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Transitioning Out of Sports: Tips I’ve Picked Up Along the Way

For athletes, the exciting world of sports often becomes an all-encompassing part of their lives. The pursuit of athletic excellence, the camaraderie of teammates, and the adrenaline of competition shape their identity and define their daily routines. But what happens when the final whistle blows and the cheering crowds fade away? The transition from a career in sports to life after retirement can be a daunting and overwhelming process for many.

While the move out of sports may seem intimidating, it also presents an incredible opportunity for personal growth, new adventures, and building upon the skills cultivated through sports. My aim here is to share my story and help other athletes embrace their next chapter with confidence and optimism.

As a recently retired athlete, I understand the challenge of redefining one's identity as life moves forward. Back in 2018, I had the privilege of being a member of the inaugural class of the first collegiate water polo team in Texas. Not only was this sport entirely new on our campus, but it was also a groundbreaking endeavor within the entire state. Consequently, my name became synonymous with the phrase "the water polo player," a label that I wore proudly and that fostered a strong sense of belonging.

Beyond personal recognition, I took immense pride in our team's accomplishments, as we achieved remarkable milestones in the early stages of our program's history. I was also fortunate enough to contribute to shaping the vision of our program and creating a culture-first approach. This experience made me feel like I was leaving behind a lasting legacy that I took comfort in. However, the bittersweet reality hit when the time came for me to say farewell to the sport and the team that had become an integral part of my life. The following are things that I did in my transition out of sports.

Took a Break

While my passion for my sport knows no bounds, any collegiate athlete can attest to the juggling act of managing sports, academics, and work. Recognizing the need for a well-deserved break, I allowed myself the time to reset and recharge. During this period, I enjoyed the company of my family and friends, who existed outside the realm of my team. This experience provided me with both valuable insights into the person I would become and the reality that I didn’t know much about myself. People would ask “What are your hobbies?” and all I could think about was water polo. Taking the time to reintroduce myself to myself, was eye-opening as I truly recognized things such as I enjoy fall candles and prefer earth tones to pastels.

Recognized the Skills My Sport Had Given Me

The transition from college to the realm of adulthood can be an overwhelming experience, even for those who haven't pursued athletics. The job search can be challenging, and athletes, in particular, tend to be hard on themselves regarding failure. However, it's crucial to acknowledge that the skills honed in sports, such as effective communication, impeccable time management, seamless teamwork, and the ability to accept constructive criticism, are highly transferable to the real world if embraced wholeheartedly.

In my case, teamwork played a pivotal role in finding myself in my new environment. Within my program, we emphasized the importance of fostering a positive team culture, understanding that not everyone had to be best friends. Nevertheless, there was a collective commitment to respecting one another in the water, regardless of personal relationships. This particular skill has proven invaluable in navigating the professional landscape, allowing me to be a more efficient and collaborative employee while minimizing issues.

Fell Back in Love With Moving My Body With No Objective

The relentless drive to improve in my sport propelled me to dedicate countless hours to the gym and the pool. However, once that chapter came to a close, I discovered a newfound sense of solace in simply working out for the pure joy of it. I reconnected with my body on a deeper level, no longer neglecting it solely for the sake of securing more playing time. Gone were the pressures of making the roster, meeting time constraints, or reaching certain performance benchmarks. Now, it was just me, indulging in activities that brought me genuine satisfaction and fulfillment.

Engaging in specific water polo movements, or even practicing passing and shooting, became not only relaxing but also tinged with a touch of nostalgia. These familiar actions served as a reminder of the camaraderie, challenges, and exhilaration I experienced during my playing days. Engaging in them allowed me to tap into a state of tranquility, reminiscent of past successes and cherished memories.

Kept in Touch with my Sport and My Team

Although my days as a collegiate athlete have come to an end, water polo remains a significant part of my life. While I can no longer compete for the Roos, I have found solace in joining a club team at Texas Tech, where I am pursuing my graduate studies. Being able to play alongside individuals of diverse skill levels has reignited the passion I felt when I first started playing this sport, and it has relieved the pressure to always perform at my best. Additionally, this experience has created new friendships in a completely unfamiliar environment.

Even though I now identify as a Red Raider, I make it a point to stay in touch with my former teammates. They serve as a reminder that I am not alone in navigating this transitional phase. We also make plans to attend home games together, ensuring that the team and culture we built together continue to thrive. This connection has been instrumental in helping me move forward while simultaneously maintaining a sense of attachment to my athletic career.

Found Excitement in This New Journey

Even though this new phase felt scary, I kept one thought in mind: I have yet to encounter an athlete who hasn't confronted obstacles along their journey. I have undoubtedly gained a great deal from my involvement in sports, but it is essential to recognize that I have also dedicated a significant portion of myself to it as well. Therefore, I believe I deserve to utilize the valuable lessons learned to propel myself forward.

Having spent a year in retirement, I have come to realize that my athletic career and persona are merely fragments of my overall identity. I am here to let yall know that discovering the other aspects of myself is not only thrilling but also surpasses any fear associated with retiring. To the retiring athletes out there, just know this chapter holds just as much excitement as your days on the court, field, or water.

Kendall Katusak in her Austin College Water Polo Suit

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