When you are about ten years old, you start to train a sport and you dream of one day getting into the first team of your club . If you’re committed, hard working everyday and have at least some talent, after a while, you may find yourself in that first team.
Then you dream about playing for the national team or going to a better club. After a few years, when you get into the national team, you start dreaming about playing for a great foreign club.
Everything goes smoothly, you do your job, maybe you don’t enjoy every second in training, but you love to play the game, you hunger for victory.
With hard work and various sacrifices, you play a couple of seasons abroad or in a better club in your country, and when you turn around, you are already more than 30 years old. You’re already a veteran player and many clubs close their doors to you.
For all this time, you get up, eat breakfast, train, lunch, rest, train, eat dinner, sleep and so on, every long day. Day after day, month after month, you have the same pace of life with few days off and few vacations with your nearest and dearest. You do not know any other way of life. Its the only possible way for you, the rest is slow, boring and incomprehensible.
And then you wake up one day, you feel the various parts of the body that hurt, you feel tired of everything and realize that the end of this very life has come. You are 35 years old or more (there are athletes who are fantastic in their forties and I really admire them), you can not find a club that wants to pay you to be a member of their team and you say to yourself: “Its enough.”
The day after this thought occurs, you only have question on your mind: “Now what?”. For twenty years you were doing sports, making it hard to finish a serious school (with honourable rare exceptions). Maybe you managed to stash away some money over the course of your career, maybe you didn’t. There are also sports in which there are no professional contracts. Regardless, the brain of a professional athlete is used to being busy and occupied. The moment when you find yourself without a task it is lost and confused. That’s why it needs something to do, to be processing something.
There are those who are prepared for this day, who are ready for a new kind of work. They are few, as for professional athletes, there is never enough time.
Some do not have the strength to admit to themselves, many are afraid to change their rhythm of life, so they continue to train without a club, in the hope that they will still find a contract for another season or a few more months. Prolonging the agony, just delaying the inevitable confrontation with the question “Now what?”. That’s fine, everyone is doing the best they can at any given moment.
Some work at the club as a team manager or club officials.
There are also those who do not know what to do next, so they start consuming alcohol, revel in vices and find bad company, they just get “stuck” and lose their path.
Some stay on in the sport as coaches, more or less successfully, because being a good player does not necessarily mean being a good coach. And vice versa, many superb and successful coaches weren’t good players. Have you ever wondered how this is possible?
It is also possible for a former top athlete to become an actor, a writer, a journalist, or anything else.
How many times have you heard of a former athlete opening a cafe or restaurant? This is a stereotype, commonplace in the future life of past athletes.
There are those who see such work as part of a business, who really want to own a cafe or restaurant and approach it responsibly and professionally, and there are those who just do not know what else to do, who doubt their knowledge and capabilities. They are sitting everyday at their table in a corner of the cafe, part of the cafe’s inventory, telling stories of their glorious sports career, somehow still stuck in the past.
For any business, after your sports career, some completely new and different skills will be required compared to those you had as an active athlete.
The good news is that you can learn everything you need, you just need to invest the time and effort to master those new skills. Just as in the beginning of your career, when you were learning the movements and techniques of your sport. You can use lots of the skills you know from sport: discipline, training, perseverance, you can literally copy techniques you know from sports into your new desired profession.
I know a lot of athletes that have bars, I know some who are sports managers, I know those who are very successful with their new job outside of sport and unfortunately, I know many who are “stuck”.
Maybe you remember Andrea Zorzi, who is now a very successful and influential sports journalist, or Pasquale Gravina, who in addition to his work as a team-manager, has his monodrama in the theatre “Port∃ (doors)”. Or my colleague, Czech Martin Lébl, who is selling insurance and playing snow volley!?!
These people have answered the question “Now what?” in their own different ways.
Are they happy and fulfilled in their new careers? Only they know.
If they are, great! Keep going.
If not, then maybe they should ask themselves the question again, and try to find some new, better answers…
Even these days, I’m often dreaming that I have a game tomorrow and I wake up scared thinking “how can I play when I didn’t train for 2 years.” I’m sure that other former athletes have such dreams, because our sports career was, is and will be part of our lives, always.
A beautiful period of life, which is over, and now it’s time for another even more beautiful period. Isn’t it?