Coming to Grips


By: Shana Levine
Associate Athletic Director

I have recently been having a bit of an identity crisis and watching the trials and tribulations of Brett Favre over this past week has really helped me clarify my own thoughts.  (Note – I am thinking of his injury, not his text messaging debacle.  I don’t want to think about that).

Brett's body is breaking down but he just can't give up his identity as a football player

So, I am definitely noticing that my speed and soccer ability is slipping, and quickly.  I guess practice is necessary – who knew?  At this point, I can still contribute, but I hope that I will have enough self-awareness to realize when I am no longer a contributor.  I just cannot and will not become one of those people on the soccer field that is completely unproductive.  Where others watch and say “I bet she was good back in the day.”  I don’t think I can handle that.  As an aside, I would say Brett Favre is getting pretty close to that point.

Realizing that my days as a soccer player are numbered has raised a whole host of issues.  Whenever I have been asked “tell me about yourself” in an interview, cocktail party, facebook profile, etcetera, there are a few key pieces of information that I put out there – soccer player, Steelers fan, Pitt fan, animal lover, and avid reader.  Usually in that order.

Yes, obviously I work and am also proud of my family, but I made a commitment to my mom, and then myself, to have an identity separate and distinct from work and family.  I don’t want someone to ask about me and my first answer to ever be my job.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my job, but I don’t want it to define me.

On the other hand, as many athletes know, the sport you play and love is part of your identity.  A sizeable and significant part.  In terms of time, I have been a competitive soccer player for about 2/3 of my life and really don’t remember a lot of details about the other 1/3.  The sport you play is a source of pride and really does define who you are.  So, what do you do when that part of yourself goes away?  Being a former soccer player really is quite different than being a soccer player.  So, if I am no longer a soccer player, who am I?  The rest of my key pieces of information about myself are really quite passive and, by definition, watching others participate in their identity – Steelers fan, Pitt fan.  Having been an athlete for so long, I have major issues with the passivity.  So, I have been on a quest to find some other activity to replace “soccer player” in my own personal definition of self.  You might think this would be easy, just take up another hobby.  But, that’s the issue, soccer was not just a hobby – it was a passion and something that I lived on a daily basis.  This is what really got me thinking about Brett Favre.

It was not until I started grappling with this issue for myself that I really felt sincere sympathy for Brett Favre…especially now that his ankle is broken in two places and a piece of his ankle has been torn away by a tendon or ligament.  Ouch.  Listening to the talking heads over the past few days, many are implying that it would have been better if Brett had retired after last year.  While that might be true, I do not think they consider the accompanying identity crisis that would go along with retiring.

Hines Ward loves playing football

Watching him play the game, you can tell that Brett is not just “doing his job” but instead, loves the sport he plays and is fortunate enough to get paid for it  (as an aforementioned Steelers fan, I have to put Hines Ward in the category as well).  For Brett, retirement is not just quitting your job and removing that piece from your identity, but in his case, his job, passion and identity are one in the same.  So for him to say “I’m a football player” means a lot more than just a profession.  In my mind, when he contemplates retirement each summer he heads back to his farm, rides around on his tractor for awhile and loves it.  Then, a few months pass and the questions set in – so is this who I am now?  Am I a farmer?  A Wrangler jeans spokesperson?  Husband to Deanna?  A former-football player??  My guess is that he is not satisfied with any of these answers and does not feel that any of them come close to defining him the way football did.  So, he literally flies back to football (insert applicable team) around August each year.  It’s in that moment that he feels calm and settled with who he is.  That’s a lot to ask a person to give up.

While my situation is not at all like Brett’s in many ways, I can understand and relate to the identity crisis piece.  I have been struggling with this for about two years, and have finally found a few other options/possibilities.  First, I had to come to grips with the fact that no matter what I picked, it would not and could not be as wrapped up in my identity as soccer.  Nothing can compare, based solely on the amount of time that I have spent playing soccer and all the memories and friends that have accompanied those experiences.

I have been talking to many folks about this over the past few years – family, friends, colleagues – and, to a person, everyone that I talk to says, “You should try running.”  Well, I hate running.  I am not sure if it’s because it was always used as a form of torture and torment in any sport I played or what, but I hate it.  Additionally, I am not good at it to warrant using it as a replacement for soccer.  What about biking?  Also not a viable option.  While this does not seem likely, I can’t seem to safely ride a bike.  Seriously, I fall off more often than not and end up injuring myself.  So the saying “it’s just like riding a bike” really makes no sense to me.

So, I have recently started two activities that I have come to love…neither of which I could have pictured me doing a few years back…kayaking and teaching group fitness classes.  First of all, kayaking is amazing – every trip up (or down) the same river is different.  You are not so much competing against others, but against the river itself.  It can be a relaxing float trip or an amazing workout as you paddle upriver.  Unfortunately, it’s not a year-round activity here in VA.

Is this the way most people see fitness instruction? Yeah, probably.

Now for the second one – teaching group fitness classes.  When I tell my friends that I am doing this, I generally get a puzzled look and then laughter.  I think they are picturing some sort of Aerobics-Shana Barbie with lots of brightly colored spandex.  They are probably not too far off.  While it does not fit my natural, sarcastic personality, I am really enjoying it.  And it actually has more similarities to soccer than you might think – there are aspects of coaching, improvement as you practice, group suffering, and a feeling of accomplishment when you are done.

I am definitely still working through all of this…obviously.  I just hope I can come to grips with my identity without soccer well before my ankle or knee is in two pieces and everyone is saying that I should’ve stopped playing years ago.


2 Responses to “Coming to Grips”

  1. Holly Says:

    Great read…definately food for thought. You and I have talked about this and is something that I struggle with too (not the soccer part, the identity part that is not somehow connected to my kids/job). Maybe I should take up some new hobbies. 🙂

  2. John Nolan Says:

    Shana — It was always a pleasure watching you on the soccer field. You could really dominate a game! Good article about searching for identity after finishing doing something you love. Glad you are searching for the right thing while being here at W&L in the Athletic Dept. You are helping make a difference for a lot of people………….both students and alumni.

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