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High school athletes who stop playing sports when they transition to college

How high school student athletes who don’t play collegiate sports struggle during their college transition.

We are witnessing a generation of young adults who are willingly stepping into the stressful environment that is higher education, which can also be referenced as a pressure-cooker.  High school students are led to believe that upon admission into college that they are ready for the rigor. Academically speaking, for the most part that’s accurate. However, the emotional and social roller coaster they just bought a ticket for is far from what they’re prepared to experience.  Even if they had a solid friend group in high school, realistically college is a different ball game altogether. A young adult’s pride in their acceptance to <insert name of school they care about>, along with their parents’ pride in the efforts paid off by their soon-to-be college student are blindly setting them up. 

You hear about it all the time.  High school students opting to not play athletics in college.  It may be because they weren’t recruited to play or it could be because they are burned out and just want a break.  Either way, they’ll feel very depressed early into their first semester and not really comprehend why.

This is something that hits home for me.  I was offered a scholarship to play soccer at a smaller private school, but even with the scholarship it was too pricey.  I chose to go to a larger public university where I knew the women’s soccer team would be more elite.  For a second, I thought I might try to walk-on.  I stopped though.  Who was I kidding?  I’d played soccer for over 10 years, but I wasn’t that good.  Plus, college was about discovering new things, right?

The one thing I didn’t do, and I know a lot of other former student athletes don’t do, is create a routine to continue working out.  Or immediately join intramural or club teams.  I went my entire fall semester not doing anything physical, other than participate in all the weekend excursions with the outdoor club.  I was overweight, unhappy, and feeling lost by the end of the fall semester.  Something needed to change.

The spring semester of my Freshmen year, I joined the Women’s Rugby Team. We were called the Mentals, which is not politically correct and in hindsight is ironic with the work I now do for a living.  Regardless, I found a group of ladies, learned a new sport, got to travel across the state playing other collegiate teams, and started to really feel better.  I felt healthy, and alive again.

The point is, if you played sports in high school you were regimented.  You were disciplined and in shape.  Neurologically, you were releasing dopamine when you were performing and enjoying your sport.  You were forced to eat healthy, or at least encouraged to try.  You had to stay organized and have time management to ensure you were academically eligible to play.  You were a part of a team. 

These are all translatable skills and experiences needed to be successful in college. Without playing on a team, you may feel disconnected.  Without participating in some sport, you may feel lethargic and depressed.  Without sports, you have more time on your hands than you know what to do with, which leads to students feeling very unmotivated and disengaged.

If you played sports in high school, get back on the track.  Experiment with different intramural teams, or join a sports club.  If you don’t want to be a part of a team, at minimum schedule working out on a daily basis.  Try out the rock wall, or go on a backpacking trip for a weekend.  You need to get out.  You lived on dopamine from playing sports for years.  Your body misses the physicality; it misses your sense of self.

If you, or your young adult, is presenting as unmoored, disengaged, not having found friends, lethargic, and depressed, get help.  If they were a student athlete in high school, it’s a simple connection and recommendation to make.  Help them get back to playing again.

For more information, check out my post on Lilley Consulting Facebook page.

For anyone looking for additional resources around mental health, substance abuse, college transition coaching, or parent resources you can find them on: https://www.lilley-consulting.com/ or follow @lilleyconsulting, or https://www.facebook.com/LilleyConsultingLLC/.

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