Athletes find ways to cope with life after sports

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Capital News Service
LANSING — Jake Sterling, a former Michigan State University club football wide receiver, is now transitioning into the workforce after spending his college career as an athlete.
A 2016 graduate, Sterling, from Newport, competed in track and field and on the club football team.
But like thousands of other student-athletes who don’t move to the professional level, Sterling had to figure out how to transition into a life that no longer revolves around their sports. He now works as an IT account manager for Randstad Technologies in Troy.
“I’ve been competing in sports my whole life. Losing that competitive edge that I used to go through every day, like when I was running track and playing club football, is easily the most challenging part,” Sterling said. “On the contrary, the positive part is transitioning that into my work life because I’m now an account manager for a sales position, so being competitive in that position brings out the competitive edge that I learned in sports.
“Now I apply that to my work life,” he said.
Few collegiate athletes ever play professionally, according to data from NCAA. Only 5.6 percent of men’s ice hockey players will play in the NHL, for example. As for football, only 1.5 percent of college athletes will play in the NFL. Fewer than 1 percent of female collegiate basketball athletes will play in the WNBA.
Melinda Harrison, a founding partner of Teal & Co., a consulting firm in Toronto, Ontario, helps athletes transition from the college world to the working world, said, “Sport is all encompassing, and an athlete’s life revolves around a cycle of training and competition schedules.
“And it has revolved around this venue from early stages of childhood adolescents,” said Harrison, who was an All-American swimmer at the University of Michigan.
“An athlete that competes at an NCAA level has spent many years perfecting the execution of skills with dedication, desire, grit, and self-regulation,” she said.
“These are what I refer to as character skills of sport. They become part of the athlete’s DNA because of the life that they have experienced. When that venue disappears, so does the place to execute that part of their operating DNA,” she said.
Harrison said most athletes who leave their sport go through a period of adjustment that “can range in intensity from feeling unsure, to lost, or feeling just not normal to severe depression and anxiety.
“One common mistake those on the outside make is the assumption that just because someone has moved on to a job, that they have successfully transitioned from sport. This is far from reality. A job is a positive step towards transition but does not replace the deep meaning that sport has provided, she said.
Aaron Stuk, a former MSU rugby player and native of Oxford, recently moved to Oregon to work at a ski resort. He has his own way to cope with a new lifestyle after his four years playing rugby.
“I have explored new avenues to challenge myself physically and mentally, like snowboarding, rock climbing and cross-country hiking. I also play in men’s rugby leagues and coach youth teams in my spare time to grow the sport,” Stuk said.
“Coaching is a great way to give back and stay involved after college ball. Motivating co-workers and teammates to accomplish a common goal is something that I will always attribute to rugby,” he said.
Trevor Darnell writes for Spartan Newsroom.

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