• Haylie McCleney

A Message For College Seniors

I absolutely love the game of softball. I actually take that back. I love sports in general because I think there are infinite life lessons we take from that. The problem with constantly growing up playing sports, when it is taken away from you, for many after their college career, we can sometimes forget all the lessons that sport has taught us because we are not reminded of it every day anymore.

When I graduated from Alabama, I thought I had everything. I thought I knew who I was, but I had no idea. My identity was so engulfed in being a really good college softball player. I am honestly not sure how many people struggle with that after they graduate, but I do know that I did. Severely.

As female athletes, our four years in college are the pinnacle of our career. Even me, trying to get on the Olympic Roster in 2020, college was the time where I was KNOWN as a softball player. That will more than likely never come back. But we as female athletes have to promote ourselves based off of that career and what happened. It is LITERALLY how I make money because of the lack of pay in professional softball. This can be incredibly difficult to manage because we can't let go, we can't move on. We build a brand that we can't utilize because of NCAA compliance rules, then we HAVE to utilize it after its over, without reaping the benefits of still being a part of a unit. Again, me being on Team USA for the past 6 years, yes I am still a part of a team, but 75% of my year is spent training on my OWN, without them. It is so hard to let go of that culture and environment that college softball gives you.

This contrast of moving on and holding on led me down a path where my identity was questioned. Who am I now? Who am I supposed to be? What am I supposed to do? It was hard. I found myself trying to fit in, trying to grow up too fast, and completely losing sight of all the life lessons I had been taught. You likely will experience something along those lines yourself. It will hurt, and there will be days where you will miss it. There will also be days you are so happy that you can come home and just take a nap instead of going to a 3 hour practice or playing a doubleheader. This period of your life after college softball can be the most exciting time of your life if you make it that way. Here are 5 tips to ensure that you are moving forward in the best possible way.

1.) Figure Out Who You Are Outside of Softball. You are NOT your softball career, good or bad. Being the best hitter or pitcher in the country has nothing to do with your character. It might get you the job interview you want, it might even get you a job, but it won't make you happy and it won't keep you there. Write down in a journal what defines you and avoid mentioning ANYTHING about being an athlete. You'd be surprised how long it might take you.

2.) Recognize that college was a chapter, it wasn't the entire book. Accept the fact that you will more than likely never have as much fun again as you did in those 4 years, but don't let that take you away from your today. This is one of these things that I have just had to accept. I LOVE Alabama. My college experience was the time of my life. I have had to come to terms with the fact that my life will never be like that again. It doesn't mean I can't find happiness in my career, because I have definitely done that at Florida A&M. But, it will never be the same. Accepting and acknowledging that is incredibly freeing. I now know and understand that I have so much opportunity in front of me. I know that my best days are in front of me, they aren't behind me. The same goes for you.

3.) Invest in yourself. Unless you are getting into coaching, which many are not, it is so crucial to find other interests/hobbies outside of softball that you love. The good news? You are going to have TIME to experience it and figure it out! Think about all those hours that you were devoting to practice, travel, and games. Instead of focusing on missing it, focus on all the other fun things you can do outside of it. I have rediscovered since my college career has come to an end, how much I love strength and conditioning, reading, and writing. These things make me SO happy. Find yours. It could be gardening, playing a different sport, working out, starting a Vlog on YouTube, starting your own business, or actually investing in whatever your college major was. Yes, you might actually have to use it. A key here is staying patient. Just like your college success was never handed to you, success in the real world won't be either. Earn it!

4.) Remember what you were taught and put it into practice. College coaches teach us so many life lessons. I truly believe that it is the most important 4 years of a young person's life, especially an athlete's. However, when you are not constantly reminded of those lessons every single day, we can often forget everything that we have learned up to that point. This is why I think it's so important to invest in books or other resources that remind us of team culture, selflessness, and character and leadership development. Use those tools to build your own culture around you. Dive into your new role and find something that challenges you and brings out your competitive spirit!

5.) Teach someone else. More than likely, you are at least going to work ONE more softball camp. It is long hours but it is good money. You might also give hitting or pitching lessons, because it's also good money. You might not ever look at a softball again. Either way, there is always SOMEONE that you can pour into with the lessons you learned while you were in college. Teamwork, discipline, leadership, culture, accountability, work ethic, selflessness, trusting the process, THE LIST IS INFINITE. Pouring something into someone else never empties you, it actually makes you more full.

The crazy part about this list of things is that I knew this before I graduated, I simply didn't apply them to my life. Whether you are excited to be done with softball or you are dreading it, there is going to be difficulty in the next chapter of your life. Don't run from it, embrace it. Be honest with yourself about how you are feeling and what you are going through and please know that the best is yet to come for you. Use your college experience not as something to hold on to, but as a stepping stone to help your thrive for the rest of your life!

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