What to Do When You’re No Longer an Athlete

After I retired from baseball, I didn’t quite know how to treat the sport any longer.

I felt like I had just broken up with a psychotic girlfriend. I didn’t know how to move forward in relation to her.

I knew I didn’t love playing baseball, but I wasn’t sure if I liked baseball in general. In fact, I didn’t know if it was okay for me to even like baseball. Was I supposed to turn on her like you would an ex-girlfriend, purging my Facebook and Instagram profiles of pictures of the two of us to help myself move on? Or was I allowed to continue to like baseball, only in a different form?

I really wasn’t sure. I had to make a choice.

This choice was made clear to me when someone I respected told me that I’d be back to baseball. He didn’t mean as a coach, trainer, or baseball employee. He meant that I would come back to baseball as a pitcher.

That ticked me off, and I swore I would prove him wrong.

I’ve always had a little bit of rebel inside of me. I recently took Gretchen Rubin’s personality test and of the four tendencies that she says make up all mankind, I was labeled the questioner.

Gretchin Rubin's four tendencies chart

After I took her quiz, I received this description of the questioner type. It reads,

“As skeptics, they meet their own expectations, but resist outer ones. Questioners need to see purpose and reason in anything they do. Clarity as to why they should do something is all-important.”

I think Gretchen Rubin has planted a chip in my brain.

I was looking to find purpose in my relationship with baseball. And because there’s that small rebel voice inside of me, I told myself that the way forward was to hate baseball.

Looking back on it, it was silly. I think I liked the surprised look on the face of my co-workers when I told them I hadn’t watched the Cubs game the night before. For some weird, twisted reason I enjoy being someone that confuses other people.

It’s quite weird.

For 9 full months, I told myself and others the story that I didn’t like baseball. I neglected to watch more than 15 innings of baseball on TV all year long. My story was going well.

And then this postseason came around, and I had to face reality.


Postseason baseball is unlike anything else.

This is the only time of the year where a 2–1 fastball at 3:00 on a Tuesday afternoon can seem like the most important event in the world.

As a Cubs fan in Wisconsin, I rose to the occasion the day of the NL Central oone-gameplayoff. I talked baseball with my co-workers and had the game up on my computer watching it whenever I had a spare minute. I was rooting for the Cubs. I wanted them to win. I felt that sinking feeling of, “Oh crap, Josh Hader is coming in. We’re doomed,” that I didn’t even know was inside of me.

Since that game, I’ve been watching more baseball. Something went off inside of me as I watched that game and just allowed myself to engage in it as a fan.

I realized that I had been driving myself mad trying to tell a story. I wanted to be the guy who could quit something he got so entangled in and move on without any resistance. I wanted to be able to say, “SO LONG!” and never look back.

The only thing is, this didn’t happen for me. I was putting on a mask. I enjoyed having that mask on. As I said, I liked the confused look people gave me when I told them that I didn’t like watching baseball and hadn’t been paying attention this year.

On that Monday afternoon watching the Brewers take down the Cubs, I began to accept that it wasn’t baseball I hated. It was my refusal to grieve the end of my playing career.


I wrote about the need to grieve your playing career in my most recent article, How to Move on After You’ve Retired from Your Sport. This idea came from a psychologist I saw recently who asked a penetrating question.

“Have you taken time to grieve the loss of baseball?”

I took time to consider what she had said, and realized that I hadn’t. In fact, the day after I decided I was done with baseball, I was in the weight room crushing dips, bench press, and triceps.

I was trying to use external means to convince myself of an internal reality. I used a new workout program as a blanket to cover the pain I was feeling over losing my thing. I was known for baseball. Now all of a sudden, baseball was gone from my life and it was completely by choice.

Because it was my choice to retire, I felt like I had taken care of all of the junk before making that decision. I wasn’t like some who have their career suddenly cut short by a severe injury that forces them into retirement. I was fully healthy and performing well relative to my ability. Yet, I had decided to retire.

Well, you could argue that it took me another 4 months to actually retire.

I continued to throw. I enjoyed throwing, so why not keep doing it, right?

