There are more than 400,000 collegiate athletes in the United States and the NCAA’s motto is that most of them will go pro in something other than sports. But, the transition away from such a big part of their lives isn’t easy. One moment they are playing the sport they love nearly every day, and the next that sport gone, leaving a massive gap to fill.
“It was kind of like having a leg kicked out of a three-legged stool, truthfully,” said D.J. Lubs, a former All-American lacrosse player at Florida Southern College. “Everything you do is for that sport. Everything is centered around that, so when you lose that, the world opens up to you.”
That experience of the world opening up is different for everyone who goes through it. Michigan State University field hockey alumnus Shelby Supica said the hardest part was dealing with all of the newfound free time.
“When field hockey ended, it was like a break in time — the end of an era,” Supica said. “You have so much free time that you don’t know what you do with, and I was in confusion like I was supposed to be doing something. It was a weird empty feeling.”
For Supica’s collegiate teammate Kristin Matula, it was the void of not competing.
“The hardest part was finding something that you equated to sports,” Matula said. “You’re competing at the highest level and it’s hard to keep that pride and motivation in something else that can take up that time in your life.”
Regardless of individual challenges, the expectation in the real world is that student-athletes can simply move on. They are starting out their careers and need to hit the ground running to impress employers.
Yet some sports don’t end until after graduation. Student-athletes participating in fall semester sports have the spring semester to prepare. Meanwhile, spring sport athletes have the added pressure of making the difficult transition the day after their athletic career is over.
When field hockey ended in the fall, Supica took advantage of her free months in the spring.
“I think it was nice we had the extra semester to put everything together,” Supica said. “It was almost perfect timing because you have that time to experience what it’s like to not be an athlete while you’re still in school and research the steps ahead. It’s hard for spring sports especially towards graduation.”
DJ Lubs couldn’t have agreed more.
“You go from doing something every day with a routine that has really worked its way into your life, to it being completely cut off,” Lubs said. “It was kind of like a kid in a candy store because you don’t know where to focus your attention. From that, moving from college to adult life was kind of hectic.”
“At the same time, you find ways to move back to the things that you center yourself around. Once I took the time off from sports and found my new routine, that helped center me. I was able to able to pick up coaching and getting back to things I really enjoyed again. That put the leg back on the stool and helped right the ship.”
Lubs, Supica, and Matula have all gotten into coaching since graduating. Lubs is now the defensive coordinator for the Michigan State University men’s lacrosse team. Supica and Matula are assistant field hockey coaches for Pioneer High School and the University of Massachusetts Amherst, respectively.
They all say it helped a lot with moving away from playing, and allowed them put the energy they used as athletes toward a productive outlet: teaching young players.
“Being back with my high school coach has been incredible and it’s been an honor,” Supica said. “It was awesome working with the girls every day and coaching the pathway that I took and got me to college was really cool.”
Looking at the field from a different view has especially given Matula a new perspective on her days at MSU.
“As a student, it’s definitely hard to work around the demand of the sport,” Matula said. “It goes by a lot faster than you think, and by the end you want to know that you put everything you could into it and got everything you could out of it.”