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The Athlete Identity

The buzzer blew and that was it. Sure, there were other levels to reach, other places I could go, other teams and opportunities to play - but I knew in my heart I was done with competitive hockey.

It was a fitting end. Senior day on home ice, with crowds of friends and family in attendance. I had gotten myself on the scoreboard, skated hard until my last shift, and played from my heart. I played for the little girl who first fell in love with the game, I played for my teammates and the feeling of oneness that comes with such a unique sport like hockey. I played for my parents and old coaches who’d come out to watch, and for the peace of mind that would come from leaving it all on the ice and having no regrets. I wanted to know I had given my best out there, and I stepped off the ice that day genuinely feeling it to be true, both for that game and for my career.

There was a weight that lifted off my shoulders that day, one I didn’t realize I had been carrying. All of a sudden, for the first time in my life, I allowed myself to look back with pride on my accomplishments - there was no next step I wanted to chase, no uphill battle to fight to get to a higher level, and no more sacrifices to make in the name of the sport I had forever identified with. I basked in this freedom for a while, taking time to sit on the couch, explore summer activities outside of the rink, travel, reconnect with old friends, and so much more. I basked in this freedom until it was time to face it: I was no longer a competitive athlete.

The past two years of adjusting to this fact have been accompanied by a series of questions…

Who am I?

Identity is one of the first things that comes into question in these moments – especially at the beginning of a transition like this one.

Am I my role?

I always introduced myself as “Mac, the hockey player” – it was what I was known for throughout my life and across campus. In this next chapter, would I be “Mac, the former hockey player”? Or would I change that out for a new title “Mac the (insert job here)” and will that really represent who I am?

Am I my body?

I spent years of my life committed to my sport both mentally and physically. A large part of identifying as an athlete meant looking like one. Who would I be if I didn’t keep up my physique – would some aspect of my identity go with it?

Am I still someone of value?

I knew the world of athletics inside and out. I had, in essence, reached “expert” level as a hockey player, and was now launched into a new role where I began to second guess the value I was able to bring to the world and people around me outside of the context of my sport.

I think these questions will take their own time to answer, but I am grateful to report that I have begun to find a balance where my identity is no longer grouped into one single thing. I relate to myself for who I am as a person and what aspects of my character I value.

What if?

I don’t sit and question “what if I’d worked harder?” or “what if I’d been more committed?” I put in the work, I loved the game, I trained with discipline and for the most part, truly enjoyed my career. Instead, the “what ifs” have come in a different context…

What if I’m not the only one wrestling with questions of identity and self-worth?

In fact, the more I was open with my friends and former teammates, the more I realized they were going through the same things!

What if I had been educated about this stuff before? What if I’d been prepared?

I can only imagine what my life would have looked like or how much anxiety I might have saved if I had seen myself as more than a hockey player. The reality is we’re so much more than our sports, but no one talked to me about it. No one gave me advice, no one told me what was coming when I was sidelined from my sport, and I definitely didn’t expect that it’d hit so hard.

What if we could move through this chapter of our lives together?

Community and connection became key for helping me regain my footing after retirement. Phone calls and facetimes with old teammates or people who understood what I was going through became so important to me. It was a chance to have someone be able to say they felt it too, to be able to say we were lost together, confused together, and figuring it all out together. I’m so grateful for the people I was able to lean on in that time (and still now), yet I couldn’t help but wonder if the idea of supporting each other outside of sport could be even bigger…

What next?

Hockey, and athletics in general, structured my life and my ambitions for as long as I can remember. Perhaps my biggest question to tackle when it was all over was: What will be my next passion? What could I possibly dedicate myself to that will mean as much to me as the world of sports? What could bring me the same sense of purpose, impact, connection, and growth?

Cue: The Sideline Perspective.

My personal experiences taught me that there is a fundamental lack in resources for athletes as they move to the sidelines of their sports. Now, I am passionate about changing that paradigm.

We deserve the opportunity to know we’re not alone, to sustain relationships that support the unique drive and mindsets we’ve held as athletes and to have a healthy transition into the next chapter of our lives. I started The Sideline Perspective as a way to build a community that accomplishes those things. It is meant to be a symbol of us standing together as “Total Teammates” – people who support each other not just in athletics, but in life.

If you’re a sidelined athlete, I’m here to tell you that you are inherently a part of this community. It doesn’t take special qualifications, it exists because of the things we’ve already accomplished, the mountains we’ve already climbed, the goals we’ve chased and the experiences that have shaped us in the process. If you resonate with any aspect of my story, or have one to share of your own, this is my invitation to you to participate with this community as we figure out who we are in life after our sport.

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Did you play for all of the clout you hoped to get from this emotional blog?

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