LIFE AFTER COLLEGE ATHLETICS
After you complete your college degree, your life changes. Many researches have emphasized the identity changes that student-athletes life with during college and after. Many observers of student-athletes would say that we go through an identity crisis when transitioning from playing sports to not playing sports at a competitive level. After playing sports for our whole lives, we have to find ourselves. Some of us are fortunate enough to play at the “next level” but even professional players question identity as their time in sports comes to an end. Here is some advice from a former student-athlete that played since the age of 4: Don’t question yourself!
You are just as capable of those students who were able to get multiple degrees while in school, gain job experience while in school, and have support of staff while they were in college. With the proper mentality, our competitive mindset, and our passion to succeed, student-athletes build themselves to succeed in life even after sports!
Whether life after sports means you sign a professional contract to play overseas, or you start to look for employment outside of sports, life will be different. I competed for 4 years at the Division I level on the Women’s Basketball Team. My first year was at a U.C. in California where I transferred after my Freshman year to a large Division I in Texas. My family was in California so being in Texas was quite a change for me. I was there alone with no family and trusted and depending on my team, coaches and support as family away from home. At the end of my senior year, we played the first round of the NCAA tournament at home. We were the higher seed, so we were expected to win. We ended up losing that game and it unexpectedly was the last game of my basketball career.
THE BIG CHANGE…
About a week or two after the game, I had a planned ankle surgery. I had been playing on an injured ankle for about two years after injuring it in a practice. After the initial injury subsided, the pain was still there, and it was still very stiff but to make it through games and practices, I would take medication or injections in my ankle to temporarily relieve the pain during competitions. I visited the doctor soon after the injury first occurred and he informed my trainer and I that I only had a severe ankle twist and no broken bones.
The diagnosis of my ankle was different after competing for a couple years on a partially healed injury. According to the doctor, the pounding on my ankle caused it to get worse and worse. When I arrived at the hospital in preparation for my surgery, I was worried because I had never had a major surgery prior to this one and something about being put to sleep worried me. I woke up from surgery shivering. After being covering up and recovering from the body shock, my trainer brought me to my apartment to rest.
My mom flew in later that day to help me with getting around after the surgery. I had my follow up appointment a couple days after the surgery where the doctor gave me the results from my ankle surgery. My mom came along. The doctor talked about the procedure during the surgery and then told me I could no longer compete at a high level in basketball with my ankle how it is. He then continued to explain, "If you ever planned to have kids and want to be able to play with them, you don’t need to play." I was crushed! I immediately put my head in my hands and started crying while my mom rubbed my back trying to console me. I always tell the story that this was the first time I saw my mom cry. She was hurt for her baby. She is probably the strongest but sweetest person I know so I just want to share that moment and feeling of sadness in the room when we go that news. I was excited and planned to play at the next level like many Division I athletes who have committed their lives to doing so, but that was no longer an option (If I wanted to ever play with my kids). I knew I wanted to me a mom someday and I knew, according to my doctor, that my ankle was in the shape of a 90-year-old’s ankle. So, I had to accept the fact that I would have to change my plans of playing professionally.
What Life Had In Store…
At that time, I was working on my master’s degree in Media Communications. The university paid for the degree that I completed because I started the degree before my eligibility was complete.
SIDE NOTE FOR CURRENT STUDENT-ATHLETES: WHEN YOU START PLANNING FOR A COLLEGE DEGREE, MAKE SURE TO SHARE WITH YOUR ADVISERS AND COACHES THAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO PLAN TO START YOUR MASTER’S DEGREE BEFORE YOU HAVE EXHAUSTED YOUR ELIGIBILITY AS AN NCAA STUDENT-ATHLETE. IF YOU START A DEGREE PROGRAM WHILE YOU ARE STILL ELIGIBILITY TO COMPETE AS AN ATHLETE, (WHEN SET UP CORRECTLY) THE INSTITUTION WILL PAY FOR YOU TO COMPLETE YOUR SECOND DEGREE. ON A FULL RIDE, THAT WOULD MEAN YOU WERE ABLE TO GET YOUR UNDERGRADUATE AND GRADUATE DEGREE PAID FOR AND BE DEBT FREE ONCE YOU COMPLETE IT! THAT’S A WIN!
During my time with my master’s I was only focused on that as we were wrapping up the year in athletics and the trainer and athletic resources were still available to me to complete school. I remember feeling pretty low in classes as I worked to complete my master’s degree, knowing that I would not be able to compete beyond the college level any longer. I was in search of my identity.
