Senior Elizabethtown College field hockey players Megan Eppley and Charity Good shared the same experience. Together, they took the field in the Landmark Conference semi-final game confident they could win. As the game progressed, this confidence dwindled. The Catholic University of America Cardinals had a 3-0 lead with 18 minuets left. A fight to the end proved unsuccessful.
For Eppley and Good this meant the end of their careers. Both of them did not immediately leave the field. There was a slow longing in them for something more, even though the crowd stopped cheering. How could it be over just as quickly as it started? It was indeed the end.
It is hard to figure out what is easier: A hectic day packed with classes, studying and sports practices or a less hectic schedule. But what happens when the craziness is over? What happens when something that has been a part of your life for so long is over?
The daily grind of practices ends and the roaring crowds on game day are silenced. This silence carries over into the post season. For the freshmen, sophomores and juniors this lull is only temporary. However, for seniors it is forever. Some day, the next class will know too, when the crowd ceases to cheer their names and the silence begins.
With the silence comes a void.
It can be a challenge to adjust to a new schedule. Especially if a schedule of constantly going to sports practices has been engrained for so long.
“There was definitely an obvious void in my life, knowing that I will never play collegiately again,” Eppley said, reflecting on her completed field hockey career.
The next day for her there was not a practice to go to, a need to workout, or practice some stick skills.
“It felt weird that next day, not having a practice to go to,” she said.
Eppley had to digest that a big part of her identity for the majority of her life was athletics. She grew up playing field hockey along with a few other sports.
“It’s also weird to think that for the first time in a long time I will not have the routine of sports in my life,” she said.
Good also thought it was hard learning how to adjust to a new schedule. She grew up playing multiple sports. There was never a moment where she was not competing on a weekend.
“It’s always weird adjusting your schedule after the season is over,” she said.
She reflected on how there was kind of something missing from her, there was a feeling of emptiness.
“After normally having practice every night, the evenings feel so empty, and the first Saturday not having a game felt weird,” she said.
An Identity Crisis
For some ex-collegiate athletes it is hard to adjust to a new life. Especially after a life filled with sports. Some say that this adjustment can be hard; it can be portrayed as a loss of identity.
Dr. Elizabeth Dalton is an Assistant Professor at Elizabethtown College as well as a clinical psychologist by training. Her area of study focuses on how physical illness, stress, and mood can impact behavior. She especially likes to look at this impact in college students.
Dalton likes to explain an individual’s identity and self-esteem as a pie chart with many different activities included. She says when being an athlete, most of the pie chart is filled with that athletic identity. It is hard to adjust to a new way of life and find other things to take the place of athletics. There is time involved in to finding these new slices of the pie.
“It is difficult for athletes to adjust to a new lifestyle because it has been a big part of their identity for so long,” she said.
Some athletes could fall into depression at the end of their careers.
“Clinically, yes,” Dalton explained. “Depression can occur, but it is important to seek other things to combat this.”
Some have compared the end of a sports career to the same feeling as losing a loved one. This feeling is correct but it is not on the same scale by any means, it is simply a loss of identity.
“Life has many types of loss including loss of identity,” Dalton explained. “There is a feeling of grief when a collegiate athletic career ends, but it is not the same as losing a loved one.”
Finding the New Pieces
Luckily, as Dalton said, there are ways to combat this loss and find new pieces that fit into the identity pie.
“Make more slices of the pie,” she said. “Find another way to identify yourself by joining a community rec. league or taking up a hobby.”
Eppley and Good, now Non-Athletic Regular Persons (NARP), are both going to miss the game greatly and the adrenaline that comes with it.
“I jokingly call myself a NARP now, even though I’ll never really be able to accept it,” said Eppley.
Both former athletes do plan to add more pieces to their identity pie. They hope to do this through summer and indoor field hockey leagues.
“I have already been contacted about coaching youth leagues locally, and will continue to do the winter indoor league with my team this year,” Eppley said.
Good also wants to coach as well. She thinks it is the best way to stay involved.
“I might help out as a coach at my old high school and with their elementary camp if my schedule works around it,” she said.
The two can agree on another thing as well. Regardless of both of their careers ending, the best memory they share is winning the 2016 Landmark Championship; a special place in their hearts where the cheering of the crowd will live forever.