Learning to Let Go: A Lesson for the Former Athlete

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When I played college football, we always had a guest speaker talk to the team the night before each game. Most of the speakers would try to motivate us with inspirational stories of how they overcame obstacles or beat the odds in some of their biggest games. Despite the amount of incredible stories I heard over the years, the only one that I can vividly remember ironically had nothing to do with winning a football game. In fact, it was a timely lesson that one-day football would no longer be our greatest priority and we would have to learn to let it go. 

Stuck in the past, blind to the present

While I cannot remember the speaker’s name, I recall that he was a pastor from Texas. The pastor began his talk by telling us stories of men in his church who had formerly played competitive football. Every fall, these men became obsessed with remembering their “glory days” by living vicariously through the young men they watched compete on T.V. According to the pastor, the men spent a majority of their free time playing fantasy football, listening to sports radio, watching highlights, or watching full games every Monday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. They lived football, breathed football, ate football, slept football, and neglected their priorities. 

The pastor explained that the former athletes failed to view their sport as a means to an end, rather than an end in and of itself. They became stuck in their pasts, regretting missed opportunities and wishing they could create new ones. All the while, they failed to recognize the blessings they had been given in the present. Every football season, some ignored their families, some slacked off in their jobs, and some became depressed with regret or nostalgia. All of them failed to learn to let go. Their sport was their entire staircase to success, rather than a single step that led to many more. 

The sport of CrossFit: a blessing and a curse

One of the greatest blessings and curses for former competitive athletes occurred when CrossFit turned their form of fitness into a sport. It blessed numerous people as it provided them with newfound motivation to improve their health, connect with a community, and strive for success. At the same time, the sport of CrossFit also enticed generations of prior athletes to sacrifice their most important priorities in life in exchange for an opportunity to rekindle their competitive drive. Unfortunately, like many others, I became one of those of those former athletes. 

Initially, I took the pastors lessons to heart about letting go of football and learning to view it as an incredible blessing, but a short stepping-stone in life. My problem was that I simply replaced one sport with another. Only a couple of months after finishing my football career, I was introduced to CrossFit. I instantly became obsessed with the sport. I trained twice a day, slept over eight hours a night, ate a strict diet, read everything about it that I could get my hands, watched endless YouTube videos, listened to countless podcasts, and spent a majority of my free time at the gym, all the while still being married, working a full time job and attending graduate school online. I stressed myself out to the point that I exacerbated problems with my gut health, spent little time hanging out with my wife or former friends outside of the gym, became complacent in my job, and quit graduate school so that I could focus more on training. 

At the time, if you had asked me what my priorities were, I would have put them in the following order: God, wife, immediate family, my health, work, school and then maybe CrossFit. It does not take much to recognize that I was living my life completely out of alignment. I had taken the sport of CrossFit and treated it as if it were my ultimate purpose, rather than seventh on my priority list.

I would not be writing this post if I was not aware of many former competitors, who like me at one point, are trying to live the life of an athlete while their sport is not even in the top five on their priority list. The problem is that competition is so enticing to the former athlete. And while there is nothing inherently wrong with competition in any sport, it immediately becomes a problem when parents, spouses, and friends sacrifice the relationships that are most important to them because they are either unwilling or unable to learn to let go.