There was never a point where I was completely confident walking away from basketball. Still, to this day it almost feels surreal.
Before I actually did it, I literally went back and forth in my mind about it for more months than I can remember. I kept asking myself questions like, “Should I keep forcing myself to play even if my heart isn’t in it?” & “Is it worth giving it another shot?”
The more that I asked myself questions such as this, the more I went back & forth about what decision to make.
I was completely lost.
No direction. No advice. No idea about whether I should continue playing or quit doing something that I had done my entire life.
In the end, I chose what I thought was the most practical & logical thing at the time.
I retired from basketball at 25 years old & for a while, I felt like I had made the wrong decision. In hindsight, there was no right or wrong decision. I just did what was in my heart at the time & for me, that was the right thing to do.
The only difference is now, I understand what I should have been asking myself instead.
Here are 5 key questions every athlete should ask themself before they walk away from their sport:
1. Did I try to experience everything I could from the game?
Before you completely decide to retire, make sure that you attempted to get everything you wanted from it.
That’s everything including relationships, chances to travel, opportunities outside of your sport, etc… Many of the athletes that I’ve seen retire walk away with regrets or things they wish they would have fulfilled.
They think about the chances they didn’t take & regrets they have. Sure every athlete wishes they could have won more games, or won more championships. Those things are usually out of your control.
But did you try to learn all you could have learned? Did you connect with everyone you should have been connecting with? Did you put yourself out there & utilize your platform as much as possible?
You don’t want to sit back 20 years from now & contemplate what could have been.
Regret is poison. I urge every athlete to take advantage of the time that you have now so later you know that you put your all into every aspect of your career.
2. What are the biggest takeaways I got out of my sport?
Every athlete can tell you something about hard work, facing adversity, discipline, sacrifice, & other lessons learned through playing alone.
But being self-aware enough to know how these things can play out in your everyday life is another story.
Can you articulate how these lessons aided you as an athlete? Can you address the situations where they occurred & more specifically, how you grew from it? By doing this, you’re intentionally looking at how sports have played a role in your life, & not only will you be able to communicate it, you’ll be able to familiarize it in other areas of life.
When I retired from basketball & published my first book, I spent hours thinking about how important the lessons I learned from basketball were.
Those same lessons play out in my life now. I know wouldn’t have the same foundation without basketball, but the key is understanding this & furthermore, applying those takeaways to your own life.
3. What exactly am I walking towards?
Walking away from something is much easier when you move towards something else.
Instead, we see athletes wait too long to prepare, so by the time they retire they’re walking towards nothing. There’s a void that hasn’t been filled. There’s a concern because they’re so used to structure.
When you look at Kobe Bryant, one of the greatest NBA players of all time, you don’t see an athlete who has withdrawals from not playing. You see a former pro athlete, who has found his calling doing something else. When asked would he ever return to the game, he replied, “I will never come back to the game.” And you can tell he really meant it.
We’re talking about someone who has dedicated his entire life to one thing & doesn’t seem to miss it at all now that it’s over. This is because Kobe took the time to figure out what he wanted to do in life after sports well before that day came.
If one of the best to ever do it can take the time to discover what else he’s interested in besides sports, why can’t you?
4. Who can I ask for help & guidance?
Nothing great is accomplished alone in or out of sports.
Every successful person you know has had a mentor, coach, or someone in their corner who provided help when they needed it. If you want a successful transition, you should be no different.
Who’s in your corner? Who can relate to what you’re going through? Whoever you think it is — make it a point to reach out and ask for guidance if you feel like you need it.
Even if it’s something as small as writing a resume or created a LinkedIn profile for job opportunities.
I guarantee that the success you had as an athlete was largely predicated on the amount of support you had. Life is no different. If you need help, ask for it.
5. Do I truly know who I am?
It seems like a simple question, right? But it’s a question people rarely have the answer to.
Knowing who you are can make a difference in what you choose to pursue in life after sports, what you stand for and what you value in your life.
Most people aren’t aligned with their values, don’t know what they stand for & moreover couldn’t even begin to explain what actually makes them happy in life. It’s why so many people in the world settle for the status quo or do things even though they’re miserable.
I’m guessing you choose your sport because you actually liked or loved to do it. Not because it was cool or could make you money if you stayed with it long enough.
Passion and purpose override everything else, but those two things begin with intentionally knowing thyself.
Take some time to discover who you are. Ask yourself things such as:
- What kind of life do I want to live?
- How do I want to feel along the way?
- What does the perfect day look like?
- What honestly makes me happy?
- How do I want to be remembered?
Most people don’t sit and think about these things which is why they end up settling for an average life. To get what others don’t have, you have to do what others don’t do.
I’m willing to bet that most athletes will skip over this article if they happen to see it at all.
The ones who do skim over it probably won’t ask themselves these questions.
But the ones who do read this article & furthermore, understand why it’s critical to know these answers beforehand will set themselves up for a successful transition.
I can honestly tell you that going into retirement you’re going to find yourself reminiscing on your career regardless of how it ends.
You’re going to want more time to play. You’re going to find yourself wanting the small moments back.
However, you don’t have to live in the past. When you really take the initiative to plan for your future — all of the worries about retirement won’t be there.
Most athletes don’t plan. They wait for life to come to then. Even, I almost waited too late. But if you want to get a jump start on what your life could be like — step up to the plate and do the necessary work.
Ask yourself these tough questions & be honest with yourself about the answers.
The truth will always be what sets you free from your athletic career.