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Finding a new identity after a childhood devoted to sports

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at App State chapter.

I played softball from age five up until eighteen. During 70% of my life, a significant part of my core identity was being an athlete. My best friends were my teammates, my older sister and the team she played on were who I looked up to, and my very own father was my head coach. 

When I decided that I was going to end my softball career by deciding not to play in college, I knew that I was going to have some heartbreaking moments. I knew that playing my final game with my dad in the dugout would hurt. I knew that I would cry alongside the girls that I became young women with. I knew that there would be no tournament next weekend. It would be officially over, and there would be a wound that time would heal. 

Being able to anticipate the emotions that would arise because of these final moments didn’t make it any less hard, but it allowed me to expect the pain I would feel. I was able to say goodbye to softball at one final team dinner with my teammates where we could cry and laugh over all the memories, hear our final stats, and have all twelve of us in a room together with our families. Who would know when that would happen again? 

The next weekend was when I moved into my freshman dorm here at App State. I was elated to start a new chapter in my life, just as an old one had closed. The possibilities and unknown seemed so vast, and my past as an athlete grew to become a less frequent thought. 

But just as the initial ecstasy and excitement of being in college started to fade, it felt like the thing I kept circling back to was my former identity as an athlete. I began to feel as if I didn’t excel at anything anymore. I felt like mediocrity was what defined me, and my confidence in knowing who I was started to really falter. 

Was I wasting my talent? Did I regret not playing? Would my relationships with my teammates be the same? Would my relationship with my dad even be the same? 

This seemed to be the one thing that I didn’t prepare myself for. I was able to expect the initial emotions of leaving the sport that I loved but didn’t have a grasp on what it would do to my character and identity. 

As time progressed, I was able to find little reassurances that helped me recognize that even though softball was a massive part of my life, it doesn’t define me, and neither does any singular thing. The more time I spent worrying about things that I couldn’t change, the more I realized that just because leaving softball behind was a hard decision, that doesn’t mean that it was the wrong choice. 

My talent didn’t go to waste; I just decided to take a path where I didn’t have to utilize my athleticism. 

If I’m going to agonize over what I could have done and the choices I could have made, I’m going to spend time being remorseful instead of grateful for what I have right in front of me.

My teammates and I have a relationship that I simply cannot imagine will break, and when I get to see them on rare occasions, it’s like we’ve spent no time apart (My future bridesmaids, by the way.)

My father and I had softball as our bond, but the love and respect that I had for him as my coach hasn’t gone anywhere, and I’ll be his little girl for the rest of my life. 

It’s hard to walk away from something that you have poured so much time, passion, and love into, but just because you’ve stopped doesn’t mean that care has gone anywhere. You are allowed to grow and change, and your value doesn’t change because of that!

Makenna Thomas

App State '26

Hi! My name is Makenna Thomas and I am a sophomore from Matthews, NC. I am majoring in Digital Marketing and minoring in Communications. I enjoy cooking, watching tv with my friends, and anything that makes me laugh.