Transitioning to a Life after Sports

I played basketball growing up. Nothing else. After attending the University of North Carolina at Asheville for my freshman year, I then transferred to Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). My college experience was a combination of wonderful and awful. Off the court, college was great—parties, classes, and just hanging out. I definitely enjoyed the attention from peers and people in the community. I loved playing basketball, but trying to balance sports with academics was always a tough task for me.

I couldn’t wait for the last game of my college career to be over because I was over the politics of college basketball. I’d lost my love for the game and I needed a break. The only issue was, I had no idea what my next step would be, because during my entire college career I had not done any co-curricular activities, let alone gone to the career center to prepare for life after sports. I had not done any internships or even thought about graduate school. Looking back, I realize that at no point did any of my coaches even discuss anything outside of sports. Ball was life and I just knew I was going to play basketball forever.

Luckily, I was able to go right into graduate school at VCU and work with the basketball team as a graduate assistant. I enjoyed being around the team without having to worry about whether I was going to play or not. Those years in graduate school were the best thing that I could have experienced at that time. I learned a lot about myself and got a chance to take back control of my life.

There was definitely a mental struggle during my transition to life after sports. I hadn’t a clue what having a master’s degree even meant but I figured it would give me some more time to avoid the real world. Plus, I figured coaching basketball would be the next best thing—like so many former athletes do. I was wrong! Toward the end of graduate school I realized that coaching was not for me at that time. So now what?! I had to figure out what I wanted to do or even could do. That was a very trying time in my life. I ended up working several jobs that I hated, and even went back to coaching basketball at my former high school because I felt like maybe coaching was the only thing I could do. I became very depressed, gained a lot of weight, and was battling with trying to find my purpose in life. I was constantly comparing myself to my former teammates and friends who were playing professional basketball, and my cousins who were having success coaching at the time. I felt inadequate, vulnerable, and lost!

I definitely suffered from athletic identity growing up—all through college, and even some years post-college. Being a basketball player was all I ever wanted to do. Growing up, I spent all my time playing basketball, so I got pretty good at it. As I got better and taller that’s all I ever got recognized for, and I loved it! And, in the small town I grew up in, my last name carried a lot of weight because of the athletic success my uncle and cousins achieved playing basketball. Everyone associated me with ball simply because of my last name, and it still happens today.

After I finished playing, people still associated me with playing the game, but because I no longer played, those once prideful feelings turned to embarrassment and anguish. That’s the part that sucks. When people only associate you with one thing for most of your life it’s hard to see yourself as anything else. It’s even harder when you are trying to find a purpose beyond basketball and people only see you as an athlete. The struggle for me was not that basketball was over, it was not knowing what else I could do that would ever be as fulfilling as how I felt playing the game I loved. The struggle was definitely real!

Success to me now is being happy. Because of my story, I know that all of the ups and downs were worth it because I am truly happy. I am actually grateful for those experiences because it has made me a better professional, leader, and just an overall better person. Specifically, those moments of despair helped propel me to become a Doctor of Education, a national award winner, and someone who can help the next person who may go through similar experiences and overcome obstacles that life tends to throw at student-athletes from time to time. Being in a position to positively influence others is what I work towards every day. This is what success looks like for me now. It’s what makes me the most happy.

The advice I would give to student-athletes who are getting ready to transition to life after sports is this: be open-minded to the possibilities, be confident that you are more than prepared for this moment—but first you have to believe that you are, and be mindful that it will not be easy. One of the first things that all student-athletes need to do is let go, yet understand that their experience in sports has made them into the perfect employee for any company or organization. Sports provides athletes with all of the transferable skills they will need to be successful in life after sports; they simply have to find that other thing they are passionate about and apply the same mindset they used for their sport to the real world. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t tap into something that sports taught me.


Podcast: Cape and Drew: The Real Tick-Tock– Student-athletes are a significant and unique group of people who compete at a high level. However, competing and winning in the game of life is a different story. Join Cape and Drew, two former student-athletes turned scholars, who share their truths about their lived experiences before, during, and after eligibility, and how they continue to transition to healthy and meaningful lives after playing sports. They discuss what student-athletes really go through, trending topics, overcoming obstacles, the power of self-awareness and open-mindedness, and much more! They will provide strategies on how you can reach your full potential by using what’s learned from sports and applying those skills in other areas to become the best version of yourself. Cape and Drew’s goals are simple: to empower and encourage you to believe that you are, in fact, more than an athlete, and how sports are only a part of your identity. Your success in life does not have to be dictated or measured on whether or not you become a professional athlete. It doesn’t define who you are or all that you can be!

Whether you are a future, current, or former student-athlete and/or just want to hear some great advice and storytelling in an authentic, transparent, and entertaining way, this is the podcast for you!

Instagram: capeanddrewpodcast



Dr. Julian Capel - GUEST BLOGGER

Student and Community Outreach Director - University of South Carolina

Dr. Julian Capel is a former student-athlete turned scholar. His passion for mentorship and development is fueled by his own student-athlete experiences. As a former member of the basketball team at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), he understands the demanding lifestyle of being a student-athlete. His time at VCU helped him realize that the probability of pursuing a professional basketball career was unlikely. Upon this realization, Dr. Capel began pursuing opportunities that would foster his other talents outside of basketball, and provide guidance for those following a similar path. He is currently serving as the Student and Community Outreach Director at a flagship university. In this role, he provides leadership opportunities and oversees strategic university programs and initiatives. Additionally, he provides students with resources and programs to engage and enhance their experience at the university and in the community. Dr. Capel also leads initiatives focused on the retention of male students.