This is a seven part series.
- Part 1: Really understanding the odds
- Part 2: The injury factor
- Part 3: When you’re getting good at sports, you’re not getting good at something else
- Part 4: The habits you’re not thinking about
- Part 5: The teamwork argument
- Part 6: Social circle consequences
- Part 7: An approach that’s probably ok
Social circle consequences
For those who’ve gone to college, a common thing once being done with school is realizing you have to manufacture your social life. That while in school, it was basically given to you. This can be a hard transition for many. If you stay in the same city you went to school in, then maybe not. But if you move, it could be at 30 years old and you get a new job, you might end up going, “Damn, I don’t know anyone, and not only that, I don’t know how to meet anyone either.” It can be an alienating time.
-> If you make it to playing at the division I level, even if you stay in the same area you went to college in, you’ll likely lose a lot of friends. At the division I level, teammates -most your friends- are going to be from all over. Once done playing, many will go back home, many states away.
For those who grew up playing tons of sports, then eventually stopped, you may realize you have no idea how to make friends outside of playing sports. Screw college or school. You don’t know how people made friends without sports period! That everyone you hang out with is a product of something you played together. If you didn’t play something in college or high school, you might not realize it, but at some point you figured out other ways to find people with similar interests. If you played a sport, that was a given. You spent a lot of time with certain people, of course had similar interests. Your teammates essentially have to become your friends. Perhaps the only ones.
This happened to me when I stopped playing football and went to a different school. I realized my entire life I never had to make friends, or try to meet people. They were always put right in front of me. For close to a year, this was tough. How did the rest of society function socially? How do you meet new people? What did you talk about when half the conversation wasn’t about the sport you played?
-> One theme continues, the better the athlete, the more time devoted to a sport, the more true this all is. Never mind do a club, I barely knew they existed, because it would have taken away from the sport I was playing. If you make it to higher level college play, you don’t have time to make friends outside of your teammates. Plus, nobody but your teammates understands what you’re going through. So you latch on to that.
The same can occur with those who suffer a major injury. You are suddenly not on the field, not around your teammates as much, and your whole social circle is gone. Not only that, even if you’re still around them, you’re an outsider because you’re not on the field. You’re not part of the group, going through the same things anymore.
For some, once they’re done playing, a rec league fills this void. For others, what do you do if you can’t do the rec league? If your body can’t handle sports anymore? If you just don’t want to play anymore? You have to adapt, or be lonely as hell. And chances are, even if you do adapt, you’ll be lonely while you figure it out.
When I moved to California right after college, my immediate default for meeting people was to sign up for a rec league. If I moved again, I don’t know if I could / would want to go this route. Per above, I’m now cautious about exposing my body to this type of activity. I was 22 when I moved. I’m almost 30 now. I run a business now when I didn’t then. I’m in a relationship now when I wasn’t then. Life happened. Age matters. If I moved again, I don’t know what I would do socially.
Also, many of the best former athletes I know either don’t do or stop rec leagues very quickly. Whether you feel too much like a has-been, the competition is too low, everyone else is trying to have fun meanwhile you’re thinking WINNING IS WHAT’S FUN PEOPLE, it doesn’t work for one reason or another.
-> Another reason I stopped the last rec league I was in is because I was taking it way, way too seriously. It started as for fun, but next thing I know I’m talking strategy with people at the bar, I’m practicing on my own time. I knew the whole time it was ridiculous, but eventually it hit me hard enough, “This is over the top.” But I know if I do another one, there is a strong chance the same will happen. Like many former athletes, that’s the only way I know to do sports. All or nothing. (And the more on the “all” side you are, the more likely you’re getting injured.)
It’s like Monica and Ross.
Rachel “Ross! Want to play football?
Ross “Um, Monica and I aren’t supposed to play football.”
Monica “You know what, I think we should play a game. I mean come on, it’s been 12 years.”
My girlfriend recently moved from Orange County to San Diego. She’s currently experiencing this. The people she hung out with in Orange County are either from high school sports or college. Sports and college are gone now. She doesn’t do rec leagues for the above reasons as well. The way she, and I, made most our friends is gone. It’s an effort to not only maintain and or find a social circle, but find new means of making them.
-> This seems progressively applicable over time, due to technology. It seems easier / more likely a person will move for a job; more are working remotely. If you’re a remote worker, you’re not exactly going to happy hour with coworkers.
As well, over time you are less likely to continue doing sports.
In other words, sports and work become are becoming lesser ways to have a social circle. Off to Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Television we go?
A scarier version of this is when a significant injury happens in high school, or younger. A client of mine, her son tore his ACL around his sophomore year of high school. That basically means you’re out of sports for a year, and have a questionable chance of ever returning to what you were.
When you’re of high school age, or younger, a year is an eternity. Not being able to play, to be around your friends in the same capacity, can be catastrophic at that age.
Her son ended up finding other avenues to fill this void. Other avenues to get an adrenaline rush. There was no other real direction or interest, and there is a known group of the teenage age one can find in this case. It took years until things got better. They still aren’t great. She always points to that one moment, when he got injured, that things turned.
I was having a conversation with a parent, about his 12 year old daughter, who got hurt playing soccer. Another big injury, where you’re out of commission for a while. Possibly never the same.
The parent mentioned how hard his daughter had been working to get back. How much pain she was in. How lonely she felt being on the sidelines. Being part of her group of teammates, but not really.
The parent wanted to know what advice I had for getting back faster. I told them at 12 years old, getting back faster isn’t the goal. Having a healthy body for the next 70 years is. That if this 12 year old girl was in that much pain, she was already trying to come back too fast.
I never talked to the parent again. I figured the advice wasn’t that well received. If this girl had other areas to entertain her, other groups of friends, there’s a greater chance the mentality would have been different. “Let’s focus on this for now, instead of soccer.”
These examples, these kids, had one major interest at the time. The thing with sports, when they’re your main, or only interest, they can be taken from you in a way other things can’t. If you love cars, or being mechanical with them, you’re unlikely to out of nowhere lose the ability to fulfill that interest. Yes, you could randomly get your hand cut off. But you don’t randomly suffer an injury, which significantly impairs your ability to entertain your interest of say, marketing, like you do playing a sport. Stephen Hawking lost the ability to move everything but his eyes and an index finger, yet still became a world famous physicist and author. Sports don’t have this luxury.
There are transitions in life where many will experience a turnover in their social circle. High school and college graduation, moving, a new job. Some handle this turnover better than others. Some can talk to most about most topics. Many former athletes can talk to former athletes, about athletics. If sports are all you know, if they’re all you ever took the time to get good at, if they’re thing your parents obsessed over due to some unreasonable hope you’d make it pro, it can be a painful transition not only learning to talk to other people about other things, but learning to find them.