The scene: The late 1990s, at a local YMCA basketball camp. Andy, a tall 9-year old is the only girl on her team. Andy is confused as to why there aren’t more girls on her team. She continues to play and engage even though her coach says she needs to be more “aggressive.” She’s great at passing and blocking and runs fast in her loose T-shirts and baggy shorts. That year, she has a Michael Jordan-themed birthday party.
I am Andy. Some of my self-identity from grade school through college was based on team sports and my role within those teams. Let me be clear: I wasn’t an All-American athlete nor was I ever team captain and sometimes I wasn’t even a standout player on a particular basketball or lacrosse team. But I loved to play. I liked feeling part of a collective effort, a closely knit group, a team. This feeling continued through years of teams, practices, pinnies, mascots, and games…
Until the moment came, when I graduated from college, and I no longer had a team to call my own.
In the years since then, I’ve had to confront three important questions: Why was I always so drawn to team sports? How was my identity shaped by being a girl growing up playing more “aggressive” or “tough” sports? And finally, how was I going to transition into a life that did not revolve around a constant recreational routine?
After some thought, I have arrived at the conclusion that at the core of my identity is a type of physical intensity, and even if it no longer plays out on a field; it still shapes everything I do and the choices I make in my personal and professional life. I will always have that physical drive in me, and it needs to be nourished constantly.
For those like me, who have been left with a void after the dissipation of a team dynamic and structured practices for a game we loved, despair no more! There are ways to forge a new path, while keeping our identities intact.
1. Remember that fitness is still important to you.
As we get older, our jobs, families, and priorities take new forms. Before there was school, sports, social activities and not much else. Oh how times change! We now have to find time to keep up our fitness. I can’t run those sprints and 7-minutes miles anymore, but I love to get out for a run whenever I can–though it does take some advance planning. Take a look at your typical weekly schedule. Where can you fit in an extra activity, and what can you shuffle around in order to make time?
2. Group workouts will motivate you.
There is something inspiring about a good collective sweat and being able to look around the room to see other people share your struggle. Though the people around you are not well-known teammates, this collective and shared experience format makes giving up very difficult and adds a layer of healthy competition too. One of the best things I did while training for a road race was join a neighborhood running group. It was laid-back, but it still gave me the support I craved when I needed it the most.
3. Help your friends and family (when your help is requested).
All those years with wise coaches and savvy trainers wasn’t for naught. Use this hard-earned wisdom to inspire others to get fit, healthy, or just have fun! (I must emphasize, do this only when your input is requested. Nobody likes a fitness snob with unsolicited advice.)
4. Even on your own, accountability remains important.
Not everything should be done in a group, but in my experience, it’s important to find outlets with which to share your goals, worries and triumphs. That might be a person, group of people, a journal, or even social media. Whatever mode you choose, it’s often necessary to remain accountable — to feel as if your hard work is not going unnoticed, and thus, propelling you to keep working hard toward a particular goal.
5. Find new challenges.
I thrive when I can find ways to get back to the grind! Keep your body and mind stimulated by looking for new ways to stay active. Do you like to run? Maybe sign up for a local road-race, a popular mud race, or even a short triathlon. Nothing will get you inspired like a new challenge, all the while staying healthy and safe.
6. Find new opportunities to break out of the old mold.
Back in my team-sport days, I never thought I would like a Spinning or Pilates class, but now I do, tremendously. Sometimes we have to try something completely new, even if it’s to say we don’t like it. You might be surprised though. If you live in a city, chances are there are new fitness trends popping up all the time. What about a good trapeze workout?
7. Join an organized recreational sports league.
Sometimes all of the above is not enough and you need to go back to your sport. Sign up for an adult league! So many of them have at least a few experience levels, so make sure you pick the right one for you. This might seem like an obvious one, but the benefits of keeping fit and active this way go beyond fitness. Stress management, healthy eating, expanding a social network are just a few of the added benefits.
Some former-student athletes transition into professional coaching, but if that’s not your speed, you can still give back and inspire those whose turn it is to experience the joys and woes of playing competitive sports. Youth sport leagues are always looking for active adults with knowledge in the sport to coach the little ones. Most of the time it’s a moderate two day commitment per week–but that’s a built-in two days of activity! (Tip: Find an assistant coach you know and make it a social activity too while you’re at it.)
My post team-sports life has taught me I don’t need to wear a jersey and have scheduled games in order to fuel my inner competitive fire. Plenty of new, creative activities spark that in me, and hopefully you’ll find those that fuel you too!
Both photos courtesy of Andrea Navarro.
Andrea Navarro works in the Higher Education Access/Federal TRIO programs field, helping students and families get into college. She is a part-time photographer, and full-time travel, running, brewing and food enthusiast. Andrea taught English at the University level for almost three years in Nantes, France, where she also wrote about her culinary and travel experiences. She is fluent in Spanish and French, and proficient in Italian. Follow her on her website or blog!