Lunch time discussions when I was around 18, always revolved around my future career. Decisively, I would argue that a suit was not in order; my life was in the gym, on the court in shorts. “Come my 40th birthday, please ask me again”.
At age 20, I was on top of the world; a “Monarch”, at Old Dominion University, Division 1 basketball program in the USA. My first collegiate game, against then nationally ranked number 5 Stanford, was a huge success. I called a Stanford alumnus, my dad, and let him know all about it.
At age 23, I woke up in a hospital bed with chest pains… Game over.
Denial followed, along with extreme anger, frustration and accompanied by sadness and disbelief. “It should not have happened to me. This ain’t right”. The big shock came when I realized “…and now, what?” I had made educational and social sacrifices to play collegiate basketball at the highest level. I had invested my whole life’s work at becoming a professional athlete.
At that point there was a choice to be made. There is always a choice, an alternative, regardless how strenuous things may appear to be short term. I was lucky enough to have my studies to fall back to. I was surrounded by family and friends who supported me, advised and guided me, urged me to get help. My number one advice to anyone in a similar position is to speak up, utilize expert help and start the psychological healing process as soon as possible.
My next priority was to get back to a normal daily regimen; to include social life, to exercise, to enjoy things that a strict sporting life usually restricts or excludes. Heck, even study a bit more! It is important to get a fresh start and embrace the future with anticipation of new challenges, new achievements and new horizons. I chose to make “sports” my profession, as it was the one thing I could understand best, the one thing I was really good at; or maybe not?
I always tell friends that we, as athletes, carry or develop transferable traits that last a lifetime; remember how coaches demanded focus, determination, hard work, self-confidence, perseverance, ethos? These traits are innate in you and they are useful everywhere; you can actually use them daily. They are not only productive on the court. They are good for building a new family, starting a new job, taking up challenges outside of your comfort zone.
Looking back, closer to my 40th birthday now, I am happy to say that I would do it all again. With a twist, no doubt! I would give it all back for another game, for another day on the court with teammates and coaches. However, that would not stop me from preparing better, from thinking long term, from planning the future wisely. After all, competitive sports have an expiration date, and the knowledge of this calls for one of the most important decisions one should take prior to becoming a professional athlete.
If you are fortunate enough to have gained anything from sports, start thinking how that can help you in your life after sports. If you are in the early stages of your career, start thinking what are the tools and skills and mindset that can fast-track your next chapter in life. If a school is giving you free education, don’t bypass the opportunity. If you can afford an education, jump at the opportunity.
Life skills, competencies, traits and literacy are a must and constitute very valuable aspects of corporate life. A dual career, where athletes gain educational credentials is most favorable; however other forms of professional development are equally vital. Learn how to manage money, how to manage time, how to handle people, how to negotiate and resolve disputes, how to communicate effectively. Remember to put in play your athletic traits I have mentioned earlier. They are forever your vehicle to success.
In case you are wondering, I think I have done alright for myself. Three university degrees later, I have a 15-year career in sports management, a loving family, a strong support network and enormous gratitude for what sports have given me.
Just so you know, “sports” is life (indeed); but there is such an equally beautiful and enticeful life after sports too. Don’t miss out!
Andreas T. Themistocleous
Andreas T. Themistocleous (BSc, MA, MBA) is a native of Famagusta, Cyprus. He is a former basketball player and now a sports management/business professional. He has served in the sport industry from several positions, most notably in club football management and as a Board member of sport federations. He is currently a lecturer in academia. To connect and network with Andreas, find him on Twitter and LinkedIn.