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Hanging Up the Cleats: Life after College for Student-Athletes

According to a 2016 Gallup study, former student-athletes with  bachelor’s degrees are “more likely than non-student-athletes to be thriving in purpose, social, community and physical well-being.”

While these statistics show successful results post-graduation, student-athletes report struggling with personal identity after school.

Recently graduated Oklahoma Christian University student-athletes Lauren Parker, Darrian Palacios and Kayla Carlsward are each pursuing success amidst their inner battle with re-identification and new allocation of time within the post-graduation transition.

Parker, a former member of Oklahoma Christian’s women’s soccer team, is working while obtaining a master’s degree in healthcare administration from Oklahoma State University, while also applying to medical schools. Parker said her life after college has been different.

“I think the hardest part with transitioning is being OK with where you’re at,” Parker said. “A lot of my friends have real jobs making real money and I’m still getting my master’s, so it’s difficult being in different phases of life. It is important to make time for your friends after college because we are all tired from working and homework that it’s hard to get motivated to go out, but it’s always worth it in the end.”

Also a women’s soccer player, Palacios currently works and is studying to take the MCAT to receive admission into physician assistant (PA) school. Palacios said she misses soccer and the team environment.

“Full-time jobs are not as fun as playing soccer every day with your family and only having to go to class,” Palacios said. “The thing I miss the most about college athletics is making a family around me and going through all the same trials and accomplishments as your girls. I miss the game days and spending my time doing something I love and had the greatest passion for.”

Carlsward, formerly Kayla Eichler, played softball at Oklahoma Christian with the history-setting team who won conference last season. She currently teaches geometry and coaches softball and basketball at Edmond Memorial High School. Carlsward said getting to pursue her dreams outside of the field has made the transition smoother.

“I’ve enjoyed the transition from college to real life,” Carlsward said. “Coaching has helped, and getting my ‘dream job’ has helped.”

All three emphasized staying involved in your sport, whether through playing or coaching, helps with the mental identity crisis after hanging up their college cleats.

Parker currently coaches high school girls’ soccer at Heritage Hall and plays indoor soccer one day  a week. Palacios formerly coached at Edmond North High School; now, she plays on an indoor league with other Oklahoma Christian soccer alumni.

Carslward lead the Edmond Memorial Lady Bulldogs to a State Championship title as one of their assistant coaches. Photo provided by Kayla Carlsward.

Carlsward helped lead the  Edmond Memorial High School softball teamto a state championship title this season.

While each of them have found their niche and are working to pursue new dreams and goals, Parker said the busy schedule of a college athlete sometimes makes it more difficult for student-athletes to define a path for after graduation.

“I think Oklahoma Christian has great opportunities and programs for a lot of people to seek help before they graduate,” Parker said. “Some people still don’t know what they want to do after college and for those it’s tough because they weren’t able to try different things while in college. Being a collegiate athlete means you’re super busy and there’s still no time to complete and try everything. For some, they never had an opportunity for an internship or something that could have pointed them in the direction of a career because they were always playing sports.”

Even though the life of a student-athlete is time-consuming, Palacios said she encourages every senior athlete to live in the moment and never take any of it for granted.

“Soak it up and enjoy every moment that you can,” Palacios said. “Go and do all the events you can and spend time with your friends. Also, do your homework and get good grades because it is nice to leave with a good GPA for future jobs and your master’s.”

For Carlsward, she said coaching helps the transition, but it can never truly fill the void playing leaves.

“You’ll miss it every day when it’s all gone,” Carlsward said. “Coaching has been fun and keeps me involved, but nothing compares to those moments where you are in the game and playing the sport you love.”

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