Athlete navigates identity after quitting native sport

I’ve only ever known life with tennis in it. I started playing before I can remember, and I immediately developed a passion for the game.

I trained hard at a young age, always incred­ibly competitive and determined to improve. While I initially played other sports and was academically driven, my love for tennis out­weighed everything else I did. I identified my­self through the game.

When I came to Vassar, my relationship with tennis improved. Although I injured my elbow almost immediately, I grew as a player. This past season I played the best tennis of my ca­reer at one doubles with my best friend. Our two wins against Skidmore, once during the Liberty League Championships, are the high­light of my college experience.

Despite many wonderful memories, tennis eventually stopped being fun and became a job. With so many obligations that come with se­nior year, I decided to quit the team.

Quitting has never been a part of my vocabu­lary, especially when it comes to tennis. I never thought anything would break my bond with the thing I cared about most. Which is why, while leaving made sense, it also scared me half to death.

I worried about upsetting my friends and family. I left my team and my doubles partner. And I feared my dad, a professional coach, would be disappointed in my decision. Along with the mental tug of war I faced, I was con­cerned about the physical changes I’d have.

I would no longer have practice two hours a day, a lifting schedule, weekend matches or teammates. I was now in completely unchar­tered territory.

What would I do with my time? Would I ever play to the best of my abilities again? Who was I now that I didn’t play the sport I’ve always had?

When I quit, I had no idea how to answer these questions. My identity was in limbo, and frankly it still is. I never thought I’d face the struggle of not knowing who I am because I’ve always been a varsity athlete.

This must be how student-athlete alums feel. When you leave college, you also leave your sport. Maybe you don’t stop playing, but you likely won’t get the same challenging competi­tion or schedule. The real world doesn’t allow for that.

But the real world is a valid excuse for grad­uates to stop playing their sport. You get a job and just stop having time. Although I didn’t need an excuse, I did question my decision be­cause I still loved tennis.

After the spring season I took a break over the summer. I was so exhausted, almost over­run from playing so much. I think that I hit less than 10 times and I actually felt guilty about it. I had just played the best tennis of my life and now I wasn’t playing at all. What a bad athlete I was.

Then I realized my decision might make me love tennis more because now I could play on my terms. I could still have the same passion that I’ve always had even if I wasn’t constantly playing. I may not ever be as good as I was last season, but that’s okay.

I’ll just be good at other things too. I will always identify as a tennis player, but that shouldn’t be my only defining factor. While tennis has given me experiences and relation­ships I am grateful for, I need to let other things give me those same opportunities.

I knew the day would come where I wouldn’t be a varsity athlete anymore, I just didn’t expect it to be so soon. As I reflect on my decision, I’m glad that day came early. I do miss playing, the competition and camaraderie, but I think I’m already becoming a better, wholer person.

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