One of former New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra’s famous sayings was, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
Though this is one of the most famous sayings recited by athletes and coaches of all levels, it doesn’t answer what we — the athletes — do when it is all over. We’re not just talking about one game, but rather what happens when a playing career is over.
Now that the season is over for all of the Bombers’ fall teams, there are several outgoing student-athletes who have played their final snap, scored their final goal or competed in their final minute as a member of their respective team. For these students, experience as a varsity athlete is over and they now face the challenge of filling the void their former team and fellow athletes have created.
Some of the fondest memories during my college career have been bonding with teammates and celebrating victories both team and individual. Now, several of my fellow student-athletes face the challenge of finding happiness again without practicing, preparing or playing their sport.
In a recent HBO documentary titled “State of Play: Happiness,” three former NFL players were profiled showing emotional and physical challenges after their careers ended.
The documentary referenced the Ahmanson Lovelace Brain Mapping Center at the University of California, Los Angeles. Using MRIs, the university’s Brain Mapping Center has studied the ways in which social pain affects the brain. Subjects in the MRI were to participate in a ball throwing game with two computers. After one minute, the two computers stopped throwing the ball to the athlete’s hand, and signs of distress were suddenly appearing in the area of the brain associated with pain.
This study recreates a sense of separation from a team or group, and as a result the brain slips into an alarm mode, which likely leads to drastic psychological changes.
The science shows that separation and exclusion from their teams can lead to depression in former athletes. Though most senior student-athletes have the remainder of the year to spend time with their teammates, there is likely to be some separation anxiety.
I’m now staring this reality in the face. Fortunately, I have one more opportunity to compete with my teammates during indoor and outdoor track and field, but the days are numbered.
This reality goes beyond just student-athletes and relates to every outgoing student.
Soon, all of us will leave whatever groups or organizations we’re part of, being thrust into the real world to create new teams and new relationships.
The best advice I have to offer is to ensure you have multiple things that make you happy. Sports can only offer so much happiness, and there are many other activities, groups and people on the South Hill that can give a sense of accomplishment beyond just scoring more points than the opposing team.