Dear Athlete, Life Threw You a Curve

life after sports Apr 03, 2020

A special message to all impacted by COVID-19

Cry, my dear athlete. Life threw you a curve.
It took the game you loved and gave you pain you didn’t deserve.
I said, cry, my dear athlete. Don’t hold back your tears.
You’ve lost the game you love. The one you’ve played for years.
I said cry, my dear athlete. Because you’ve lost a sense of self.
One moment you were a star. And now you feel like everyone else...
Wait! No. Don’t cry, my dear athlete! You’ve been here once before.
The grit it took to get here is the strength that will carry you forward.
I said don’t cry, my dear athlete. Who told you life was done?
Yeah, your sports career may be over, but life has just begun.
So no, don’t you cry my dear athlete. I know life threw you a curve. 
It took the game you loved and gave you pain you didn’t deserve.
So no, don’t cry my dear athlete, because you are not alone.
There are thousands of athletes just like you who don’t know where to go.
So no, don’t cry my dear athlete. Your life will be more than OK. 
If no one else understands. I want you to know - I can relate.

Here are three tips that helped me transition from suicide to success after sports:

1. Celebrate your accomplishments

 When my career ended abruptly, I constantly tried to have conversations with people about how good of an athlete I was and could have been.

I would find myself trying to explain to everybody and anybody how good I could have been. I would tell them about my good plays and athleticism. I loved telling people the story about how I was fast enough to challenge Antonio Brown to a race (he blasted past me at the get off, but I gained some ground when that long stride kicked in!). Oh, and of course I would brag about the times I beat CMU’s 2013 #1 draft pick Eric Fisher in pass rush drills. I would tell them so they would understand how good I could have been. It was pathetic. I would talk about how I was a “better” athlete than every professional athlete I played against. Eric Fisher, Draymond Green, Brandon Jennings, etc. I told people who cared and those who didn’t care. Athletes and non-athletes. People who asked about my sports career and people who didn’t ask. Why? Because it helped me cope with the pain of it being over. Somehow telling other people about how I dunked on somebody who was in the pros or outperformed someone who was doing well in college made me feel as if I were still competing. I was subconsciously tricking myself into believing I lived up to my potential. 

Then it hit me. It wasn’t other people I was trying to convince. I was trying to convince myself.

I had to accept that although I could have been a professional athlete, I was never going to be one. I had to accept that even though I beat Eric Fisher in some pass rush drills, he got drafted No. 1 and I watched him play from my couch at home. Yes, I put up solid points against Draymond Green during our preseason game in 2007, but he was playing professional basketball making millions and I was at home watching him play.   

I had to learn how to stop talking about my potential and start talking about my actual accomplishments.

Every time I would talk about my potential I would experience a deep sense of regret and low self-esteem, but when I talked about my accomplishments I would feel confident and a sense of gratitude. I definitely preferred the latter. 

2. Find new purpose: 

Mark Twain once said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”

My heart ached and I swear it stopped beating a few seconds the first time after my sports career when someone asked me how tall I was and whether I played sports. For the first time in my life, my answer was, “No… I don’t… play any sports.” I could barely get the words out. It felt unnatural. Like athletes around the world, I had played sports since I was a child.

The question to answer then was, “If I’m no longer an athlete… who am I?”

I started researching everything I could find about discovering your life’s purpose. I bought online courses, went to events and read numerous books. I read dissertations and articles and watched every motivational YouTube video and sermon I could find about purpose, meaning, calling or whatever you want to call the ultimate driving force in life.  Much of what I found was the same advice presented in different ways. Many life coaches, educators, philosophers, pastors, thought leaders, etc. advise you to write a list of things you’re passionate about so you can select the one you’re most passionate about.

Many of them made the same profound statements, such as:

  • “Don’t chase money, chase your dreams and money will chase you.”
  • “If you find a way to make money off of what you love to do, then you’ll never work another day in your life.”
  • “Your purpose is not about you! It’s about helping others.”

