When Should Athletes Start Preparing For Their Second Career?

The Reality

A lot of athletes grow up with aspirations to turn their sport into a professional career, but not many get the chance to do it.

There are very very few athletes that reach the college level of their sport.

There are even fewer athletes that play after that let alone get a tryout at the pro level.

But every single athlete faces one harsh reality.

The reality that no matter what level you play at in any sport, one day you will have to get out of the identity of being an athlete.

The reality is that the thing that you love to do more than anything else in the world will come to an end and you have to prepare for your next step.

But when should you actually face this reality?

When should you come to terms with the fact that your sport isn’t going to carry you throughout your entire life?

With so much tunnel vision on being the best in their sport, athletes don’t have a single minute to think about a second career. I definitely didn’t when I was playing.

Even that can negatively affect performance and be detrimental to longevity.

So what is an athlete to actually do when in the back of their mind they all know it will be over one day?


Vince Carter, the oldest active player in the NBA, is now going on 41 and has made several moves in the past couple of years to start preparing for his second career.

On NBA TV during the NBA Summer League, Carter was doing color commentary as an analyst and was said to be a natural fit for the role. While he was playing for the Memphis Grizzlies, he also did some TV work when he sat out with an injury and has been receiving great reviews for his work as an analyst on NBA TV. 

Vince is one of the rare types of athletes who continued to play into their 40’s. This almost never happens and even if it seems that he can still play for another couple of years, at any moment his career can be over due to an injury from wear and tear on his body.

The good thing is that he seems to understand that his career is winding down and has taken the right steps to set himself up for a successful future.

But what if he didn’t last in the league until the age of 40? What if he made his exit much sooner, around 30? Would he still be ready to make the transition?

The fact still remains that all athletes, regardless of what age they play to, have to prepare for their life after sports and despite what many people might think, there is a right time to start.

HOUSTON, TX – MARCH 25: Vince Carter of the Toronto Raptors during the game against the Houston Rockets on March 25, 1999 at Compaq Center in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Sporting News via Getty Images)

When Should Athletes Start Preparing?

Most of the time, athletes wait until the game is completely done to start getting ready for the next phase of their lives.

This could be the absolute worst thing that any athlete can do.

For many athletes, the sole dedication that they have is to their sport for the first 15 or 20 years of their lives.

But what if all of a sudden it gets taken away from them either by injury or getting cut and they are stuck left wondering what in the hell they’re going to do next?

If this was the case (and this is the case), it would only make sense to start preparing the minute you decide to play any sport, right?

If in the back of your mind, you know that this game will end, why wouldn’t you at least START to think about what else you might possibly want to do in your professional life?

Most athletes don’t want to face this truth no matter how much they know it will happen. They wait and wait until retirement actually happens to them and then they realize that they have no choice, but by that time it is often very difficult to start preparing without feeling overwhelmed or pressured. Trust me.

The earlier you start to think about what you want to be, the easier it will be for you to become that person.

The game doesn't always love you as much as you love the game. It won't always treat you fairly or go the way you want it to go. Click To Tweet

The best thing that you can do for yourself and your future is to ensure that you have something else that you love which can give you the same or similar satisfaction and enjoyment.

Oct 3, 2013 2:00 PM — Newport Beach, CA, U.S.A — Leigh Steinberg says it is important to remember that athletes have a short playing career and there is a high risk of injury, so a plan for a second career is important as well as practicing life skills — Photo by Kelvin Kuo , Gannett ORG XMIT: 130220 Steinberg 1/3/2013 [Via MerlinFTP Drop]

How Should They Start Preparing?

Athletes can really prepare in a number of ways.

The first and most important is to just start. (Obviously, I know)

But in all seriousness, athletes have to just start thinking about who they want to be and what they like outside of their sport. That is absolutely imperative when transitioning out of anything.

You have to disassociate yourself with whatever your career was previously and accept the inevitable. The more you associate yourself with something, the harder it will be to break away from it.

Immediately get out of the mindset that you are only an athlete.

I recently had a conversation with a former teammate of mine, who now plays overseas basketball. He was dealing with a bad knee injury and it was really taking a toll on him, emotionally, mentally and physically.

During our conversation, he literally said to me “I am nothing without basketball…I don’t know what else I can do.”

I told him that was the first problem. The way he looked at himself was all wrong. The first thing he had to do whether he played another day of basketball or not was shift his perspective on who he thought he was.

There is a huge mental difference between being a “basketball player” and being “someone who plays basketball.”

The first perspective puts you in a box and the second gives you an opportunity to be more than one thing because we should never be locked into one identity.

The preparation has to start earlier for athletes and the farther you go in your athletic career, the more important it is for you to get out of your identity as an athlete and get into your identity as an individual who has a lot more life to live.

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