Life after sport: ‘I felt like I was losing a part of myself’

When an athlete’s career ends, the transition to normal life can be shocking. The athlete may suffer from changes in their personal, social and occupational life. Ex-athletes Aggelos Kotsis (22) and Beatriz García (24) went through this themselves.

Text and photos by Iraide Ibarrondo

Aggelos Kotsis was a football player for almost 13 years, and used to play professionally for Sparta F.C in Greece’s second division. He would train two and a half hours every day until he tore an important ligament in his knee. Beatriz García was a tennis player in professional and international tournaments. She had to quit tennis three years ago after having a series of injuries. Before she was forced to leave her passion behind, she would practice 15 hours a week and even got a scholarship to play at the University of Nevada.

Kotsis’ career came to an unexpected end, when he had a lesion during a match.“ My whole life changed in 10 seconds. My dream had always been to become a great football player, save money and tell my parents they didn’t need to work anymore”, he says.

Beatriz García (24) .

García was about to compete in the Spanish tennis selection, but she wasn’t able to reach her dream, when she got one injury after another: “I arrived at the final round, but I was too insecure and at the end, I lost the match.” 

Realizing that they wouldn’t be able to play anymore was hard for both of them. But they reacted in different ways. Kotsis: “When my doctor called me with the results of the radiotherapy I stayed silent for five minutes, I wasn’t able to talk”. He had a surgery to return to football, but it didn’t change anything: “I had a serious talk with my parents. The surgery cost 6000 euros and I was in physiotherapy for six months.  If something had happened to my knee right after the recovery, it would have been destroyed. Eventually, I couldn’t enjoy being on the pitch anymore. The passion I once felt on the game that I love so much, had gone away because I was so scared to get injured again.”

When they told me that I broke my ligaments and that I wouldn’t be able to play anymore, I cried my eyes out

García also lost her passion for tennis: “I was getting injured over and over again. I wasn’t training or competing the way I wanted and I started to become demotivated. When they told me that I broke my ligaments and that I wouldn’t be able to play anymore, I cried my eyes out”. 

Sports psychologists experience ex-athletes dealing with loss of identity and tunnel vision syndrome, when they are forced to quit their sport. For many athletes, the body plays a key role in the construction of their identity, so when their careers end, they have a feeling of being lost and not knowing who they are anymore. Besides, tunnel vision syndrome consists of being so focused on results, training, and competitions that when they end, the athlete may have problems adapting to their new life. 

Aggelos Kotsis (22).

Kotsis: “I felt I was losing a part of myself. I felt like someone stole my dream. I missed the matches, playing, my friends, the jokes in the trainings…everything about football”. García also went through the same feeling. “I was a 100 percent concentrated and dedicated to tennis. When they took it away from me, I felt empty.” 

Although they didn’t suffer from tunnel vision syndrome, adapting to their new life was difficult for Garcia and Kostis. García came back from the USA and took a gap year: “While playing tennis, my whole life was based around practice sessions and matches. I didn’t know what to do with so much free time. I used the gap year to prepare for an exam to enter university, travel and discover what else I liked apart from tennis.”

I didn’t know what to do with so much free time.

Kotsis had to return to his parents’ house because he couldn’t move by himself: “I lost appetite and was sad. I was lying on my bed recovering from the lesion and watching my teammates play on TV, it was very painful. I wanted to jump out of my bed and go to the football field.” 

When it comes to sports psychologists, Kostis and García think that they’re important in the career and also in retirement. Kotsis: “I didn’t go to the club ́s psychologist because I didn’t have a good relationship with him. My friends were my psychologists. But I do think that having psychological support is important”.  

García: “I reached out to a sports psychologist on my own, but I think that it should be compulsory for all athletes to visit a psychologist when they retire”. 

Now, a few years after their retirement, Kotsis and García both are working towards their new goals in life. Kotsis would like to be a manager or a coach in a football club and García wants to become a sports or clinic psychologist.