Am I (I Am) Still An Athlete?

Written by Robbie Shaw

My name is Robbie Shaw and I am a basketball player. Wait, I was a basketball player. Well I still am a basketball player but I haven’t played in an organized game for more than 4 years. So maybe that means I used to be a basketball player. Either way, I played basketball at the University of Chapel Hill so that makes me a basketball player for life….I think.

This is the thought process that goes on in my head quite a bit as I reach my upper 30s. I have identified myself as a basketball player for the majority of my life and now that I never play basketball anymore, is that still a part of me? This is a tough topic to swallow. For years, people thought of me as Robbie “the white guy that could dunk”. I loved that identity and was proud of what I had done on the basketball court during my younger years. But now, is it time to move on from that identity and consider myself a businessman? Or a family man? Or a good friend and proud father who works hard and at one point, played some basketball? I think it is.

As the “ball stops bouncing” or organized sport comes to an end for young individuals across the country, how do we make that transition successfully? How do we begin to view ourselves as someone who does not play our respective sport any longer? This is a question that every athlete will have at ask themselves at some point in their lives. It is a tough question and the answer is different for each individual. What I have learned is that people will always remember me as a guy that played basketball at a high level and will always show some form of respect because of it. What I have also learned is that I have to move on from that perspective and begin to shape my identity based on what I am accomplishing CURRENTLY.

I will always have a great story to tell, but what I want people to remember me by is what I am doing now. To shift from one identity to another is a tough thing to do, but the result of doing so not only helps me be a more effective employee but it helps me live in the present. Living in the present is something you hear across the spectrum from self-help books, to positive thinking gurus, to parenting guides, all the way to individuals on their deathbeds giving advice to younger generations. It is a way of living and thinking that is at the crux of being an effective individual.

When I graduated from college and stopped playing organized basketball, this was the beginning of the end of my basketball career. I continued to play in leagues and pick up games but my identity as a “basketball player” ended. I began to work and take part in interests outside of sports. When someone asked me what I did, I had a tough time only stating my job. I usually answered something along the lines of, “well, I was a college basketball player but now I…..”. Looking back, this was silly. Even though it was a good conversation starter, I wasn’t answering the question that was asked. I was making sure the other person knew about my past successes because I hadn’t become successful at what I was currently doing yet.

These are all things for everyone to think about as they make the transition from college sports to the workforce. It is a tough transition but one that everyone has to make. Game Theory Group’s Athlete Identity Transition Assessment, called Next Play, is something we are offering all student-athletes to assist in making that leap. This assessment helps student-athletes identify behaviors that they will need to work on to prepare for life in the real world. It also identifies necessary behaviors they already possess, giving them a step up in their preparation.

Game Theory Group’s Next Play Assessment is being offered to student-athletes nationally and will become a necessary step in making the transition from sport to workforce. I believe that if this were available when I was graduating, it would have taken less time to identify myself as more than a collegiate athlete. I would have made the leap to being a “former athlete” much quicker and would have much more efficiently transitioned into my new identity.