Life After Sport: Now What? (Guest Post by Becca McConville)

Because a large topic of the next book I’m working on is about breaking away/transitioning from sport (in my case, running), I’ve been looking forward to having Rebecca McConville (MS RD LD CSSD) share her thoughts on this subject here!

Becca invited me onto the PHIT for a Queen Podcast and has been supportive of Running in Silence. And with all the great work she is doing, it was a treat to meet her in person at the Eating Disorders in Sport Conference last month. In fact, Becca was one of the speakers who put together an amazing presentation about eating disorders in men with Patrick Devenny.

As I’ve learned through writing book #2, learning about others’ experiences, and through seeing articles pop up about the tough transition from sport, I’ve really begun to see how large and difficult this topic is–especially for those who have or are prone to developing eating disorders, too. Thank you, Becca, for your expertise and addressing this!

Imagine the oddity of waking up to the sounds of birds chirping. The sun hitting your face in the peacefulness of a quiet room. Your feet gently touch the floor and you’ve waited for this moment for so long. Instead, that odd feeling in the pit of your stomach is saying now what?

Alarm Clocks, Color-Coded schedules, Grief

For years you have been waking up to the beeping and blaring of an alarm clock. Your feet haven’t even been able to relax on the floor because they usually take off running to check off a million items on the to-do list. Days are filled with structure and color-coded schedules that you likely had minimal input on.

For many athletes, this transition out of sport can be rather difficult–almost comparable to a loss or grief. Your closest friends were your teammates, time on the clock was centered around team activities, and your relationship with your body had the sole purpose of improvement in your sport.

My Body Was Built for This Sport

Even physiologically the transition out of sport will seem unnatural. Your body has adapted throughout the years with your sport being the main focus. Your view of your body–whether body image or weight–was in the context of what other athletes look like versus your genetic makeup. Meals were chosen most of the time not by what you intuitively would have chosen, but by what was provided for you. Team meals tended to not have a lot of options so you went with the pack mentality and had what the rest of the team was consuming. Your purpose behind fueling was not one centered around honoring your health, but focused on how this will help with recovery from workouts and preparation for competition the following day.

A sports dietitian that is savvy in understanding these physiological and psychological changes can guide you through how to re-learn what your body needs and wants so that you may learn eating competence. Athletes have reported that since their food consumption from a young age centered around their sport, they never felt a competency to eat for just themselves.

Find What the New “Norm” Is

Understand that your brain has been conditioned to fill that time in sport with physical activity. However, it will be beneficial to reframe what your new “norm” is. You no longer need to spend three hours on the court followed up with an additional hour in the weight room OR run 60 miles a week with your foam roller being the closest you get to self-care.

Assess what you enjoyed from your sport whether it be team camaraderie, strength, or the ability to express creativity in an athletic manner. Seek out other physical activities that may encompass this. For example, when I retired from sport I joined a sand volleyball league and now I am back to basketball, but now as my daughter’s coach. Perhaps set up a consultation with a personal trainer to develop a plan that meets your balanced fitness goals and how to incorporate it into your life. For once you can plan that around life, not life around your workouts.

Start from Scratch

As this chapter centered around sports closes, you can now write the next chapter the way you would like. Think of the social events you may have turned down when your time was filled with “mandatory” team activities. Now make that list: movies, home for the holidays, road trips, staying in your jammies all day to a good book, or learning a new hobby.

Your teammates will always be a part of your life, but expand your friend circle. With this freed up schedule, try attending a you are interested in, bible study group, professional networking, or take the time to finally meet the neighbors you always rushed by.

Like Your First Best Friend You Never Forget

Understand that sport will always be a part of your life. But now you can choose to not let it be your whole life. Allow yourself grace, grief, and guidance that this will be a process. Align each day with goals for yourself, your body and your health.

Then ask what you can do to empower yourself to achieve these. Reach out to a former athlete as a mentor in how they transitioned successfully. Or, learn from what they wished they had done differently. Seek assistance from a therapist–especially one who may have dealt with transition out of sport like a sport psychologist.

Please understand that sport is like your childhood best friend that isn’t gone, but moving away. There will be days you find yourself in tears. And there will be days that you can say, “YES, I can do whatever I damn well please!” Your sport has made you the incredible, driven person you are.  This character will narrate the rest of the story!

Rebecca McConville is a relationship expert that helps you explore and strengthen your relationship with food, weight, body image and sports performance — helping to find a place where these can mutually co-exist and thrive with enjoyment.

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