I would do some pretty stupid things that set a horrible example for our trainees at Driveline. Another retired employee and I liked to do cold mound velo competitions. The essence of it was that we got 5 throws to warm-up. We could use those five throws however we wanted — plyocare drills, long toss, pulldowns, mound arm-up throws, etc. Then, we would step on the mound and compete to see who could throw the hardest after only taking five warm-up throws.

We could consistently get up to 90, and it was all fun and games. I liked being able to accomplish this fairly stupid and entirely meaningless thing.

About two weeks before I left Driveline to move back home, I was trying to hit 90 MPH sidearm. El Jefe, Kyle Boddy, walked in and saw me doing this. In the way that only he can, he let me have it.

“Throw 100 or actually quit.”

Yes, sir.

I figured, I have two weeks, why not try to throw hard?

I threw 4 times over the next two weeks. The first time, I earned a surf and turf dinner at Ruth’s Chris from one of our former big leaguers for throwing 94.0+. It’s still without a doubt the best meal I’ve ever had.

One week later, I threw my first ever pitch 95+ with a 95.3 MPH fastball.

Then, I got talked into throwing live at-bats against our hitters that Saturday. Trevor Bauer and I threw to a group of minor league and Indy ball hitters. Having idolized Trevor for so long, this was a very cool experience.

Endurance was not great, lol

While I didn’t throw 100, I accomplished a lifelong goal. I had never hit 95 off of a mound. That was the number. But now, I had taken it down. It no longer taunted me. I had done it. I could officially retire now.

Nice thought.

While my baseball days really did end that day, I struggled for a long time after trying to discover who I was now that I was no longer @ReklaitisPitching.

Physically, I had retired. I wasn’t banging plyoballs against a sheet of plywood nor was I grunting trying to eek out every last decimal on my Stalker Sport 2. But mentally, I was finding it impossible to put this thing to rest.

I moved back home and was trying to find outlets to display the kind of energy and enthusiasm that I had during my training days. My first attempt was in the weight room. It seemed like an obvious choice. I had learned how to program over the past 30 months, and could easily write myself a program that would give me major gains, bro.

a strong lifter
Photo by Victor Freitas on Unsplash

But once I got home and away from the alpha culture of a male-dominated gym, my motivation to look like an all-natty Larry Wheels quickly diminished.

On to the next thing.

I tried my hand at podcasting. I was using the medium of audio to tell stories of regular men and women seeing God move in supernatural ways through divine healing, prophecy, radical encounter, and love. That project lasted about a month until I just stopped making episodes.

Next, I tried video editing.

I had an idea to do a 30 day video challenge with myself. I made one video and quickly realized I did not want to do anymore. My talent is not in the visual arts, and I didn’t care enough about video editing to try to develop the skill.

Next up was golf.

I played one round with my future brother-in-law and had so much fun. But of course, I couldn’t just enjoy golf for the fun it brought me. I had to go all-in and try to become Tiger Woods.

a tiger
Photo by oldskool photography on Unsplash

I’ve gotten better, but I have since dropped my pursuit of becoming a great golfer and just accepted golf for the fun activity that it is. It’s much better that way.

There were other things that caught my interest as well. For brevity’s sake, they shall go unmentioned.

All of these pursuits were a result of my inability to mentally accept that I was retired from baseball. Physically, I was no longer playing baseball. Mentally, I was still trying to live out my baseball career through other pursuits.

Take golf, for example. When I got interested in the sport, I figured the best way to go forward with this game was to spend multiple hours per day three or more times per week practicing and playing. I was even building out a comprehensive training plan using what I knew from pitching and had learned through various sources like TPI, George Gankas, and Golf Science Lab. It was overload, and it quickly wore on me.

I thought that the reason I had done this was because it’s in my nature to go all-in on something. While there is a small amount of truth to that, the real reason I wanted to go all in was because I was trying to live out my baseball career in a different context.

I was searching for meaningful work, and thought that practicing golf for 6+ hours each week would add that meaningfulness to my life. (Spoiler alert: It didn’t)

When you move on from your sport, you need to let the sport go. There will be many valuable lessons you have learned in your sport that give you an edge in the “real world”, but you simply cannot translate your athletic career to anything you do. There are differences in what you’ve done and what you will do. While the general principles that drive success remain fairly constant, you need to adapt to your new environment.


