
Similar to how Collins found Judo to replace wrestling, Miller found cheer.
“Life is a lot easier when you find a passion you’re really into,” said Collins. “Then it’s so much easier to work hard and you love to go do that thing and you genuinely enjoy it.”
Ending after college
Raber had an even more difficult time letting go since his career lasted until after college.
“It was sad, I just knew, I only had four years of eligibility, I had to give up a dream, but I was lucky,” said Raber. “I got to play in college because not everyone gets to.”
If you ask any athlete if they have any regrets they will almost always say yes. Sometimes in the moment athletes are looking for shortcuts while others think they are doing all they can. Still others reflect and wish they had done more. Raber is one of the many that have regrets now that he is older.
“Always wish I would have had more effort and less whining about the small stuff,” said Raber.
Athletes that play in college usually have two practices a day during season, consisting of practice and weights. You have someone telling you what to do and when to do it everyday- it stays consistent. Raber had no idea what to do with his time. He took up skiing and did that a lot until he got involved in an old mans hockey league later. He said he got super lazy and never worked out until he was older.
“I got super fat and never did anything,” said Raber.
Raber has since changed his habits and does local distance runs and is dedicated to staying in shape. He hasn’t been an athlete on a team for a while, but is staying athletic.
When sports end you determine what you do with your life now. You can decide to use what sports have taught you or not but sports teach you great life lessons, and give you attributes you can use your whole life.
“It really helps you in life, not everyone can be a college athlete or even a pro,” said Collins. “So you can take what you learned in athletics and turn it into working hard to achieve goals and learning to deal with failures and setbacks.”