My mentor used to tell me that where your gifts meet your passion, you’ll find your purpose. Those narratives are wise, and I say them from time to time when I speak. Yet, for me, football and basketball were my passions! Running fast, jumping high and making plays were my talents! So, what do you do when sports are your passion, but you can no longer play? What do you do when your talents are your athleticism, but you’re no longer an athlete? What do you do when what you love to do is not an option?

It took me three years to get to a place in life where I knew what my purpose was without a doubt. I could clearly define it and not just say something cliche like “my purpose is to help others” or my purpose is to be a good husband or father.  Once I discovered my purpose, I began to help other athletes do the same. Through Second Chance Athletes, I walk athletes through a three-step discovery process to clearly define their life’s purpose. 

Here are some of the questions that I share in my coaching and online course:

  • What do I wish I would have known when I was younger? Oftentimes our purpose in life is to be the help we wish we had. I’ve heard it said that we’re all just trying to help the younger version of ourselves succeed. 
  • What in life bothers you the most? My mentor Travis Hall has always taught me that whatever bothers me the most, is probably because I was meant to fix it. I learned that we’re all solutions to problems. When I found my problem, I found my purpose. 
  • What is the common motivation between your variety of interests and passions? When I was searching for purpose beyond sports, I had so many different interests. I liked to write, study marketing, speak, rap, network, and coach 1-on-1. I had ideas for corporations, non-profits, movies, songs, community development projects and more. I thought I was all over the place. The truth is that I wasn’t all over the place. There was a common motivation that served as the driving force of all my many passions. What I did may have changed from time to time, but why I did what I did remained consistent. 

3. Build systems of success: 

As an athlete, administrators and coaches organized my life.  My 5:00 A.M. workouts, day classes, 3:00 P.M. team meeting, 4:00 P.M. position meeting, 7:00 P.M. dinner, and 8:00 P.M. film session were all accomplished because someone else put it on my calendar.  Everything was planned out. All my teammates, trainers, and coaches were on the same system. Everyone knew what role they needed to play. It’s how I got stronger, faster, and in a better position to reach my full potential on and off the field. It’s how we won a MAC Championship at Central Michigan University in 2010. 

The problem is that after sports, all that planning and scheduling was up to me. I was now the CEO of my own life. I quickly learned how to manage a calendar, delegate responsibilities, automate tasks and establish additional success habits to replace the systems and structure that helped me be effective as an athlete. 

COVID-19 has impacted the world in a way we’re still figuring out. Many athletes will never have the privilege to cherish their last game.  In a moment, their season was canceled and they were forced to face life without the sport they love. The challenge is to let go of the past in order to embrace the opportunities of their new future.

Sudden transition is what sent me into the darkest depression of my life. Truthfully, it took me five years to get to a place where I no longer desired to be an athlete and I was in love with my life more than my life as an athlete. 

If you’re in a similar position, I want to encourage you to be patient with yourself. Give yourself time to grieve. Know that some days you think you’re over it and other days you’ll want to show the world how great of an athlete you were. Remember that sports are what you did, it’s not who you are. You’re still awesome without it and your best days are ahead.

So no, don’t you cry my dear athlete. I know life threw you a curve. 
It took the game you loved and gave you pain you didn’t deserve.
So no, don’t cry my dear athlete. Your life will be more than OK. 
If no one else understands. I want you to know - I can relate.

 Written by Darryll Stinson

Darryll Stinson is a thought leader on athletic transition as Founder of Second Chance Athletes. As a dynamic TEDx speaker, hip-hop artist, and certified John Maxwell coach, he shares his life experience of overcoming addiction, mental illness, and multiple suicide attempts to produce success in his life with current and former athletes across the globe. Join his Private Facebook Group here to receive free training from him and network with other athletes and entrepreneurs. IG @stinsonspeaks 



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