The Student-Athlete Aftermath


More than 8 million high school students play a school sport. But of that group, less than one percent will go on to play sports at the collegiate level. And even fewer of those will ultimately go pro.

What do you do when your identity as a student athlete has been stripped away?

Dr. Hillary Cauthen of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology recently spoke to Teen Vogue about this struggle, which impacts many incoming college freshmen.

She said these students often feel a loss of identity after they stop playing their sport of choice at a competitive level.

“I think it’s confusion, it’s sadness, it’s the unknown, it’s uncertainty of who they are,” Cauthen said.

“We look at it like a grieving process. They didn’t realize this sport consumed who they were, versus being something they do. Their peer groups, family members, everyone around them identified them as that sport. That can be a pretty hard thing when you are no longer doing that.”

It’s crucial for these students to remember that there’s much more to their identity than sports. They need to find ways to reconnect with those other parts.

She suggests finding a new hobby, joining a gym or social league, and therapy as ways to channel these feelings.

Learn more about counseling student athletes in the NACAC Knowledge Center.

Ashley Dobson is NACAC’s communications manager for content and social media. You can reach her at

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