Things I Have Found Useful to Not Hate My Sport

If you are dealing with these same emotions of unnecessarily hating your sport, I want to help you uncover the reason for it and give you practical tips on how to move past this self-induced hatred.

To do this, you’re going to need to be real with yourself. That’s a non-negotiable.

Uncovering the reason:

Here are three questions I believe you need to consider when trying to uncover why you suddenly dislike your former sport so much.

1. What pain am I trying to hide?

This is the first time I’ll admit this in a public forum, but part of the reason I turned against baseball so much was because I got to the end of my senior year and knew that I had not showed well enough that season to get drafted. I had put everything I had towards throwing that 5 ounce sphere as hard and as well as I could for the past 30 months, and I was disappointed that it was going to mean a journeyman career at best.

I saw the writing on the wall. I would sign a free agent deal because of my adviser, pitch sparingly out of the bullpen in Rookie Ball, live paycheck to paycheck, and be released within 18 months. If I wanted to continue my career, it would mean trying to throw harder and going further into debt to “chase my dream”.

That realization stung. I try to always be real with myself, but that one really stung.

So I tried to hide that pain by claiming that I didn’t like baseball any longer. Sure, I certainly liked it less than I once did, but that was more from a player’s point of view. I still liked watching intense playoff baseball games or the next electric college arm. But I was trying to convince myself of a story, so I displayed disdain for baseball.

My pain is likely not your pain. But if you hate your former sport, you might be hiding something.

What is the pain you are trying to hide?

2. Am I satisfied with my accomplishments in my sport?

As I mentioned earlier, I continued to throw even after I retired. Deep inside, I was insecure about the fact that my fasted recorded pitch had been 94.8 and not 95.0+.

I had to have that number.

The radar gun was both a great friend and a torturous enemy. It taunted me with the memory of 94.8.

I pretended like I didn’t care, but trust me, I wanted it.

I was cool with my playing career, but not with 94.8.

That’s why I continued to throw even after I retired. I really wanted that number.

If you’ve made it this far in the article, you know that I eventually did. It brought satisfaction and tied the final bow on my career.

So, I must ask you…

Are your accomplishments in your sport enough?

3. Am I doing meaningful work today?

a motivational calendar
Photo by Manasvita S on Unsplash

Sports bring us so much meaning. They give us structure to our lives, and there is an innate purpose in every sports season.

When we move on from sports, we will usually have to face the reality that not everything we do adds vast meaning to our lives.

After retiring from sports, it’s important that we are doing some sort of meaningful work.

You could get up to write each morning. You could begin a career in something you are interested in and build skills. You could volunteer at the local food bank and interact with the visitors, bringing a smile to their day.

No matter what you do, meaning is critical to all of our lives.

It’s easy to lose a sense of meaning and purpose when we quit our sport. When this happens, it can lead to us blaming our frustration and anger on our sport. In my search to find something that I enjoy and gets me excited to wake up each day, I projected the frustration I was feeling back onto baseball, blaming it for my loss of direction instead of just admitting that baseball was done and that I was going through a season of transition.

I want to save you days, weeks, months, and potentially even years of frustration. While you might not find the thing that makes your heart come alive today nor tomorrow, you need to recognize that your sport is not at fault for the way you feel.

Ask yourself this:

Where in my life am I doing meaningful work?

Conclusion

I know that my experience is not isolated. Many athletes find themselves despising their former sport after having retired. Perhaps you have too.

The three questions I’ve outlined above will help you to understand your pain and can help expedite your healing process as you try to move on from this thing that was once your entire life.

In review:

  1. What pain am I trying to hide?
  2. Am I satisfied with my accomplishments in my sport?
  3. Am I doing meaningful work today?

On the road to healing, it’s important you’re real with yourself.

You owe yourself vulnerability.

It’s the only way to experience healing.


Each week, I send advice on how to live your best life AFTER your sport. Sign up for my email list to get these tips sent straight to your inbox. I can’t wait to connect with you!

 

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