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Ways to combat the post-high school athlete blues

By Arianne Brown

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 12 2014 3:32 p.m. MST

Jon Gries as Uncle Rico, Jon Heder as Napoleon Dynamite and Aaron Ruell as Kip in "Napoleon Dynamite."

Fox Searchlight Pictures

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The former high school quarterback and the captain of the basketball team are often portrayed in movies and sitcoms as people who live in the past.

“Uncle Rico” is what we call them around our house. “How much you wanna make a bet I can throw a football over them mountains?” he says as he reminisces about his years as a high school football player in the movie "Napoleon Dynamite."

As much as we like to poke fun at these people, being that “former athlete” is a very real thing, and a very difficult thing to deal with once someone is no longer the star he or she once was.

Athletes are often the ones their peers look to. They are popular and their name is synonymous with the position they hold. It becomes their identity.

As most people know, a very small percentage of high school athletes play college sports, and an even smaller percentage make it to the pros. However, finding a new identity once the years of stardom are over isn't as easy as it seems.

How do I know? Well, let's just say Uncle Rico holds a special place in my heart.

I was a star athlete in high school, and while I did earn a college scholarship, it was not where I shined. I spent years reminiscing on the good old days in high school, and I struggled to find my place once my days of winning were over.

Now, nearly 14 years have passed since high school, and I am happy to say that I have made it through those dark years.

Here are some tips on how to do that:

Have a Plan B and treat it with as much devotion as you do your sport. I loved children and I loved to write. I made sure I took classes in those areas, and when the time came, I was able to switch my focus in those directions, becoming a mother, preschool teacher and writer. We all have many talents and can be successful in many areas.

Find competition. Athletes, by nature, are competitive and love the feeling of winning. This can be joining a local softball league or entering a local 5K. And because you are an athlete, you may find a new sport that you are successful at. Doing this will help with regaining confidence and maintaining fitness, something former athletes often struggle with.

Become a coach. As wonderful as it is to succeed, it is even more so to watch others do well. Many former athletes become coaches, and it is a great way to continue in a sport you love and satisfy that need for success.

It's OK to reminisce. While some may look at your stories of your glory days as not moving on, others — namely your children — will love it. I love hearing stories of when my dad was the only seventh-grader to make the junior high basketball team, or the time he was named the Deseret News Prep Athlete of the Week. Likewise, it is fun to tell my own children about winning a state championship with the stomach flu and setting state records with some of my best friends on my relay team.

And one last thing: How much you wanna make a bet I can run up over them mountains?

Arianne Brown is a SUU graduate, mother of six and an avid runner. For more on this story, go to timetofititin.com. You can also like her Facebook page by searching "Writer Arianne Brown" or follow her on Twitter at arimom5.

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