For some athletes, shooting the last puck or dunking the last ball may mean a lot more than just the end of a season.
Many college athletes have participated in their sport since childhood, and as college sport seasons end for seniors, the transition away from a life of organized athletics can sometimes be a big adjustment.
A Southern Illinois University Carbondale article reported that athletes all react differently to their adjustment to life after sports.
Cornerback Chinni Oji and running backs coach Emmett Hill share a somber moment as they exit the Stagg Bowl Dec. 14, 2012. Oji is one of many senior athletes who finished the final season of their college careers. (Rosie Murphy/TommieMedia)
The SIUC graduate student Erica Smith, who wrote the article, observed “one of the reasons why it is so hard for athletes to transition out of their sport at all levels is because they have probably had a lot of success in that sport. Maybe they have had more success in their sport than in any other area of their life. Therefore, they are defined by their sport success.”
Swimmer Sam Rauchwarter said his academic achievement and success in athletics has defined him as a person.
“I think anyone who makes it through … four years of athletics and graduates has something to be proud of,” Rauchwarter said about balancing the demands of schoolwork and a varsity sport. “It’s an accolade that athletes should be proud of.”
After a sports career is over, Smith reported that athletes can experience identity crisis.
However, for those who balance academic success and athletic achievement, the transition to a life without sports isn’t so difficult.
“I wanted to excel in the classroom because I wanted to go into grad school for physical therapy … so I had to get the good grades,” Rauchwarter said. “I want to do everything to the best of my ability and (sports) gave me the determination to do all the things I wanted to do.”
The end of sports doesn’t necessarily mean graduation. Senior Kia Johnson won a national championship with the St. Thomas volleyball team last fall, but is sticking around for fall 2013 classes.
“I’ve reconsidered medical school, so that means I have another class to take,” Johnson said about her academic progress following the conclusion of her volleyball career.
A focus on academics combined with athletics has made St. Thomas athletes more prepared for a career in the workplace following their time on the field.
Travis Walch, a special teams coordinator and wide receivers coach for the football team, works to help players improve their academics and find employment upon graduation.
“(The football staff) has combined to develop a program that not only helps (players) when they’re seniors, but we start … as early as their freshman year to start getting them on track with what they’re going to need to do to get a job when they’re done,” Walch said. “We’re trying to find every means we can to get these guys to understand that finding a job doesn’t start when you graduate.”
Walch, who graduated Magna Cum Laude from Winona State University, and received a master’s degree from Winona in 2003, credited coach Glenn Caruso in emphasizing athletics as a means for personal growth for their athletes.
“Coach Caruso is the best I’ve ever been around about teaching life lessons,” Walch said. “I’ve worked for four or five different guys, and I haven’t been around anyone better at being able to tie in life lessons in how they apply to the football field and how they apply to everyday life.”
Walch stressed that most accomplished athletes are often outstanding students, and noted that many of the team’s All-Americans have been Academic All-Americans, too.
“The same qualities that make you good in the classroom, attention to detail, pride in what you’re doing, don’t make the same mistake twice,” Walch said. “Those are the same things that make you good on the field and in the classroom.”
Jacob Sevening can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.