Around this same time, I got into a relationship with an older guy was a football coach at the university. I had completed my time playing so at this point, I’m sure he felt it was appropriate to share his interest because I was no longer a student-athlete at the institution where he coached. I had been told by mutual friends that he was interested but thought nothing of it because I was still completing my final season as a student-athlete. Eventually, maybe a day or so after my final game in college, he reached out to me to share that he was interested. We ended up going on a date and continued with a relationship. I was about 22 years old at this point and fresh out of college. It was nice to have someone older who was financially well off taking me on trips and not having to worry about finances. I would say that I became comfortable during a time of drastic life change after the game was taken away and needed someone to provide that comfort. Being in a relationship was definitely a distraction from the results of not being able to compete at the next level.
I was in Texas and my family was originally from California. Despite my tightly knit family that I had back home in California and had been away from for years while attending the University, I decided to stay in Texas with him. We lived together and dated for four years. Soon my life was going to change completely….
Situations will be placed in your life to build your tenacity and reason to exist…
I ended up getting pregnant. The both of us decided that we would commit to a family. Before she was born, when I was able nine months pregnant , he had received the news that he was being let go from his coaching position with the university. Of course, as a nine-month pregnant mommy to be, I was worried about finances, but he was proactive in finding new work. He ended up getting another coaching job in a different state than we lived. Another month passed and that time for the baby to come. I was scheduled to be induced in order for him to make it to the birth of the baby, while considering his recruitment responsibilities. In January 2016, my baby was born, and it was the BEST moment of my life! There was no feeling that could compare to bringing life into this world. She was beautiful! Literally everything that I could hope for in a baby girl!
When my baby girl was about 3 weeks old, I received a phone call from him, letting me know that he had to tell me something…I probed and asked what it was and is everything okay? He told me that he had been cheating with another woman and got her pregnant. For those who had not yet given birth or had a baby, there is something called post-partum, which is so real! Well that post-partum feeling was elevated times 100 when I received that phone call [Talk about a complete 360 change in life]! Luckily my mom was there because I had just had my baby so she was able to calm me down from reacting like most would have [LOL]. My dad drove to meet us half way and I made my way back home to California. When I got back to California my grandmother had become very ill. Her sickness had increased, and she was losing her memory. She passed away not long after I arrived back home, leaving legacy of a remarkable woman and individual who uplifted anyone who was blessed to ever meet her. My grandmother was a phenomenal woman. I am glad to say that she was able to meet her first great grandchild in my daughter when we first arrived back home.
Now I am a proud single mother and through this traumatic situation, completely believe and understand that everything happens for a reason! My daughter is my EVERYTHING! She had made me better in so many ways as a person and I am forever grateful for that. One of the most important lessons that she taught me was that in life there will be change, there will be ill people that cross your path, there will be situations placed in your life to through you off your path, but you just keep going! Her presence during the whole relocation and finding myself once more helped me have a reason to keep progressing no matter what the circumstances were. The best thing about being back home is that she is being raised by her big Cali family! The happiness her family brings she and I is immeasurable. I am forever grateful!
Lesson Learned: Through times of hardships there is a period of time that you feel like you will never recover. Try to remember that your final destination is molded by your past and will be much brighter than where you came from.
My name is Casey Morris. I am flattered to be featured on "A Stronger Version of Her." I like to consider myself a strong advocate for those who aspire to be great in life. I am a mother of my beautiful two year old first before anything else. I am an African American woman, a PhD candidate, and a former student-athlete. I state my identities to start a platform of transparency with supporters of a mission to help former student-athlete, single mothers, Black professional, women professionals, and anyone else who finds my writing beneficial to them in their journey of living life. My blog (website) was created to provide a space for former student athletes and others to share their experiences and build on a community that not only celebrates accolades that we have accomplished along the way, but also recognizes some of the obstacles we have experienced and continue to experience in "Life after sports."
In the midst of college or professional athletics, as young and eager students and athletes, we don't realize how much we have benefited from playing sports at such a competitive level, how much we learn along the way, and most importantly how much we would miss it when it is done. Fully vested & committed to school, sports, and life at such a young age leaves little room for personal development. When the sports and attention is taken away, many former athletes feel lost...We may question our self-worth after spending our entire life up to this point preparing to play a sport and compete at the highest level...We may feel like we do not have a chance to excel in the professional world outside of sports...We may feel unworthy...
...What we must realize is that our development stems from within and though transitioning to life after sports is challenging, there is a community that can relate to you and your struggles and continues to progress professionally while often referencing back to the foundation & character developed on their journey. On my site I share my story, experiences professionally, and lessons learned. I also welcome other former student athletes to share their story of "Life After Sports."